A Dog and His Boy

“I want to play fetch with Sadie,” Kostyn says, nearly getting knocked over as he crosses the dog’s path. Sadie’s on her way back to me with a gnawed, gnarly tennis ball in her mouth.

“OK,” I tell him reluctantly. She’s a good dog, an obedient dog, but a powerful one. She’s a pit bull/chow mix that jumps when she’s excited, and sharp claws on strong paws can easily bump a little boy to the ground. We didn’t have much luck with Kostyn and Sadie playing fetch last year.

“Drop it,” I command the dog; she drops the ball at my feet. It bounces down the porch steps where I’m sitting, and Kostyn scrambles to get it.

“It’s wet!” he says, thrusting it at me.

“I know," I smile. “It’s been in Sadie’s mouth.” I throw the ball against the garage and Sadie takes off after it. Kostyn whines. “I wanna play fetch with her!” And I know this time he’s serious.

“OK!” I say. “I didn’t think you wanted to touch the wet ball.” Sadie trots over to us. “Drop it,” I say.

“Drop it,” Kostyn echoes with all the authority in his voice he can muster (which is a lot, actually, as there has been lots of practicing on his little brother). Sadie drops the ball; Kostyn picks it up. He brings the ball up to the side of his head and Sadie jumps around, excited. I stand up protectively.

“Down Sadie!” She fidgets and paces but stops jumping. Kostyn’s hand is still poised above his head, frozen, waiting for the perfect moment to throw. With an overly excitable dog, the perfect time is as soon as possible, like right now.

“Go ahead and throw it,” I urge him. He throws; the ball drops into the bushes directly in front of us. Sadie doubles back, having grossly overestimated how far the ball would be thrown. She noses around in the bushes and comes up with it. Kostyn cheers.

“Drop it,” I say out of habit, and Kostyn once again echoes me. “Drop it. Sadie, drop!” She doesn’t drop it; she brings it over to me and loosens her jaws when I pull it from her mouth. Kostyn starts to protest, but I hand over the ball.

“Down Sadie,” I say instinctively as she hops on her back paws and paces energetically. Kostyn throws; Sadie fetches; Kostyn giggles and cheers. 

After awhile, I sit back down. I am not so much impressed with the dog, who is overall docile and obedient, but with the boy, who is changing daily in the way he sees the world and the way he is seen in it. A year ago he wouldn’t have held the disgustingly wet ball. Six months ago he wouldn’t have been able to effectively command her to drop it. Two months ago he wouldn’t have had the patience to try again and again to get it right, to throw it straight down the yard, to fetch it himself when Sadie loses sight of it, to pat her head when she retrieves it from the bushes again (and again). (And again.)

Four years ago next week Chris brought Kostyn’s tiny newborn cap home from the hospital ahead of us so Sadie could familiarize herself with this new scent before we brought the baby home. I remember all those late-night hours of nursing, burping, rocking, and pleading with Kostyn to go to sleep, when Sadie was almost always at my feet. I remember the terrible phases the dog has gone through with both boys as they became mobile and were finally able to chase her, pull her tail, sit on her. Thankfully, we have all emerged from that phase unscathed.

“Good girl!” Kostyn exclaims as Sadie catches the ball in her mouth. After awhile the dog takes the ball to the corner of the yard and sits down in a patch of dirt, panting. “Come on, Sadie!” Kostyn says. “Where’s the ball?”

“I think she needs to rest,” I say. He watches her for a minute, asks me why her tongue is sticking out.

“OK,” he says finally with a glimmer of maturity I see more of lately. “You rest, Sadie.”

Right here in this tiny back yard on this spring day, she has become his dog. I kind of think in her mind, she’s been his all along.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Now she just has to live forever...