The Philadelphia Freedoms tennis team will be joined by three special guests at its World Team Tennis match at St. Joseph's University's Hagan Arena this Friday. Rescue dogs from the Brandywine Valley SPCA's "ambassadogs" program will serve as certified Fabulous Freedom Balldogs for the team's halftime show, fetching out-of-bound balls for players, and taking the term spitball to the next level.
The halftime show is a 5-minute "hit and giggle," says Philadelphia Freedoms general manager Barbara Perry, that has come to be a once-a-year tradition. Perry says she was inspired to start up the balldogs program a few years back, after seeing a video of Venus Williams playing a tennis match in New Zealand that featured balldogs.
The criteria to be a balldog? "Must love tennis balls. Must be good at fetching," says Linda Torelli, marketing director for BVSPCA.
At Friday's match, all three dogs will be up for on-spot adoption, along with four rescue puppies. Potential adopters will go through BVSPCA's normal adoption process — a conversation takes place about household setup and living habits to see if the family would be a good fit for the dog. Adopters with additional pets at home are encouraged to schedule a one-on-one meeting between dog and other pets before taking one of the rescues home.
Curious as to which of BVSPCA's furry friends will be at Friday's match? Here's your first look at the Fabulous Freedom Balldogs:
One-year-old Ralph is a "big puppy," says Torelli. A pitbull(ish) mix with a black coat, white chest, and floppy-tongued smile, Ralph came to the West Chester shelter as a local stray. He was chosen for balldog practice because of his friendly nature and athletic endeavors — including his participation in BVSPCA's Doggers program, where he joins volunteers on their jogs. While he's an enthusiastic jogger, Torelli adds, "he's a bit of a low rider, so I wouldn't exactly call him a speed king. He's a sweetheart."
He's prone to distraction, as well, and notably appeared more interested in his new friend (and cute female dog) Ella than in fetching the balls at a training session Wednesday. Only two of the dogs will be fetching at Friday's game, but Ralph will come along for the ride even if he isn't one of the two chosen fetchers.
Five-year-old Ella is a medium-sized Lab(ish)-hound(ish) mix who came to BVSPCA through its Second Chance Program, which saves dogs from other shelters.
Ella is mostly black aside from her white chest and white paws that look like socks, and she's a talkative lady. She was seen barking and tail-wagging at the other dogs at Wednesday's training — showing the boys how making friends is done.
Also known as "Rock Star," Rocky is a 1-year-old border collie mix with a splotchy black and white coat, charcoal ears, and a dewy nose. He also came to BVSPCA through its Second Chance Program.
Super playful, and a true collie (he likes to herd), Rocky proved himself to be a fast runner and skilled fetcher at Wednesday's training session. Whispers in the crowd suggested he was the best at "bringing it back" of the three.
He is living on a farm with his foster parent, Julie Landy, and five other foster dogs. So far, he's been friendly with the other farm animals — including the ducks and the chickens — and BVSPCA workers and volunteers recommend him for an active family with older children.
Although she will have her hands full with the other foster dogs and the rest of her farm animals, Landy says she'll miss having Rocky around at the farm. "This one will be hard. He's a good boy."