After I lost my dog Phebe one of the first drawings I created was “ball detector”. It represented some of my favorite memories with her. When drawing, I could imagine her perfectly and see her on one of our walks in the woods when she would suddenly scamper off and return proudly with a tennis ball. She never ceased to amaze me with that little skill of hers. She adored playing fetch so much that she seemed to find them wherever we went
She found tennis balls at friend’s houses, on college campuses, school yards, golf courses, in the woods, on beaches, … you name a place and she probably found a tennis ball there. I rarely ever bought them because if we ran low, we would simply go down to the tennis courts and I would let her collect as many as she could find in the bushes.
Her gift for finding balls extended to anything I asked her to find and bring back. I would say, “find it” and she would search the area until she found whatever the requested item was. A friend once threw a stick for our dogs and it inadvertently went over an 8 foot high, chain link fence, into the woods. We assumed it was gone, but Phebe watched on alert as it flew, tracking it in the air. When it landed, she was off in a flash to retrieve it. She ran several hundred yards away from us to where the fence ended and then she circled behind, into the woods to find it. I’ll never forget my friend’s exclamation as we watched her. “If she finds that exact stick, I’m going to [insert slightly off color remark about his pants here]! I silently cheered her on as she began her hunt amongst the MILLIONS of sticks in the undergrowth of the woods. “Come on Phebe! You can do it! I know you can!” I shouted, to no one but myself. We watched as she circled, head low sniffing out her quarry. She suddenly stopped, dropped her head into the undergrowth and emerged with … THE EXACT STICK! I was so proud of her I cheered quite audibly this time, “GOOD GIRL PHEBE!” As she ran back down the fence line and around to us I laughed and asked him if he wanted to go home and change his pants. His only remark was “UNBELIEVABLE!” I just smiled and thought, “Believe it.”
She really retrieved anything for me and I honestly didn’t realize how much I relied on her little gift until she was gone. I now had to go out into the yard and bring the dog toys in myself, or retrieve the ball after the other dogs lost interest. Somehow playing fetch was never the same after Phebe died. The Chuck-It that went everywhere with us, began to collect dust as the joy faded from the game.
I cherish the memory of her ability to find and retrieve so well, not only because it was what she loved to do most in life, but because at the very end, it was those very memories that brought her peace. As I held her in my arms, our last moments together, she struggled to breath and seamed agitated as she shifted trying to find a position she could relax in. I don’t know my reasoning really, but I began to tell her what a wonderful dog she was so I could remember all of the wonderful things we did together. Something happened in those moments and we were granted some peace, and what felt like a true understanding on her part. I started, “Do you remember how you could always find a ball no matter where it was? And how you made sure you always found YOUR ball, not some other dog’s ball?” She suddenly began to relax as if to say, “yes, mamma, I do. Tell me more.” I continued and she relaxed her head a little more into my hands as she listened. “Do you remember how we would go for long walks in the woods and you would always find a ball somewhere?” She seemed to miraculously breathe a bit easier as her tension dissipated and she listened to the sound of my voice. Seeing her calm down, I went on hoping it was somehow helping her. I reminisced about how much she loved playing fetch and how she would bring back whatever I asked her to; even the toys the other dogs left in the yard. I remembered other things, like the way she and Jack would take off running for the pure joy of it and always came back from some unexpected direction. I told her how she took care of us all and always made sure I knew if the water bowl was empty, or that it was time for dinner. Each little story helped her relax a bit more and gain some comfort as we reviewed our life together.
She let the weight of her body relax into mine and as the vet approached, I knew our time was at an end. I whispered to her how much I loved her now and for the rest of my days. The doctor began her procedure and as Phebe slipped into sleep, I said, “Run like the wind my baby girl. Run and be free. I will always love you.” I sobbed when she was gone, but I was grateful she was no longer in pain. I knew she was holding on for me, and the last gift I could give her, was to set her free.
Contrary to what you might think, I always feel happy when I look at “ball detector”. I don’t think about losing her, but instead think about our happy days together, finding tennis balls in the woods. There is also a special comfort that comes when someone identifies his or her own dog in my drawing. It makes me happy to know that there are millions of “Ball Detectors” out there, finding joy in every little yellow ball that they discover.