Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not Just a Fountain, Not Just a Ball

They finally turned the fountain on at the park. All summer it has sat silent and empty, an ugly hole in the ground just off the baseball diamonds. Duncan hasn't minded, of course, because he hates the thing. Summers past he's worked very hard at keeping me between himself and the jets of water shooting out of the grates. While children, other dogs, and even I have danced in it, kicking water across the courtyard, Duncan has stood suspicious and fearful on the sidelines, his head low, ears hanging almost in his eyes to avoid even the slightest glimpse of it. I imagine he's enjoyed our walks much more this summer without worrying about the possibility that I'd drag him toward it to watch the water catch the sunlight and listen to the music of it slapping the bricks at our feet.

Last week, however, it came on--like never before. It's always been a rather runty fountain, with the plumes rising barely above my head, but this year they've turned it all the way up, perhaps in an effort to make up for the silent dry months we've gone without it. We've ventured over to it several times, but Duncan has dragged his heels and stayed firmly behind me and out of the way of even the small of drops or the mist drifting up from the base. He does not like it and only really learned to enjoy being wet in the past year. He's tolerated his baths and took to swimming quite well, but the fountain, for whatever reason, has been his own personal Hell.

Yesterday after chasing the bunnies and the sunset across the park, we stepped up to the fountain to sit and relax a moment before heading home for the night. The light had disappeared behind the mountains and the world was blue but still alive with the last sounds and joy of the day. Duncan plopped down at my feet, his back to the water, his eyes scanning the nearby trees for signs of squirrels. I patted his head and tried to get him to at least watch the water. It wasn't until I noticed the stray baseball at the edge of the jets, however, and mentioned it to him that he took any interest at all.

There are few things he loves more than a ball. And this one was just sitting there, unclaimed, pristine and clean, practically begging to be chewed on.

And so I spent the next thirty minutes watching my dog deal with his own anxiety, struggling to overcome his fear and retrieve the reward just beyond his reach. He paced back and forth, stepped as close as he could without getting wet, looked at me, looked at the ball, looked at the stars as if asking returning Orion for his help. He paced nervously, jumped up on me, resting his paws on my chest, barked with raised eyebrows, giving me the look I almost can't resist. He turned away and moved back to the fountain, retreated again. He plopped down on the puddling cement soaking his belly and tail, snapped at the water cascading safely out of range. I dropped his leash and encouraged him all I could, tossing wild boar treats closer and closer to the water's edge and watched as he stretched impossibly far forward to capture them on the tip of his outstretched pink tongue. When he looked resigned to failure I gathered his leash and stepped away but he whined and turned back, so we started the whole process all over again.

He was so close so many times and it reminded me of those last one hundred feet of our climb to The Royal Arch a few weeks ago, before the madness of work took over my life. I remembered sitting on that rock feeling helpless and afraid and how Duncan took control and pulled me up to the top, to that spectacular view of the world, but mostly to my own salvation. So I did what he would've done had the leash been on the other neck. I pushed him. I grabbed his rump and gave it a good solid shove right into the spray and mist.

He buckled down and resisted, of course, spun around and gave me the kind of look I probably deserved, but with the water falling all around him, the damage done, he turned and scooped up that baseball, trotted back to me proudly, plopped down at my feet and shook himself harder than he's ever shaken himself before, which, I supposed, I also probably deserved.

With the ball clenched firmly between his teeth he wagged his tail all the way home, where I toweled him off good and hard, the way he likes it, tossed him a couple of treats and let him chew on that well-earned ball until bedtime.

He was a happy dog, indeed, and maybe tomorrow that fountain will be just a fountain and I'll still be his best friend.


Lori said...

It would have been so easy to go get the ball for him... but it would have been the wrong thing to do. And you knew because Duncan is your Ripley, your canine other half.

David said...

Has "wet dog" ever smelled better? Soggy scritches to all 10 ears!

Traci said...

What a great post! I could see and hear everything you described. Duncan's anxiety over getting wet was as real to me here as it was to you there.

Greg said...

Curt, your words are beautiful, as always. I love how well you and Duncan complement one another and the sweet way you capture all the details.

Enjoy your Sunday, pal. : )

Charlie said...

Love it!