Four trained shelter dogs that once roamed the streets of Sao Paulo took centre stage at the Brazil Open tennis tournament. In an exhibition match with players Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain and Gastao Elias of Portugal, the canines Frida, Costela, Mel and Isabelle engaged onlookers on Thursday night by picking up balls that went out of bounds. At the command of their trainer Andrea Beckert, the dogs retrieved the balls with their teeth and ran off the court to their trainer. The unusual initiative was made to promote the adoption of abandoned street animals.
The shelter dogs, wearing orange ribbons and trained for months, spent almost a half-hour tracking down balls often intentionally missed by the 122nd and 140th ranked players. Baena and Elias will play for real on Friday in the ATP tournament’s quarter-finals. As soon as a ball hit the net or bounced off the court, the dogs, Frida, Costela, Mel and Isabelle, leaped into action. Sometimes the players intentionally overlooked some of the balls so the audience could clap and cheer on the canines while they worked.
Andrea said the biggest difficulty was to make the animals more confident and playful. “These are dogs that were mistreated. We have to make them adapt, feel the environment, the court, the noise of the balls and the noise of the people. Some are doing well, others are still a little scared,” she told journalists. The basic commands that the dogs learned were “pick the ball,” ”let it go,” ”stay” and “come.”
Frida, Costela, Mel and Isabelle also had a much more important job than collecting tennis balls and exciting the crowd – they were there to raise awareness of animal adoption in Brazil. “The idea is to show people that a well-fed and well-treated animal can be very happy. We have more than 1,000 dogs in our care,” Marli Scaramella, the organizer of the initiative, told Fox News Latino. She said that all four ball dogs are currently residents in a Sao Paulo shelter.