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Grand Central

He will fetch till you retch

By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 27, 2002

WE ARE TRAPPED in an previously uncharted ring of hell, in the vicinity of lust and gluttony: the Loop of Retrieval.

It is 10:48 p.m. and Reggie stands before me, tennis ball in mouth. It does not matter that I threw a ball 100 times at the dog beach, our weekly athletic outing.

He wants to fetch. More.

USUALLY, he carries two balls, one in his mouth proper, the other dangling from teeth. The obsession emerged after a certain, ego-deflating surgical procedure. I draw no conclusions.

At barbecues, the other dog, Abby, waits for scraps. Reggie waits for the pitch.

He greets guests with balls dipped in slime and rolled in dirt. He delivers the balls to chairs and laps. He is earnest, and so guests take the bait. Eventually they make excuses and leave, looking like candidates for Tide commercials.

I DEMONSTRATE my higher intellect: I buy a $10 device that launches tennis balls, hands free. It fails to tire him, but reduces the slime.

He catches balls midair. He bounces them back to me on his nose like a canine Pele. He pushes them at my feet until I nudge them away, and he nudges them back.

He won't sleep without a ball near his nose. For safekeeping, he wedges an extra one between me and the mattress in the middle of the night. I wake like a hen who has hatched an egg.

HE HIDES his ball in special places -- under the TV stand, inside the fireplace, in the narrow space between the deck and the house -- and then he whimpers for help, forcing me to put my hand into the blackness.

Night has fallen. The neighborhood is still. I am in the yard with a flashlight.

There are rubber balls, their interior bells long since extracted. There are tennis balls plucked bald. They disappear for months, then, at the height of desperation, he lines them up, as many as five abreast. He stalks them, tail thumping the floor.

FINALLY, I call the expert, South Tampa trainer Vic Carlson, who has written a book of advice, Everything You Need to Know About Training and Managing Your Dog. He is a dog whisperer, a man of knowledge, a pied piper of canines.

What insight does he offer?

"You've got a fanatical ball chaser here."

He blames genetics, the imprint of hunters. He gives me advice: Set aside time each night for ball throwing -- not just a few throws, but 15 minutes -- and then stop. Put Reggie on a routine.

"He doesn't understand there's an end to all good things, including a game of fetch," Carlson says.

OF COURSE, Carlson has a dog at home with 100 balls, he says.

It is a conspiracy.

My arm is doomed.

Wanna come over for a cookout?

-- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or .

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