Once again, Hunter, Sven and I are revving up for the big day.
To an onlooker the difference is subtle between a season that has just begun and a season that has just ended.
Because every day around here is pretty much the same.
And for the last ten sequential years Hunter has been waltzing around the place like he is king of this castle.
You see, Hunter holds the title.
He is the master of masters.
And that crown of his does not come without a fight.
It has not been handed to him on a silver platter.
Every single tug-o-war world championship proves to be a nail biter.
And all that nail biting and those crowds of onlookers sitting on the edges of their seats are the reasons that a local newspaper reporter dropped by our living room last week for this exclusive interview.
It made front page news.
This sleepy little town of ours, Lodi Wisconsin, nestled in this plush green valley, stomping grounds to a bumper crop of asshole mosquitoes this spring, is privy to the same zip code as a famous battling trio.
Millie, Hunter and Sven.
According to Millie, the matriarch of the house, what began as a simple game of fetch in hopes of keeping their loveable-but-wordy-canine quiet, has really paid off.
"He would never give us the ball back," she said. "He just refused to let it go."
That simple trait she explained is what has turned their otherwise, according to Millie, Sven, neighbors, family and friends, at times exasperating and annoying, geriatric-puppy, into a national celebrity.
It is what keeps their competitive blood flowing.
It is what stops this aging trio from aging.
And it all comes down to the daily battles.
"Even if we aren't in the mood," says Millie, "Even if I have a bad day at the office. I will come home and take my dog for a walk in a blizzard, if there is a blizzard. I will pull off my boots and empty the dishwasher. I will put away a basket of laundry. I will pick up Sven's dirty socks and then I will make something for supper. All the while that dog will be sprawled out on his bed. Or laying in front of the refrigerator, making life in the kitchen inconvenient. And as soon as I place that pan on the oven rack. I will pour myself a glass of wine to take over to the couch. You know. To put my feet up and enjoy a little bit of down time before the timer buzzes and that tuna casserole is ready to cool. But as soon as a cheek touches a cushion, Hunter is right there. Right there with that stupid toy in his mouth and that crazy gleam in his eye."
"It's the truth," said her husband, Sven. "At least that last part. You might want to use your own discretion when it comes to all of Millie's self-described hardships. For one thing she times the dishwasher unload for Wednesdays when I am here and she is at B.S. Club. And those socks of mine that she is always throwing down the chute are not that dirty. Matter of fact, I was going to wear them again."
Feeling a little tension in the air I quickly got the trio back on topic with a question directed to the handsome Norwegian.
"Is there a strategy to your game?"
"Well," Sven says slowly and thoughtfully, "Yes. I make sure that the toy we play with is big enough. If he picks out one that doesn't comply with my code, I will not indulge. It has to be large enough so that it doesn't disappear behind those incisors of his, along with my fingers. Because he does a lot of re-gripping. Another strategy is to get him off the living room rug and onto the wood floor. Otherwise Hunter digs in with those long nails of his which gives him an unfair advantage. Also when I win a match. I throw his toy all the way to the end of the hallway, because he looks both ways when he passes the rooms on either side, like a monster is going to jump out and grab him. Then he tip toes the rest of the way and carefully pulls it out of the scary dark corner. This move allows me time to regroup and sometimes even enough time to take a sip of my beer, before he's back for more."
Millie, I learned, uses a couple of different techniques.
She explained that it is not beneath her to put her free hand over Hunter's eyes in order to blind him as he tugs away. She calls it her peek-a-boo move. She sometimes tickles his big black nose and has even resorted to pulling a whisker or two in hopes of averting his attention away from his lock jaw grip.
"It works too," she says. "And, I prefer to use the soft round ring toy. It's easy for both of us to get a good grip. And once we are set, I entice him into playing, Best in Show for a cardio work out. And then Catcher in the Rye for a cool down."
Millie explained further.
"The key is to trick him into stepping off the rug. Once I accomplish that little feat, we make laps around and around the wood stove. I tell you what. That dog will hang on to his toy for dear life, while I turn into a frumpy-skirted-handler, half walking and half trotting in my flats. He has talked about signing up for the competition. But my fear is that Hunter would decide he wasn't in the mood to play Best in Show, on the day we are on national television."
"And Catcher in the Rye?" I said to Millie. "What is that?"
"Catcher in the Rye," Millie joked, "is a book."
And then she went on to say. "After I have Hunter worn out from the chimney laps, he collapses on the carpet. So I start tossing the ring at him, frisbee style. He makes some incredible grabs. Just as long as he doesn't have to move an inch."
I asked the king of the castle what his strategy was. How he has kept the title for ten straight years. But Hunter, Tug-O-War Champion of the World, a guy famous for his out spoken opinions, the canine who is never short on words, was tight lipped.
He wasn't about to give away any of his secrets.
"Not this close to championship day," he said.
I ended my interview with one final question for the three tug-o-war top contenders.
"What is it that you like best about this sport?"
Sven: My favorite part is when it's over.
Millie: Definitely the end. Sven just mentions the word treat when we can't take it anymore and that dog drops that toy like it's a hot potato.
Hunter: I like the treat.