Brenda, Hooper & I all piled into the car today for a drive to Denver, to attend a birthday party for some friends of ours. Partners Greg & Ted share birthdays a day apart. Greg aged a year today, and Ted did the same yesterday. And so a joint birthday picnic/barbecue in the park near the Denver Zoo was in order, with dogs.

Greg & Ted have a pair of winning canines; Guinness the Pug, and Lucy the Mutt (I used to threaten to kidnap Lucy and take her home with us from their parties ever since we moved to Boulder; she is adorable and built just like Hooper). Many of their other friends have dogs as well, and so dogs were invited to the birthday soirée.

And so it was that we loaded a backpack with Nalgenes of water and a Tupperware container to act as a bowl, poop bags, dog treats and a couple of tennis balls, and rolled out towards Denver. We also had a secret weapon. We brought the basketball.

You see, Hooper is quite the 'baller. He has an uncanny ability to dribble a ball around a field using his muzzle and his front paws, and this is a skill that he demonstrated the very first time I produced a bright yellow utility ball on one of our walks back in November of 2007. Hooper took to that ball like Pele, coaxing it around the field under the moonlight for over an hour, managing to steer the ball back to my feet every once in a while so I could try to kick the ball past him (which rarely happened). But suddenly, a pop and a hiss was heard, and the fun ended.

A regulation basketball is 30 inches in circumference, and comprised of a tough leather cover that can resist a dog's attempts to bite through it, and we have one of these objects. And today, we felt that if Hooper was to be allowed to roam free on the grass of the Denver Zoo Park--with heavily trafficked roads bordering us--we wanted a reliable distraction to keep him close, hence the basketball.

When we arrived, we rolled the ball out onto the grass and Hooper immediately began working the field with the ball. People immediately inquired about how we "taught" him to do this. Shrugged shoulders and allusions to that cold November night followed. Hooper spent the next several hours rolling that basketball around, beckoning me and anyone else who was interested to kick the ball around, and to engage him in some goalie practice.

Brenda had mentioned to me that a couple of the small children present at the party were terrified of dogs, and that we needed to make sure Hooper steered clear of them, and I was paying strict attention to his movements around the guests. But at one point, a couple of kids showed up with Hooper's basketball, and they were fighting amongst themselves over who should be the one who kicks the ball toward Hooper. I watched with great interest and joy, as Hooper adapted to the kids' erratic movements and gestures.

This one kid was literally pushing his friend out of the way, directing the action. He was moving the ball around and gleefully watching Hooper's attentiveness and reactions to his direction. I had a great time watching Hooper play with the kids, but when I heard on the ride home that the one kid was one of those "afraid of dogs" kids, I just beamed.

Hooper is turning into quite a gentleman, and an ambassador. A saint.