Sunday, December 21, 2008

Guilt Trip

It snowed huge on Friday, then dusted on Saturday, and now it has snowed again this Sunday morning. Well, it’s been really more of a wintry mix, but Comet’s not discriminating.

He’s already been in the snow once this morning to frolic, but back indoors, he questions my motions. Am I fumbling with the camera so I can put it in its bag and get ready to go, as I so often do?

No, I am not. As Comet begins to realize the inevitable truth that it may be an hour or more (gasp!) before he is returned to the snowy wonderland, the will to live slowly leaves him.

The weight of the world settles down around him; his life-force ebbs. He gives his very best existentially drained look off into nowhere.

I swear he’s checking to make sure we’re observing the drama. It’s not good guilt-tripping if we’ve stopped paying attention. The reason he’s not looking at the camera is that it’s on the coffee table so it can be stable enough to take low light, non-flash pictures. He’s looking at me and I’m reaching down and snapping pictures with my left hand.

“Dad? Do you see you’re killing me here? Do you see?”

Now he’s throwing himself fully back into the role. And he’s hanging improbably far off the couch. This simply isn’t sustainable drama, at least in terms of the biophysics. He has to fall off the couch or give up the game.

He gives up, pulls himself back onto his couch, and dozes, still chock-full of drama, at least one eye open continually. He must wait until we move, or jingle keys, or otherwise indicate in any way that we might be going outside and taking him with us. Until that time (probably 1/2 hour from now), he will wait, vigilant, ever ready to do his job and show that snow who’s boss.

On a more serious note, he does seem to be holding up OK despite Gus’s absence. He still checks for his old friend once in a while, and I’m sure he would much rather play with Gus in the house than go out in the snow alone, but he’s adapting well to this one-dog household. We’ve been careful to spoil him rotten and keep his days active. I’m glad the weather has cooperated so nicely (even if it makes it hard to go get eggs in the mornings)!

Just for fun, a short video of Comet’s dramatics, combined with some lovely waiting music:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow Is Fun

Some of Comet’s first memories are of snow, and when this big winter storm dumped a whole mess on us, he was in heaven.

He eats it; he chases snow balls; he wants it kicked into his face or thrown at him with a shovel. He frolics in it, slides into it, and flops down in drifts. Now that it’s on the ground, he can’t believe that we would spend even a moment indoors and gives long, plaintive looks, sighs, and the occasional whine to go back out into this most glorious of substances.

I swear, I didn’t have this much fun even when I was a kid in a big snowstorm. I loved building forts, throwing snowballs, sledding, jumping into drifts, and the whole nine yards, but you have to envy a fur coat that’s so adaptable and water-friendly that throwing yourself onto your face and then wriggling on your back is not only comfortably but actually feels awesome.

This is joie de vivre at its finest. Demonic shining red eye joie de vivre.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Departure By Water

At 5:30 PM today, a great light went out of this world. We bore witness to Gus’s passing and wished him a heaven with a cool, blue lake and friends to throw tennis balls for him as he retrieves them, never tired again.

When I wrote last Tuesday, I didn’t realize Gus really was completely blind; it seemed implausible, but a few tests with a tennis ball that Tuesday night confirmed it.

Wednesday, Gus’s second day of total blindness, his biopsy results came back: panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma. He is one of a handful of dogs ever to get this, and it’s rare in humans too, maybe 1500 cases a year. It’s typically very aggressive and debilitating, and it doesn’t respond to chemotherapy as well as B-cell lymphoma does.

Even so, the veterinary oncologist we consulted with on Wednesday afternoon was optimistic that chemotherapy might halt the cancer’s progress and reverse many of its symptoms for several months, maybe even a year, but he was equally clear that Gus’s sight would probably not return.

The blindness was most likely caused by infiltration of his nerves by the lymphoma, and thus the only way it could reverse was to contain the lymphoma and give the nerves several months to regenerate. Even if that long shot came through, it wouldn’t be much longer before Gus’s lymphoma became chemo-resistant and attacked him again.

Faced with the prospect of a blind Gus who, even with the best medicine possible, might live a few months and then relapse into these horrible symptoms, we knew that we had to make a gut-wrenching decision that was in his best interest, if not ours.

We decided to put him on Prednisone, not true chemotherapy, to see if its lesion-shrinking potential could return Gus’s sight. If he regained his vision at all, we would consider chemotherapy. What we wouldn’t consider, though, is chaining him to the limited half-life of blindness and sickness just so we could have him around for a few more months.

After a couple days of Prednisone, he perked up quite a bit. We bought him a stuffed duck with a Santa hat, spoiled him rotten with filet mignon, and helped him learn to navigate the house and the stairs without his sight. Even so, he remained on his couch all day unless he was called off. I imagine he thought the lights had gone out and had decided to wait patiently for them to come back on. These six days he waited for a solution, a light switch to flip up and return the woods and tennis balls to him.

He was content with this waiting, in a way, but we had no way of knowing when the Prednisone would stop working, just that it would soon, and all the symptoms being held at bay would ravage him again. Even on the medicine, he never stopped whuffing air out his nose constantly and sneezing savagely when he exerted himself at all. He never regained an iota of his sight. He also looked much sicker than he does in these pictures, which I chose because they show him at his best moments. He looks alert in each because he’s just heard a sound, not because he can see anything.

Even before we took him in today, there were signs that the brief window the steroids gave us was closing. His left eye was bulging alarmingly, and his lesions were starting to look red and itchy again. When we did bring him to the vet today, we learned he had lost almost five more pounds, meaning that in addition to the 10% of his body weight he lost in the first month of his sickness, he had lost 10% more in the last five days, despite lots of canned food, steak, and dog cookies.

It was time. Everything selfish in me screamed for delay, but our love for the dog had to win out. He had given six years of unwavering loyalty and love, and that gift deserved our best humanity in return. I cooked two strips of bacon and then seared one last rare filet mignon in the grease. I chopped the bacon and steak into chunks to feed him at the vet, and I held his head in my hands and Andy stroked his side as the vet pushed the plunger on those fatal shots. His head got heavier and heavier, and he leaned into my leg and smelled me one last time. We spoke words of encouragement and told him it was OK for him to go and be free. And then he was gone.

I would have thought that we would want to spend time with his body after it was all over, but aside from the moments we needed to compose ourselves, neither of us wanted to stay. At the moment he died, he was gone, and all that he had left behind was a husk that bore little resemblance to Gus. I smelled the top of his head, so I would remember him as he remembered me, and we left.

I like to think that once his eyes closed in that vet’s office for the last time, they opened up, sight restored, to look out over a clear blue lake, with a tennis ball sailing out overhead, no time for fear or worry or to miss those he left behind. He runs out to the end of the dock, eyes looking out over the water, spotting the splash the ball marks itself with, feet pounding the old boards, no more aches or exhaustion. But this time, when he touches off from the heavy bonds of the wood, he hangs in that perfect moment of time, as unaware of its passing as he was in life, savoring the the joy of the boundary of air and water, sailing out and across. Except maybe this time he sails out impossibly far over the water, until he crashes down, jaws closing right on the ball, and this time he takes it to the farther shore, not back to us.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven, or if dogs get to go. I do know that if there is any fairness, Gus deserves to be stretched out in the air over water somewhere right now, feeling the lightness in his chest and anticipating the satisfying crash down into the coolness. Even if a dog only lives on in the heart of those who love him, that’s what he’s doing in mine, leaping upwards and outwards, buoyed by love and joy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I was going to write this entry with no pictures at all, but it seemed too dark, too bleak. So I went back to this picture my Mom took at Easter 2003, to buoy me up a little while I wrote. Gus’s condition has gotten yet more mysterious and the future harder and harder to see.

Around 1PM, Andy noticed Gus was disoriented. He seemed confused about the stairs after going out and stumbled a couple of times. Andy called the animal hospital and took Gus out front of the house to get him in the car. Gus walked in between a garbage can and a cardboard box, and hit the box as if he didn’t see it.

Andy slowly began to realize that Gus is now partially blind.

It’s incredibly hard to gauge to what degree Gus is confused and to what degree it’s an issue with his sight. Both options are terrifying in combination with the other symptoms. It’s clear that he can see a little, at least out of his left eye. But his right eye, the one that has a couple of mystery lesions above it, looks deformed, swollen, and terrible. The cardboard box was on his left, though, so he may be having balance issues or some other kind of disorientation.

Andy observed similar confusion and difficulty seeing again at the animal hospital: Gus couldn’t figure out the door and tried to walk through the glass next to the door at first.

He waited quite a long time, so I was able to go straight from work and meet him at the hospital, where Gus greeted me and we waited to see the doctor. The surgeon who removed the lymph tissue and lesion for biopsy saw us, and she was completely flummoxed, as was the veterinary oncologist she called to consult. The damn biopsies won’t be back until tomorrow, so even though she examined him again head to toe, there was nothing she could do for him. She was able to ascertain that there is nothing structurally wrong with either eye, including the intraocular pressure in both of them.

We need to wait to see the biopsy results tomorrow. In the interim, she’s added Clavamox to regimen, since he improved on that before. We’re also giving Benedryl, because that’s one of the initial treatments for some of the cancers he could have, as well as the now unlikely diagnosis of allergies. The most likely culprit now is cutaneous lymphoma, a rare form that causes tumors on the skin. Mast cell tumors are also possible.

When we left, I saw what Andy was saying about his blindness. He had difficulty finding the edge of doorway out of the hospital, and when he tried walking down the stairs to the parking lot, he stumbled as if he couldn’t see where he was putting his feet. He caught himself before I had to, so it seemed more like a vision thing than a balance thing. I saw a similar lack of coordination when he took the stairs back into the house.

Now we wait. Gus is sleeping next to me, pulling air a little laboriously through a stuffy nose. The biopsy results hang out there in the dark, creeping closer, and I dread them as much as I can’t wait for them.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Snowy Morning

Last night it snowed, and since we were up late, we took Comet for a walk in the falling snow in the wee hours. He was so good all day, even though he was bored, that he deserved a little treat of his own. He romped and ate snow and had a ball.

This morning, there was still a little snow on the ground, so we took both guys outside. You can see that Gus’s face doesn’t look quite right, since there are lumps over his right eye and on the crown his head. And he has a perpetual pre-sneeze face, since he’s pretty stuffed up still.

Despite all his problems, he perked right up in the snow and had a good, if quiet, time.

Andy made snowballs and lobbed them to Gus, who was his old self for at least the time it takes a ball of snow to arc and fall. The cut on his back is forgotten for a moment and he spots the ball, judges it, gauges it...

...and snap, he’s Gus again, healthy enough to rear up and grab it from the air.

And then the delicious, crunchy, cold reward.

He’s nowhere near healthy right now, but despite his surgery, he seems a little more happy and active than he was before we started the doxycycline. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gus's Medical Mystery

Gus’s lymph nodes swelled up again once the antibiotic course was done, and his energy level went back to almost zero. More and more of the mysterious bumps appeared.

We went back to the vet for more bloodwork, and he tested positive for one of the tick-borne-diseases (TBDs), anaplasmosis. It’s quite treatable, so he’s on a four-week course of doxycycline, but it unfortunately doesn’t explain the lumps, and lymphadenopathy isn’t particularly common with anaplasmosis.

So, we scheduled biopsies for both the lymph nodes and the mysterious lumps. That procedure was yesterday, and Gus spent today on the couch recuperating, with big shaved patches and Frankenstein stitches (not visible here) on his back and leg.

Comet can’t quite understand why Gus can’t play and we won’t go anywhere. He’s being very well behaved in terms of leaving Gus be when he’s told to, but he’s pretty confused.

We’ll hear about the biopsies early next week, but for now we’re trying to keep Gus’s weight up with canned food, and we’re giving him the doses of doxycycline and hoping for the best.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


This picture was taken two days ago on the Trolley Trail, when Andy and I took the dogs out in the shoreline’s cold November air. It was the day after Thanksgiving, the early afternoon, and already the sun was low in the sky, maybe ninety minutes from touching the horizon.

The lighting was totally uncooperative for photos, so this was the only good shot I got of the day, as the low sun came between the slats of the railing and lit up Gus’s white face. He looks just fine in the photo, but there’s something that still not quite right in his health.

It seems very unlikely at this point that he has lymphoma, though the tests weren’t totally conclusive on that score. The fact that his lymph nodes calmed down once he was on antibiotics is really encouraging, but he’s just not himself, especially the last few days. In fact, his lethargy is almost as bad as it was when his nodes were swollen, and he has lumps, almost like bug-bites, in a collection on one hip and scattered a few other places. His eyes still don’t drain quite right, though they seem better. His right eye is still a little swollen, though, so his gaze is slightly lopsided.

He’s also sneezing like crazy if he runs around or sniffs at the ground outside. I’d write it off to a cold if it hadn’t been going on so long.

After ten days of antibiotics, he’s definitely better, but he’s not cured, so we’ll definitely be back at the vet again this week so we can iron this out. It’s just so frustrating that he can’t tell us if his joints ache or if his throat hurts. He can’t tell us if he’s only acting tired because he’s stuffed up or headachy.

He still perked up when I left the house today: he stood by the door and stared at me, which is his normal way of demanding to come along once he’s seen me put shoes on or heard me grab my keys. He’s still eating fairly normally and better than he was a week ago. I’m probably just getting worked up over something fairly minor. Ah well...such is the fate of a dog dad.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chasing Light

As the days grow shorter and shorter, it gets harder and harder to get anywhere with the dogs between work and sundown. Fortunately, the early hours of the school day mean I've had enough time until now to grab those few sundown minutes of cold light.

Today, though, was a lazy Sunday, so we had the prime daylight hours to spend together in the woods. No need to rush, though the dogs took every opportunity to spring up and down the trail. I, however, strolled and kept a look out for birds. I even spotted a couple of deer off across the meadow. They were downwind, so while the dogs missed them completely, they took off once they smelled us, too fast for me to swap to the telephoto.

Goofy Gus was more than willing to jump up on a log and pose. It was really nice to see him feeling more like his normal self, since he’s been sick. A couple of weeks ago, not too long after his sixth birthday, he started looking lethargic and lacking appetite. His eyes were a little weepy, as if his tear ducts weren’t clearing them, and, scariest of all, the lymph nodes in his neck swelled up.

I took him to the vet the Friday before last, and she was very concerned about the lymph swelling. She was even more concerned to find that other lymph sites were also moderately swollen. She took needle aspirates (tiny bits of tissue pulled out by a needle) from two lymph sites and sent them out to the lab, along with a blood sample.

She wanted to test for canine lymphosarcoma (lymphoma), which is unpleasantly common in Golden Retrievers. While it’s treatable with chemotherapy, the medicine usually only buys the dog one more good year with a high quality of life. Learning that Gus might be getting a countdown timer was obviously upsetting, and I’ll admit with some embarrassment that I was kind of a wreck about it.

After a stressful weekend last week, we received the results of Gus’s tests, and it looks like he’s in the clear. We’ve started him on antibiotics and the lymph swelling has come down dramatically. His appetite seems to be returning to normal (he’s never been much of an eater), and his energy level is getting back to where it belongs too.

So it was no trouble for him to hop up on the log and stay there for a minute while I snapped a few photos.

Comet remains unrelentingly, unremittingly Comet. It’s around forty degrees out on this walk, but the sprinting has left this goofy, sloppy dog covered in froth.

Gus is now a middle aged fellow, and though he’s as intense as ever about tennis balls and walks, he never had exactly the kind of silly exuberance I see in Comet. Gus has always seemed so purposeful, so driven, even when all he’s doing is running up and down a trail or a beach, smelling and rolling. He pursues joy like he’s under contract.

Comet, though, lacks either the attention span or the sense of gravitas, or both, and he does everything wholeheartedly, bouncing from smell to smell as the spirit takes him.

The only sign of life, aside from the deer and a heron far down the marsh, was this lone Chickadee. He called his little heart out in these reeds, but I didn’t hear any call back.

A lonely Chickadee is a little bit sad, but I hope he had some family up in the high trees.

I snapped this picture earlier in the week, on Thursday, a day we truly had to hurry to catch the last light of the day. We had started Gus on the antibiotics the night before, and he was already perking up, so I sped home from work just in time to catch the last hour of sun and the dusklight that’s bright enough for walking in the woods.

I’ve spent a long time these last six years teaching this good dog to stay reliably, and I realized that the time might come that he might not be able to obey that particular command.

The reprieve from the lymphoma diagnosis notwithstanding, I was reminded of what brief, bright creatures these dogs are and how powerless we are to call “stay” when we most mean it.

Come what may, though, I’ll always remember my sundog at his best.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Shaking It Off

Barack Obama was elected president of the United States today. I don’t talk politics much on here, but I’ve also made no secret of my feelings for the Bush administration. I’ve been disappointed since the election that put him in office, and I’ve gone from unhappy to disgusted over the last eight years. But history will surely Bush-bash thoroughly over the next few centuries, so there’s no reason for me to do it here, no matter how badly I feel the need to shake him off.

Obama, however, has been my candidate since the primaries, and I’m overjoyed to see him elected.

The dogs and I took a trip down to New Jersey to visit my parents, and we all took a stroll around a lake near their house. The pictures are, obviously, out of order so far. At the end of the walk, the path crosses one of the town beaches, and despite the forty-degree weather, the dogs jumped right in. In this picture, before they jumped in, they certainly look plenty warm.

I borrowed my mom’s camera, a 12MP model one step up from my XTi, as well as her 100x400 lens. I got some great, crisp shots of them frolicking in the autumn woods. Echoes of Peter, Paul, and Mary there, but no mist today.

My dad threw a stick for them so I could stand at a better angle to catch some great action shots. The colors were just perfect, especially the turning leaves reflected on the water.

These photos also have a certain kind of Baywatch flair.

That’s Gus’s wake in the background, not a boat’s.

Gus, of course, will not be outdone in the swimming department. He almost looks like an aquatic animal sometimes. His eyes, as always, are locked on target.

Skilled hydrodynamics experts will, however, notice Comet’s wake ahead of Gus.

Speaking of aquatic mammals, I present Dolphin-Dog.

Satisfied-Dog: another species found on these shores.

After the lake, we went back to my parents’ house and I shot birds in the back yard with the 100x400. The lighting was great and the birds were cooperative, so the shots are pretty good.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


It’s time to brag. I’ve made comments about the quality of both Comet’s and Gus’s breeding, especially back when we were looking at Comet as prospective dog, but now it’s time to show off.

Comet’s mom, Sunfire Windrush’s Mrs Peele (Emma), took third place in her division at the Golden Retriever Club of America’s National Specialty in September. Her win was for conformation (how closely a dog adheres to the breed standard), but she also has working dog and hunting titles. You can definitely see her influence on Comet.

(This photo comes to me from Emma’s owner, Lisa Weinberg.)

That same week, Gus’s dad, Sand Dancer’s Super Nova (Rodin), passed the highest level of hunting trials at the national competition. He too holds hunting, working, and conformation titles.

(This photo comes to me from Rodin’s owner, Rhonda Mulholland)

Their sons are every bit as good looking and could almost certainly hold their own at the national level (with a little competition-specific training, of course), except for the fact that we don’t have the time, experience, and skill.

I also have no interest in either shooting birds or in throwing dead birds, so training them for hunting competitions is kind of out, and conformation showing isn't really for us right now either.

I’m pretty sure, though, that a dog can’t tell the difference between a national competition and a romp through the woods, and that ultimately titles are about human, not canine, vanity. I know there’s no way Gus could feel fetching is any more important than he already does, and I can’t imagine more joy and intensity in Comet than when he hears that whistle that asks him to come sprinting through the high grass.

Hunting and field trials are really cool, and I agree with both Gus’s and Comet’s breeders that what’s special about the breed comes directly from their history as working dogs. Their instinct to retrieve is matched with a desire to please, substantial intelligence, and versatile athleticism, and those qualities, just like the beauty of the dog, are preserved by breeders who value the hunting and conformation tradition.

Gus, Comet, Andy, and I get the best of both worlds: we don’t have to do the work of proving the bloodlines are the best of the best, and we don’t have to schlep ourselves around to competitions or attend rigorous training...and we don’t have to shoot anything. I do take the boys to dog class now and then to help them learn to be better canine citizens or to teach them new games to pour their energy into. Mostly, though, we can just stroll around the woods and take it all in.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tiring a Well-Bred Dog

One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about having well-bred dogs is their athleticism. I’m not completely comfortable with ignoring all those homeless dogs out there when we make additions to our family, but watching a Golden from champion stock sail effortlessly over a log is a pretty special thing.

Now, whenever I see a log mid-trail, if the lighting is at all compliant, I’ll take a knee, get out the camera, and whistle for the dogs to see what kind of picture I can get. Shameless.

Running hundreds of feet ahead, then sprinting back, whether you’re called or not, seems like a pretty serious workout. It is, but even though the dogs are working that much harder than we are, it still takes us all about the same amount of time to really need a break.

Sometimes you just have to lie out on the cool grass, drink some water packed by one of your thoughtful dads, and let that tongue hang out.

Gus, ever the over-achiever, typically won’t just sit and rest. Usually, he’ll roll around in the grass like a demented armadillo, but today he chose to mulch a twig in his spare time.

Even this degree of stillness is only possible because Andy and I are sitting quietly. If we packed up or stood up, Gus would come over and stare as if to say, “When are we getting going!?”

If we didn’t get them out for this kind of exercise with some serious regularity, we’d have antsy, vibrating dogs at the house instead of the mostly mellow fellows we’re used to. These competition Goldens don’t make good indoor companions if they don’t get regular, substantial exercise. There is, of course, some rollicking keep-away played in the house no matter how tired we keep them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Muddy Blurs

Jeremy and Naomi live on a small lake created by a rather interesting glacial-geologic phenomenon. Alas, this is not the day for glacial-geologic photo essays (been there), but it’s rather a day for discussing the area right next to their little beach.

It’s a cute, sandy beach with its own dock and canoe, and to the immediate left, as you look out at the lake, the shore becomes mud—a special kind of rotten leaf muck. Left to his own devices, Gus will take a tennis ball and squish it into the mud with his front paws and then dig it back out, over and over, until he looks like this.

Comet would like nothing better than to be chased by Gus, and he recently discovered that if he grabs Gus’s tennis ball, a chase will ensue. Since is was a dreary, gray day, there wasn’t enough light for dog action pictures. Still, watching them streak across the yard is a pretty blurry enterprise in real life, so why should the photo be any different?

Comet, true golden that he is, loves to end the chase by running into the water for a good, old-fashioned splashing romp. No, they’re not really fighting. Gus is trying to knock the ball out of Comet’s mouth, not bite him. This kind of play-fighting does look pretty ferocious, and it occasionally results in a high “ouch” bark from one dog or the other. Even when that happens, though, the fighting just stops for a moment and resumes pretty quickly. It’s not like a dog to hold a grudge.

Lighting is pretty crucial, particularly as the days lengthen (yes, even in late August), and the light gets less than full as the afternoons wear on. It’s just after 5PM here, on a sunnier day than our trip to the lake, though the dogs are wet in this photo too, and the light coming across wasn’t quite enough to illuminate all of both of them.

Goldens have a double coat, and it’s that two-layered characteristic that gives them their particular look. The longer, shinier “guard” hairs are darker (particularly dark on these two), and they help repel water. The undercoat is made up of fluffy, lighter-colored hair. In direct sun, even when damp, dark Goldens like these two shine in reds, oranges, whites, and golds in all the variations of wetness and the angles of light.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

See Dogs Swim

Blogger isn't great with video, so this is the best I could do in converting the original, much larger video of this photo sequence.

Over the course of a couple of days of dock jumping, Comet made the transition from hesitant, awkward slips into the water to stretched-out leaps as far out as he could. This is about the pinnacle of his jumping.

When he started out, though, it was a bit more like this. We didn’t take pictures of his truly hesitant first jumps, but you can see even here, once he’s had a little practice, that there’s a little bit of worry about crashing into the water and that he’s treating it as as if he needs to have a paw out to land on. Even though this isn’t one of the first jumps, it’s still a pretty impressive difference between the two.

Landings got quite a bit better too, from careful slips into the water.... full-bodied crashes into the water, with the eyes focused on the target.

Gus is, as always, a consummate jumping professional, even as he gets older. He’ll throw himself as far as he can, over and over, until he’s exhausted and dazed. Part of taking care of him has always meant knowing when to make him stop.

(Photo credit: Donna Tippy)

Of course, the entire point of the jumping is to fetch the ball, or the toy, or whatever it is that we’ve thrown into the water for them to bring back.

Fetching is the epitome of an action done for its own sake, an undertaking whose entire point is the process itself. The dog doesn’t bring back the ball and then wait to see what will happen. He doesn’t bring it back and then take a coffee break. Once you pick it up, he takes a few careful steps out ahead, waiting for you to throw it, and hoping you will so he can enter into the process again.

A dog takes simultaneous joy in motion, in connection with you over an activity that he’s absolutely sure you want him to do.

Gus is so good at fetching that he’ll get to tennis balls before Comet most of the time, in or out of the water. The solution is to throw a ball as far as you can, which Gus will chase and Comet will immediately write off as a loss.

Then you can toss something Comet likes but Gus cares a lot less about (Gus will prioritize tennis balls over anything else, including treats, things with squeakers, live birds, anything). Then Comet gets to bring this squeaky bumper thing and Gus gets the ball. It’s a nice arrangement for the dogs, but a little complex and wet for the thrower.

As you saw in the video, though, sometimes Comet does get the ball.

Sometimes, though, you just have to share, especially when we think Gus is too tired and we’ve put the tennis ball away. Then, grabbing the floating turtle is anybody’s game.

(Photo credit: Donna Tippy)