It’s not an easy job being a ball boy or girl. There’s the constant risk of flyaway balls hitting you – as has happened to several of the young children. They are responsible for retreiving all the wild shots that go across court - and having the court 'ready' for tennis players right after.
And then there’s the question of flyaway tempers. Some angry tennis players will let loose at the first point of contact on the court – and often, that ends up being a ball boy/girl.
The Brasil Open in Rio de Janeiro last week saw four very special ball boys, however - four trained shelter dogs, who retrieved stray balls at the match between Portuguese ace Gastao Elias and his young Spanish rival, Roberto Carballes Baena.
The furry ball boys had minds of their own, with one making off with a ball he had retrieved as a laughing Elias chased after him to get it back.
Both players thoroughly enjoyed themselves, with Elias saying he had a “great time, and would absolutely do it again.” Each emphasized the importance of the cause, and how essential it was that people know about organisations that help abandoned animals find loving homes and families.
The four-legged ball boys were part of an event for Premier Pet, which provides pet food at subidised rates to shelters across Brazil. Associação Bem-Estar Animal Amigos da Célia, a countrywide charity, sponsors and shelters at least a thousand dogs and cats.
Stray animals, or those abandoned by their owners, are often mistreated, and brutally so. Several are left to fend for themselves entirely as owners decide they cannot, or do not want to take care of them any longer.
Charities and animal awareness associations worldwide actively encourage those looking for pets to adopt from shelters, which also have a limited capacity to the number of animals they can take in. As a result, several of these animals are eventually put down.
Dog breeding is an active business, and one that has serious links to animal cruelty and what is essentially ‘farming’ to breed ‘perfect’ puppies for owners looking for thoroughbred dogs for dog shows, or to breed themselves.
Several of tennis’ best have their own pet dogs - Serena Williams and sister Venus, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are all dog owners, and Nadal’s dog is in fact a shelter rescue. Swiss ace Stan Wawrinka grew up with dogs, and continues to keep his own as pets.
Canine (and feline) adoption is an easy, humane way to help an animal – and their human – find a new family mmember, and preventing the needless death of abandoned animals.Published 01 Mar 2016, 14:44 IST