Editorial August 2001 Issue

Addicted to Fetch

My dog can’t stop after just one throw.

I know he’s supposed to say it himself, but he’s just a dog. So we say it for him: “Hi. My name is Rupert, and I’m a fetchaholic.”

Rupe is my Border Collie, and he’s got a real problem – although he doesn’t see it that way. When he drops a sodden tennis ball at our feet, his eyes glazed and unfocused in anticipation of a fetching “fix,” my husband and I ignore the ball and pat his head, instead. “Rupe, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem,” we tell the uncomprehending junkie, who ducks our pats and nudges the ball closer to our hands. That first step is a giant leap for Rupert, who sees nothing wrong with his addiction to fetching.

The problem is, like many addictions, my dog’s fetching can be destructive to the people around him, and even to himself. Rupert has definitely hurt a number of others in his blind pursuit of fetching pleasure. He has crashed into people, run over people’s bare feet, knocked over people’s drinks, spoiled people’s picnics – you name it. Once someone throws something for him, he’s going after it at top speed.

However, he’s borne the worst damage, himself. Rupert lacks any sense of self-preservation when he’s fetching; he’s lost teeth, he’s had sprains and bruises, and, one memorable time, he was knocked out cold by a baseball bat, running up silently behind a friend who was hitting baseballs to another friend across our horse pasture. (The guy with the bat threw the baseball up in the air and then swung at it, just as Rupert leaped up from behind him to try to catch the ball – a hideous sight I chanced to witness from my kitchen window.)

In another horrible incident that occurred in his first year of life, he once scraped every bit of his paw pads off, leaving a trail of bloody pawprints, after (unbeknownst to me) a witless boyfriend played fetch with him in a paved alley. (When I grilled the boyfriend, incredulous that anyone could be so stupid as to keep throwing a ball for a dog that kept running and skidding on the concrete, he answered, “I didn’t think he was hurting himself; he kept chasing the ball and bringing it back . . . ” My God! Rupert would fetch until he had nothing but bloody stumps to return on, if someone let him.)

I’ll take the credit for helping him survive into his still-active 11th year. The only reason he’s made it this far is because, since those early days of his worst mishaps, I have exerted iron and often unpopular control over Rupert’s fetching habit. When he spots a potential thrower, he’ll run to find a fetch item (any little twig will do, but balls and flying discs are best), and hasten to drop it at the person’s feet, backing up fast to indicate his keen interest in fetching. “No, no, no,” I have to call out. “Don’t do it; he’s not allowed to fetch.” Some people are respectful and they’ll stop; others can’t resist and throw it anyway, and I have to tell Rupert to “Down!” before he flies across the street or into a bush or wherever the thrown item flew. Those people are not invited back.

The only place and time I do permit Rupert to fetch is at an uninhabited park (free of potential crash victims), on a lush, thick lawn (he loves to skid to a halt when he reaches the item, and he’s prone to losing those paw-pads), and with one of the two fetch items that pass my safety inspection: soft balls or flexible flying disks. Otherwise, he’s liable to hurt himself or others.

Of course, this means Rupie does not get to fetch all that often; the planets don’t line up that nicely every day. That’s okay; he’d have self-destructed a long time ago if I didn’t exert absolute control over his fetching habits. I guess that makes me “co-dependent” . . . and that’s okay, too. I keep him out of harm’s way, and he keeps me happy. It works for us.

-Nancy Kerns

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