LONDON • Hattie, Tina and Melvin played a different kind of game of fetch on Thursday when the canines took to a London court for the opening of the Champions Tennis tournament - working alongside ball boys and girls.
Arriving on court to the sound of the song Who Let the Dogs Out, the canines drew cheers and applause from the audience as they helped retrieve stray balls in a doubles match involving Mansour Bahrami, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Henri Leconte and Mikael Pernfors.
Legends such as John McEnroe and Tim Henman were also assisted by their four-legged friends in the event, which will end today.
The charity Canine Partners, which trains dogs to help people with disabilities, provided Hattie, Tina and Melvin for the event. They had to learn new skills for the job.
"Normally they're used to picking things up within the job that we use them for, so we may drop pens and inhalers and they're used to retrieving things for us, but we don't generally use an awful lot of tennis balls," Canine Partners aftercare manager Claire Anthony explained.
"We've been going to lots of tennis courts and working on self-control around people playing tennis and then retrieving balls and towels."
Charlie Grave of Champions Tennis added that tournament organisers were always looking for ways to bring something different to the event.
"(We) felt that introducing ball dogs would bring a completely new dimension as well as supporting such a fantastic charity. It's going to be great to see the legends alongside these remarkable dogs," he said on the PerthNow news website.
Former British No. 1 Henman helped train the dogs for the tournament, which is held annually at London's Royal Albert Hall with plenty of the sport's veteran players taking to the court.
"What do they say about working with animals and children? Don't do it," he joked at a news conference beforehand.
"Ball dogs" are not new in tennis, with some canines having already appeared on court at the Brazil Open.