After losing his dog last month, Thijs Jager was determined to make sure that he, and his love of tennis balls, continued to bring joy to others.
The 21-year-old student is studying computing science at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. He moved to the north-east from the Netherlands in 2019 to pursue his studies.
This meant leaving behind Boef, his “full of personality” childhood dog.
Sadly, the Stabyhoun Appenzeller Sennenhund cross died on April 2 after complications with his heart, just three weeks short of his 12th birthday.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, Mr Jager hadn’t seen Boef for eight months.
The student was at the skip when he got the call from is parents. Though he knew that Boef was in bad health, the news still came as a shock.
He said: “It came out of the blue for me, I never got to experience the deterioration. I think I’ll only properly process it when I go home and there’s no happy, stupid dog wagging his tail.”
Tennis ball tribute
Boef was a dog with lots of quirks, like eating snow, sunbathing in the driveway and acting tough around cats, only to get scared and run away with his tail between his legs when they stood up to him.
His biggest obsession was tennis balls. “Tennis balls were everything,” Mr Jager said. “If you gave one to him he would just go at it for hours and hours, he had some force on that jaw.”
To pay tribute to Boef, Mr Jager bought a wooden palette and 150 tennis balls from Facebook Marketplace, collected rope that had washed up at Greyhope Bay and got to work on building a tennis ball box to put on Aberdeen Beach.
The location was the perfect setting for the box, as Boef “would have loved the beach, he was always mental about the beach.”
Mr Jager hopes that dog walkers, and anyone else who passes by, will find joy in playing with the tennis balls.
He said: “Whether you have a dog or not you can use the tennis balls. There’s a big field behind where I put it at the beach so I hoped people would find it, have a look at the beach then go to the field to play with their dog.”
‘He kept me grounded’
Boef was more than just a pet to the family. When they had their differences, Boef was the “the bonding link” between them.
Mr Jager spoke about how spending time with Boef helped him through struggles with mental health: “As any young person, or any human even, I’ve had my share of experiences and mental struggles.
“Every time I chose to go to the lake or the forest or whatever with him it always kept me grounded, just seeing a dog get excited about something round and squishy.”
Humanity is never out of reach
Mr Jager has received messages on social media commending him for his tribute, and has also found that people are returning the tennis balls for others to use once they’ve had their fun with them.
He said that people’s reactions to the box have reinforced the fact that humanity is “never out of reach, even though can seem like it in all this.”
He is hoping to keep the box filled for as long as possible, so any donations of tennis balls will be welcomed.