They say that dogs were put on earth to serve man, but that's just not true. But after taking a caravanning trip with one, I've learnt that the true object of a dog's affections is the tennis ball.
My family first stopped at the dog park to give my kelpie, Gus, a break from the boot. There was a crowd of dogs running around, but he snubbed them all and bolted for a single patch of dirt. It was only as he came trotting back to me that I saw the yellow tennis ball lodged in his jaw.
On his bark, I threw it. Each dog, from a tiny pug to a mammoth of a great dane, pricked up their ears as he passed. Gus ignored them. His eyes were focussed on the ball. If he'd looked any harder, lasers might have shot out and shattered it to pieces.
His disinterest in others wasn't limited to canines. When we parked at an oval for lunch, I sat beside him with a box of juicy chicken nuggets. You'd expect a dog to start drooling, but when he heard a cricket ball, he was off.
My dog catapulted across the lawn, straight into a cricket game.The sport was disrupted but no one appeared angry. They were cheering at Gus, who had somehow won the game. Fame didn't interest him. All he cared about was the cricket ball, which he presently dropped at my feet.
Getting him into the car wasn't an easy task but eventually we moved on and came to a pedestrian crossing. I just about jumped through the roof when Gus' bark echoed inside the car. He was barking at a couple of children crossing the road. One was holding a ball.
At the caravan park, we'd set up a playpen around our caravan so he could roam outside.It wasn't a ball which caught his attention this time. It was a family of ducks. The dog shot off, crashing through the flimsy fence, and bolted after the birds.
He chased them under a van. Its owners didn't shout, they thought he was a good boy.I've concluded that dogs can get away with anything so long as they master the 'puppy eyes'.
Yet he still didn't care for attention. Gus' reward came with the couple's grandchildren, and the tennis ball they played with. Soon, it was a soggy, tooth-marked tennis ball.
Gus quickly built a reputation in the caravan park. Everyone seemed to have a tennis ball for him. Ten minute walks turned into hour long games. Even dinner time was forgotten if there was something round and bouncy in his midst.
Strolls along the beach were the most entertaining. Gus was in paradise with the ball thrower, a clever invention which sent the tennis ball soaring. When it splashed in the ocean, he'd somersault in without a thought of drowning. If it got buried in sand, he'd dig until the pile of sand behind him was bigger than the actual dune. If it flew over unlucky tourists, he would slam right into them. Gus only has eyes for the ball.
It was at the end of our stay when my dog almost gave me a heart attack. I turned around for a second. When I looked back, he was nowhere to be found.
The old couple saw me looking and said Gus had wandered off by himself. So I grabbed the lead, a tennis ball, and began the search. It didn't take long. Everyone had seen him pass and they pointed me towards the beach, where I found him up the mile long expanse of sand. He had joined in a game of beach cricket. He was winning. Mouth full of sand and the cricket ball, I had never seen my dog happier.
Having been on holiday with my dog, I do not doubt that canines make entertaining companions. But I wouldn't say that their purpose in life is to serve man. Far more loved are the tennis balls they spend their lives chasing.