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Does Your Dog Fetch Well With Others?

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If no one told you it was a lake, the 118 by 307 mile Lake Michigan could be an ocean. Standing on the beach, you'll never see the sides-or the other shore. In fact the glimmering mass-which today makes you think of Van Gogh-y adjectives like "cobalt" and "azure"-stretches as wide as the sky itself for which it serves as a kind of mirror image.

If anyone doubts that Evanston loves its dogs, consider this: its dog beach is bigger than some of its "people beaches." It's better located, next to the boat launch and snack shop and flanked by a pier and boulders which serve as an "observation decks."

Like Evanston's other beaches-and adjacent Northwestern University's too-the dog beach is not free. But it is open from May through October and, thanks to dogs' oblivion to cold water, you will probably get your $50 worth.

Like Seattle's Puget Sound, Lake Michigan is "polar bear-friendly" and has a reputation for being too cold too swim. This year in late August it was a disappointing 52 degrees versus the 90 degree air temperature which makes a dip so appealing.

dog_beach

But today the water is 72 degrees and the air is 78 degrees-a perfect ratio and a perfect waste since the people beach is closed for the summer and dogs will swim even when the water is 40.

Today about 20 dogs, one to two owners each, romp on the beach. One is digging, one is sunning himself, two are face-to-face on their "elbows" trying to decide, now that they'll be friends, who will chase whom. But most are engaged in the game known as: Throw It Again, Daddy.

Anyone who doubts that animals "speak" needs to watch the end of the Throw It Again, Daddy game wherein the dog drops the ball or throw toy-retrieved from 50 water yards away-and barks for an instant replay.

Is the owner preoccupied or taking his time? The dog will gesture with his head toward the water and the ball as if to say, "Get with the program!"

Of course what the dog really wants is to defend the toy in his mouth in a game of tug of war. Why else does he drop and catch it seductively and roll it around in its mouth if not to say, "I've got it-and you don't! Naa-naa."

But the dog knows the limits of his owner's largesse; Dad won't give chase and he won't try to pull the toy out of the dog's mouth.

He is also proud of retrieving the toy no matter how far it was thrown-the dog version of the fairy tale in which no task or metaphysical assignment is impossible.

So he surrenders the toy at the owner's feet, shaking off the water he'll take on again in 5 seconds.

And what a fairy tale/task it is. With sling shots, racquets and well developed throwing arms, Dads and Moms throw the ball or squeak toy way past the pier where ocher tones say the water is cold and way over your head.

And off the dogs dash, one after another, innocent of the concept of "some things get old."

Soon, intermingled with the white caps are 6 to 8 "dog caps"-seemingly disembodied dog heads, brown, black and tan valiantly advancing toward the shore-legs furiously and invisibly peddling- prize in mouth.

Two humans also make their way in-owners are allowed to wade but not swim (sunbathe at your own risk of the "hydrant effect")-while their dog waits on the shore. Isn't that backwards?

There are dogs out there who don't "fetch nice with others" and start fights, but they're not on the dog beach today. No, today the biggest infraction is when a skinny yellowish dog grabs a squeak toy from a black mixed breed to the audible protestations of owners and spectators. But the black dog gives chase and regains his property and a few humans cheer for "playground justice."

Of course, fighting may be rare on the beach but that doesn't mean dogs are equally popular.

No one wants to play, for example, with a Doberman whose mom has outfitted him in...a life preserver. (See, Mom, the kids will laugh at me!) And a dog who barks on the shore for no apparent reason is given wide birth, branded a fussbudget or worse.

Still a "frou frou" dog is so its spirited in its fetching, the dog monde forgives his size and breed and makes it one of the crowd.

Meanwhile a shepherd mix endures his owner trying to teach him the "concept" of pointing. ("This means I want you to go this way," he repeats) The dog knows all about symbolic gestures-when he plays Throw It Again, Daddy.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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