I first met Oscar de la Rascal 12 years ago. I was walking toward the tennis courts west of the Shores to go play a match when I saw him next to his owner, Colleen, a disabled neighbor of mine in her wheel chair heading home. A trained service dog, Oscar was just six months old but clever as a fox.
I got down on my knees and opened my arms to greet and hug Oscar. But he had other plans. Instead he sprinted right past me and dove headfirst into my open bag.
As if on a mission, Oscar furiously began shoveling the tennis balls onto the sidewalk until he found the exact one he wanted. Grumbling, I began putting the balls back into my bag as Oscar proudly held the coveted ball securely in his mouth.
The next day Colleen phoned to see if I might be available to walk Oscar regularly. I agreed, though given his rather rambunctious nature, I had my doubts. I didn’t know the half of it.
Late that afternoon, as I walked with a tennis buddy, Michael, toward the Ocean View tennis facility my plan was to let Oscar off the leash in an unoccupied court, shut the gate and let him run. Sure enough, he dashed off hunting the loose tennis balls and especially those wedged behind the mesh windscreen. He barked like a car alarm until I got on my knees and worked them free for him. Even then, he had me working for him. Forget “Dog is man’s best friend.” It’s more like “Man is a dog’s best schlepper” as I was clearly Oscar’s.
But when it came time to leave, Oscar wasn’t interested. As Michael and I tried to fasten his leash, he easily darted away from us. This went on for 10 minutes, two seemingly grown men helplessly trying to outflank a six-month-old puppy that was having the time of his life.
Finally, Oscar gave up, perhaps out of pity. You see players on the other courts had begun laughing at our spectacular ineptitude.
As I walked Oscar back to the Shores I prepared the speech for Colleen. “It’s not going to work out, Colleen, but we gave it the old college try, yada yada.”
But before I could begin Colleen blurted out, “So did you want to walk Oscar every day?” She was in a wheel chair, how could I say no?
So the next day we tried again. This time I gave Oscar a stern lecture. “You’re on probation, pal. One glitch, no more walks. Capiche?”
Oscar looked at me innocently as if to say, “Why didn’t you just say so?” And remarkably from that moment on he was shockingly obedient. When it was time to go he trotted over dutifully as if to say, “See?”
Oscar will be 13 this September. He has arthritis and his back legs are giving out but he’s still as handsome as ever. And he’s still so tuned into humans you’d swear he was one. Over the years he and I have hiked all over the Santa Monica Mountains.
Unfortunately, we’ve gotten a few “off-leash” tickets, which prompted columns such as “Rebel with Four Paws,” and “Oscar’s Big Day in Court.” (Charges were dismissed.)
Lastly, one summer night Michael, Oscar and I were walking to the pier. On the grass across from the Loew’s Hotel, I threw the tennis ball for Oscar to fetch. Unfortunately, it bounced over the fence and into a huge construction pit as they were building condos.
Oscar barked his head off. He got the attention of a security guard who seemed like a recent immigrant. He noted there was a hole in the fence. Hey, there was no freakin’ way was I crawling into that pit.
Twenty minutes later on our way back from the pier, suddenly Oscar took off running like he was obsessed. He made a left at the pit. Michael and I chased after him but by the time we got there he had completely vanished.
I was frantic. What the hell would I tell Colleen? Then, in the darkness, crouched behind the fence, I saw green eyes staring at me. Oscar! Somehow he had found the hole in the fence and was proudly holding his tennis ball! Michael and I had totally forgotten the ball but obviously he hadn’t. Had he understood the security guard’s broken English? It was absurd and yet…
The next day, Michael confessed that he hadn’t gotten a thing done at work. He’d been too busy telling co-workers about the amazing Oscar de la Rascal. But now that he’s old and distinguished, you can call him Cary.
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.