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The Yankee Express

I got you, ball

Mar 10, 2021 09:39AM ● By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

Lincoln chose our family at a fluffy seven weeks old. His “pick-up day” had been scheduled for February 12 – on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. 


The name sprung off of the calendar and into our hearts and home. Little did we know that our largest male of the litter, a puppy named after a president, would not only choose us, but also his way in the world. 

“Mom, we have to take this one.” My son, Ben, at an intuitive ten years old, had known what we know now. Lincoln was meant to be with us, and us with him. Confirming such, he grabbed the miniature leash from my hand and paraded around his blonde siblings, as though to claim his new family. 

“These are my People.”

We cradled him onto our laps, then lifted him to face us. His morsel nose twitched while he found our eyes. “Are you ready to play?” 

We were ready to play. Yet little did we know just how much.  


I’ll never forget the day he had been trotting along a Cliff Walk ledge at Newport, RI. A precocious puppy, he had tottered about clusters of rock to explore, then struggled to negotiate a sudden narrow path. Whoa! Not enough room. He lost his footing and fell off of a twelve-foot incline. Somehow, he managed to wrestle his body back to a soft landing. Then, exhausted, he had collapsed.

“I think he may have broken a bone.” 

  “Does he need some water?” 

“That puppy needs to rest.”

A crowd of onlookers shuffled to our side while, smothered in guilt, I teared up and kneeled by my puppy’s side. His chunky belly rose and fell beneath my palm.  What had I done? How could I ever forgive myself?

“Let’s finish the Cliff Walk!”

Lincoln sprang to his feet. His miniature tongue shook while he smiled, panted, and colored the world pink again. I sighed, massaged his ears. “You’re okay.” It was only a case of Lincoln being Lincoln. 

Fast forward ten years. Lincoln fell off of a ledge of a different sort. His health took a dip during the Fall of 2020. His breathing was abnormal. An ultrasound indicated large masses on both thyroid glands. We were told his life was about to end. Little did we know---

“Want to play?”

Lincoln was just being Lincoln. A clean, protein-based nutritional plan (and a whole lot of love) turned a fat, ugly report into something slender.


Lincoln scratches at the deck door. I open it and there he stands, propped up on the step, appearing larger than life. His black, senior nose quivers with desire. He’s wearing the expression I’ve come to know and love. “Few throws?” I read his mind. 

Frozen with hope, he stares at me and awaits a verdict. His tail wags slowly, gearing up for action.

“Can you wait, Lincoln? Mummy has to work.”

More charming than his thirst for life has been his sensitivity to his owner’s role in it. My dog understands nuance. “Can you wait?” I accent the word wait.

“But can you just come out? I was thinking we could play in the snow today.” 

His cuteness tempts me. He’s a dog, fully immersed in the present, yet intelligent enough to discern my needs as a human. “Bring the ball here, Lincoln.” I gesture with grand enthusiasm. “Go get it and put it here for Mummy!” 

The compromise sells him. He’s willing to negotiate. I can play ball in my slippers, from the comfort of my now-drafty kitchen. I gaze out the window and watch him nose the snow as though searching for a diamond in a corn maze. He zigs. He zags. Then a stiff wagging tail produces the truth. He’s found the ball! But before he brings it back, he performs a clever trick, one he created on his own. I watch him through the window and giggle to myself. Work can wait.

“I’m in charge of you, Ball.” 

He digs a hole with manic concentration then pushes the ball down in the snow to bury it. He pounces on the burial ground over and over again, as though to set a final nail in the ball’s coffin. Then he digs it back up and sloshes it about his frothing mouth with crazy joy. His process is deliberate, even calculated. Dig, Bury, Pounce, Find, Slosh. Over and over again. Every now and then, he tosses a glance up to the window, sensing that I’m watching.  

“Good boy, Lincoln!” I hoist the window open and holler the compliment. He’s patented Bury & Find, a game which offers rationale for the need to allow a dog to be a dog. Work with them. Allow them opportunities to do what dogs do. They need to run, dig, play, and be reckless. Let them be dogs and they’ll let you be human. I settle back to my work and welcome a sip of coffee. The door rattles again. 

“I found the ball!” 

I open the door. Cold air accosts me, fueling my laziness. “Lincoln, put it right here.” I don’t want to reach any further than I need to for the ball on the snowy deck. He grumbles yet complies, still managing to toss the ball as close to the threshold as possible. I don’t have to set a single toe outside. “Thank you, Lincoln.”

I hold the ball up like a trophy. He races down the stairs, not wanting to miss out on the throw. “Which way?” I refuse to endorse the bullyish “fake throw” which forces a dog to track the ball tirelessly through the yard. I’m confident that he’ll find it either way. A dog’s senses truly are remarkable. Like a professional outfielder, he watches the ball sail through the air. He backs up to gauge position. I underhand a solid throw, and he freezes to capture its soft whooshing sound through the air, then its notable drop into the snow.   

“I hear you, Ball! I’m coming!” 

I watch him romp through the snow after a ball that he protects like an abducted baby. His tail stiffens and wags while he appreciates a scent made for a dog. “I knew I’d find you.” He sloshes the ball, then indulges in another game of Bury & Find. 

Dig. Bury. Pounce. Dig. Bury. Pounce. “I got you, Ball.”

I watch him from the window. Work can wait.