T Minus 40: Beach Dog

The first time I took my dog to the beach he was not my dog. He belonged to my future mother-in-law, Carol. We were watching him while she and Yves’ dad, were on a trip to Greece. We were his go-to babysitters and had spent a lot of time with the dog, Bartoo.

It was early fall 2004 and my mother had moved to Florida, but still owned an apartment on Long Beach on Long Island. The post-labor day weather was gorgeous and the summer renters were gone, so Yves and I decided to get out of the city for a couple of days and head out to her place. Bartoo was in our care for two weeks, so we figured we’d take the little guy out there and show him a good time. He was still young at two years old, but had been very well trained not to do normal puppy things. Some of his commands were no bark, no chew, no dig and no jump. We joked that he was the most un-doglike dog on the planet. His stature was no help either. At 12 pounds, one foot high and 20 inches long he was definitely not a sporting breed. White, fluffy and impeccably groomed, Bartoo was the perfect Manhattan pet.

We arrived at the apartment in the early afternoon, unloaded the bags of gourmet groceries we had gathered from the uptown Fairway and took Bartoo for a walk on the beach. It was totally illegal, but after labor day on Long Island, the beach is fair game.

We kept him on his leash for a while, but we started to feel bad about curtailing his freedom. Yves found an old tennis ball and we threw it for Bartoo. When he gave chase we figured it couldn’t hurt to let him run a little so we removed his leash.

The dog sprang to life.

I had seen Bartoo run in circles in a large pen in the yard of Yves’ parents’ country home, but that was nothing compared to the speed and agility he displayed in the sand that day. He was fast! He chased that tennis ball (it didn’t fit in his mouth, so fetch wasn’t happening). He dug holes. He seemed absolutely giddy and so were we. He was finally behaving like a normal dog. We were witnessing pure joy.

As Yves and Bartoo continued to play, I walked towards the water and stood in that sacred space where the land and the ocean become one. I let the cool salt water wash over my feet, feeling a feeling as old as time.

Bartoo was staying away from the water and had calmed down a bit from his initial moments of ecstasy. He and Yves were about ten feet up on the sand and directly in front of where I stood. I thought Bartoo should experience the feeling of the ebbing and flowing tide. So I called out to him.

Bartoo! Here boy, come here!!

He’s never been big on coming when he’s called, at least not without food present. I called him again, remembering the proper command.

Bartoo. Come.

He stood looking at me for a moment and I shouted, Bartoo! Come!

The dog kicked into high gear and came running towards me at full speed. Then he kept going right past. He ran through the shallows and straight towards the vast Atlantic, just as one wave was waning and another was building to it’s inevitable breaking point.

Yves and I watched frozen by the fear that we may have just drowned Carol’s dog. We knew what was about to happen, just as we knew that Bartoo was blissfully unaware of what was coming his way. Neither one of us could move fast enough to get to the little guy in time.

Crash! A large wave fell atop the twelve pound Coton de Tulear completely covering him, obscuring him from view.

I ran towards him as the water receded back into itself. He had been tossed around a bit, but he was there, soaked. I jumped in and plucked his water logged body from the surf. He looked deflated. I could tell he was pissed, confused and pissed.

I held him close to me and attempted to sooth him as I carried him the whole way back to the apartment with Yves following. I put him in the tub and turned on the shower to rinse the seawater off of his coat. About two pounds of sand must’ve come off the poor creature as we dowsed him with water for the second time that day. He was definitely pissed.

We dried him off, shook up some martinis and commenced happy hour with cheese and snacks from the city. Bartoo recovered from the trauma as soon as the cheese was unwrapped. He napped and begged and napped again. He must’ve been exhausted. On our second martini, Yves and I vowed never to tell the tale of Bartoo’s big swim to anyone. A vow we actually kept for several years.

When we lost Carol to cancer in 2006 Yves and I took Bartoo as our pet. We’ve had wonderful adventures together and traveled all over with him, but to this day he is not a fan of the beach. We’ve tried to take him to just sit on the sand and he hates it. When he steps in the sand he looks at his feet and then back to us as if to say, really? this shit again? He will follow anyone who looks like they are leaving the beach just to get away. If I hold him over any body of water he attempts to draw his limbs up into himself like a fluffy white turtle. When we go on a beach vacation, Bartoo stays in the house, napping and dreaming of a world without oceans.

He has never gone for a “swim” again.

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