Thankfully, my dog didn't follow Wimbledon

I believe that some dogs watch television. Maybe they find it more educational than a good book. Ours don't even listen to it. (They don't read books much, either.)

Only once do I remember either of them reacting even slightly to the vast variety of items on TV you might suppose would be of canine interest: hounds baying for their breakfast, sheepdogs being shouted and whistled at by farmers too lazy to round up their own sheep, nature programs featuring the neighborly howling of wolves or the mewling of infant meerkats.

But not a twitter of a whisker or a nostril flutter betrays the slightest interest.

Whatever it was that Bugsy did notice (and I was so surprised I've forgotten now what it was), elicited from him momentarily pricked-up ears, and then - nothing. Clearly, he decided, a false alarm. Not worth any actual effort. Why, anyway, would a dog think of chasing and barking at a stationary box even if it does talk and flicker? Goodness, a dog has better options. Like sleep, for instance.

I'm happy about this dogged disregard for TV in our place, though not as happy as I would be if I happened to be a soccer fanatic and watched every match on the calendar. It's the other dog, Muffie. Soccer moves her. If she even so much as hears a rumor of someone on the other side of the city kicking a soccer ball around, her amiable, sweet self is instantaneously replaced by an unknown creature, frenetic, electrified, desperate. It's quite simple. She is a would-be soccer star.

It's even worse if our walk happens to take us along a street where some local kids are desultorily firing a ball at the gap between a pair of gateposts (these make convenient if somewhat narrow practice goals around here). We spot them way in the distance, bending it like Beckham, and I know what's coming. For the entire length of the street as we approach, Muffie strains at the end of the lead like a husky team on a glacier.

The tempo of her urgent panting goes through accelerando and out the other side.

Once we are alongside the callow soccer players, Muffie is unbelievable. They look at her performance with incredulity. They clearly think she is from another planet. I ask them if they'd mind just holding their soccer ball until we are well past. "She fancies a game," I explain; they clearly think I am also from another planet. Eventually the dog and I turn the corner and she, to my notable relief, returns to normal.

So imagine what she would be like if a soccer game was on the television and she recognized it as such. But when it has been, she hasn't paid any attention at all. It seems odd to me, given how engrossed we humans can become in a TV program, that to the dogs the dramas and crises that happen on that small screen have no meaning.

I suppose I'll have to admit that although I like to impute to dogs a high degree of intelligence and carry on conversations with ours on many topics of current interest, Muff probably doesn't know precisely what soccer is. She knows it involves those wonderful round objects that roll.

She knows that these round objects almost come alive when you nose, nudge, claw, chase, and pounce on them. She knows the large ones are not too easy to get between the teeth. They are elusive. They escape.

This makes them all the more enticing.

The smaller versions are just her size, however, as our walled-in back garden bears witness. It's knee-high in them. Some have admittedly landed here from next door when the two boys there have indulged their characteristic inaccuracy yet again. But the majority are carried here by the dog - sniff-discovered by the Muff-character from the gutter or in the long grass during our walks.

She has a sixth sense for finding abandoned tennis balls, in fact, and for some reason there are a lot of them to be found. Once she picks one up, there is no letting go. "That's my ball," I tease. "Give it to me. It's my ball." And the more I say it, the more absolute is her fixed determination that it is hers and hers alone. She won't allow my hand near it.

The fact that a few moments before, it had been no one's or everyone's, and that even earlier in its career some person had actually paid money for it, is not relevant to Muffie's worldview. If she has it in her mouth, it is hers. And she is prepared to do anything to hang on to what she now sees as rightfully Muff-owned. She brings it home and adds it to her collection.

So when two weeks of tennis were crowding the airwaves recently, and I was once again trying to decide whether I supported Serena or Venus, and once again sighing as Britain's Tim Henman's hopes were refocused on a Wimbledon final next year, and watching a Swiss player become the champion for the first time in the history of the contest, Bugsy's dreams played out without the slightest disturbance.

And Muffie, on her bed under the stairs, ignored the world's greatest tennis tournament completely because she had something really important to attend to. She, employing a fantastic vocal range of ululation and murmuration as accompaniment, had to continually chew and squash and squeeze between her teeth the latest addition to her collection.

What else would you sensibly do with a tennis ball to make it your own?

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