I am puppy-sitting at the moment and ‘enjoying’ early morning rambles with two mini dachshunds called Drake and Bear. A pattern is emerging!
I was already four sticks up by the time we reached the park. Well, four sticks and a little black plastic sack, warmly containing last night’s dinner. Not my own, you understand.
I had learned over the week that sticks must be collected on the way. No good waiting till we reached St Boniface, a park so neat it looked freshly hoovered. Never a stick in sight, and sticks were currency in this game.
Manic tails and panting bodies swirled round my sodden ankles, the leads threatening to turn me into a cat’s cradle. Eager eyes darted from my hand to my face and back again, willing me to start. ‘Do it! Do it!’ was the unspoken plea, eight tiny feet almost lifting off the ground simultaneously.
I inhaled deeply, drew back my arm and hurled with all the gusto of an Olympic shot-putter. The dogs were there before the stick hit the ground, muzzles entwined round the stick in a ferocious battle to the death, snarls and growls worthy of a Savanna lion pack.
I raised my arm, stick two held tauntingly aloft. Heads jerked up. A stampede towards me gave me time for my overarm serve. Screeching into reverse, the pups whirled round in a frantic bid to get first chew, their feet skidding on the slippery surface.
Bits of bark, wood pulp and saliva spattered off ecstatic faces, soon reducing the stick to splinters. And they were back. ‘Quick! Quick! Throw the next one!’
I shifted tactics, attempting a sideways lob that would make them run a bit harder. To no avail. Their beady eyes took in the direction of my gaze and their squat little bodies had stick three aloft before I could draw my next breath.
Hmm. Only one remaining. I needed to make this last. I tried picking up the remains of stick one, fingers squirming against the slavvery wood pulp, but it had lost its aerodynamics and landed with an unsatisfactory plop just feet from my sodden trainers.
Nothing more for it. Stick four it was. I hefted it back and forth a few times, swinging to get the best possible trajectory. I found myself wincing, realising I had developed ‘flinger’s arm’, but persevered nonetheless. It was a good throw, high and long and promised to give them a good run for their sturdy little legs.
Amazed, I noticed them rooted to the spot, looking at me with keen interest and around about to see what had happened to the stick. My frantic pointing, shouting ‘Over there! Over there!’ was to no avail. When you’re less than fourteen inches from feet to ears, a stick thrown six feet in the air might as well have gone to Mars.
Wandering back, the sun warming our faces and lighting the dew-soaked grass alongside us, the sky seemed so blue it could go on forever.