My dog Ginger loves to chase a particular kind of orange rubber ball. It has a blue pattern pressed into it, it flies long distances when thrown with a Chuck-it, and it bounces unusually high. Plus, I imagine it feels good to chew on. The beautiful thing I saw yesterday was the unbridled joy with which Ginger runs when I throw her orange and blue ball high into the air and well out into a big field. She looks like an outfielder with a bead on a long fly ball that might or might not make it over the fence. She does not catch the ball on the fly. Part of the fun for her seems to be to let the ball bounce and then try to catch it as it comes down from it 12- or even 15-foot high bounce. When conditions are right, she can do this over and over and over again and not lose interest.
Yesterday, conditions were right. She threw herself into the pursuit of that ball again and again, each time launching her body up as the ball came down from its bounce and snagging it out of the air a good five or six feet off the ground. Sometimes she had the trajectory just a little bit off and the ball would bounce off her snout and careen away at an unpredictable angle. When this happened she would lunge after the ball and hunt it down like a baby rabbit. She was so clearly having fun that it made me feel good, too.
Dog owners like to believe they have access to their dogs’ inner lives and emotional states. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. (The whole enterprise leaves quite a lot of room for projection if you ask me.) But in this case, I think I can tell what Ginger is feeling. I think I can tell because there are times when I have had the very same feeling. For me it isn’t an orange and blue bouncy ball. Instead, it is a 187-gram Frisbee thrown far and high out across a huge grassy field.
When conditions are right, I can chase these Frisbees down from below and snag them out of thin air at a dead run, stop on a dime, turn, and launch the Frisbee back to the person who threw it. And then do it again. And again. And again. The world goes away and all there is is the Frisbee and the chase and these two things are all there needs to be for a while.
Eventually, Ginger tired of the game yesterday. It was very hot and very humid and she had expended a lot of energy. But for a little while I got to experience some vicarious joy as she sprinted full out across the grassy fields of Edgerton with her eyes focused upward on that orange and blue ball and the rest of the world disappeared.