Chasing fuzzy yellow balls? Pssh, we do that all the time, say dogs everywhere. But catching and bringing them back for tennis players during an international event is an exciting chance for a few lucky dogs, who might not have felt very lucky before this.
Dogs at a Brazil Open exhibition match in Sao Paulo last week acted as “ball dogs,” collecting and — sometimes reluctantly — returning them to players Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain and Portugal’s Gastao Elias, CNN reports.
The dogs were all strays rescued off the city streets and trained by the Association of Animal Wellbeing.
When balls went out of play, the dogs seized the opportunity and dashed onto the court to collect them, wagging their tails the entire time. Getting the prized yellow fuzzy balls back was a little harder for the athletes, but Baena and Elias gamely played along and coerced the balls away from the happy hounds or waited for a trainer to do so.
This wasn’t the first time dogs did the ball-gathering work (and we hope it won’t be the last). Three dogs also played ball boys in 2015, at an ASB Classic practice match in Auckland, New Zealand, between Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Association of Animal Wellbeing trainer Andrea Beckert told CNN that recruiting these particular dogs for last week’s event had a deeper meaning behind it.
“We want to show that abandoned dogs can be adopted and trained,” she said. “After all, it’s not easy to get a dog to only pick up the lost balls, and then to give them up!”
The four dogs were Frida, Mel, Isabelle and Costela. “Costela” is “rib” in Portuguese.
“When we found him abandoned in an empty lot he was so skinny and ravaged by ticks that we called him Costela,” Beckert said.
The association currently has 1,200 dogs in its shelter. Beckert told CNN she hopes the “ball dog” initiative will raise awareness.
Fans cheered on the dogs during the half-hour they did their job. Spectators seemed almost as happy as the dogs about the spectacle. But, from the looks of the dogs on the court, that’s a strong “almost.”