The Home Team: Behaving like animals
In a space of less than five minutes during our last visit to the dog park, Kemba, my hyper-friendly 1-year-old Duck Toller 1.) ran over and frenetically humped his good pal Sadie; 2.) jumped up excitedly with his muddy paws on an older woman wearing a nice (formerly clean) black coat who was offering treats to her cute little Bichon, and 3.) fell in with Anna the dog walker and her posse on the perimeter trail, barely even favoring me with a backwards glance as I tried to call him back repeatedly. If his dog trainer (and mind you, we had eight sessions with her!) had been there to witness this behavior, she most definitely would have denied ever having met Kemba — and me.
But here’s the good news: What happens in the dog park stays in the dog park.
A dog park is a very comfortable place for a dog owner, and it goes way beyond simply knowing your pet is generally in a safe, fenced-in space. (The “fenced-in” part, unfortunately, is not the case in our very own Winslow Park.) The dog park is where, as a dog person, you can let your guard down. Because the only people you’re going to run into are other dog people.
There’s a whole different code of behavior in the dog park. If you’re walking on Main Street and your German Shepherd lunges from you and goes for a passing Labradoodle’s jugular, someone would frantically call animal control. In the dog park, we call it playing. (As long as both tails are wagging.)
And let’s not forget those endearing habits that make non-dog-owners cringe. Prolonged, mutual butt-sniffing, let’s say. Or your dog wolfing down a “poop-sicle” — frozen dog-doo that’s been left in yesterday’s snow. Out on the street you pretend to be a little embarrassed. Maybe you even apologize for your dog’s gross behavior. In the dog park, though, it’s just another thing to laugh at. Because dogs will be dogs — and this is where they can do it.
Have you noticed that you pretty much never run into anyone in a bad mood in a dog park? That’s because dogs make you smile. And not just your dog. All dogs. Especially dogs together. It’s also because dog people are happiest around other dog people. It’s natural to care about other people’s dogs, and by extension, about other people. A few weeks ago I was half-kidding, half-bragging about my method for controlling Kemba when we’d ride around town together in my wide-open (no roof, no windows) Jeep Wrangler: I’d basically just drive with his leash tucked under my thigh on the driver’s seat. My dog friends diplomatically let me know that I was being way too cavalier, that this routine was far from safe — and told me what kind of harness to get for Kemba, and where to get it. (I did.)
And I’ve found this same kind of dog-community-spirit across the country. A lot of readers of this column and followers of my “Beagle Man” blog know that for four years in a row, I’ve spent one month on the road with my dog doing a cross-country drive — three times with Ricky the Beagle, and most recently with Kemba the Duck Toller. So I’ve put in my time at dog parks ... everywhere! And I’ve always come away smiling.
At Coyner Springs dog park in Waynesboro, Va,, the regulars welcomed Kemba and me with open arms, took us on their trail walk through an idyllic stretch of farmland, and after Kemba and Max the Blue Heeler rolled around in God-knows-what, Max’s owner took Kemba by the collar and held him under an outdoor spigot for a hose-down before we got back in the car. In Tempe, Ariz., Cam, who rescues pit bulls and plays in a rock band, gave me insider intel on live music all up and down the west coast, from Laguna Beach to Seattle. The denizens of Joslyn Park in Santa Monica raved endlessly about the beautiful off-leash dog area at nearby Huntington Beach — and at Huntington Beach, a dog couple with a Queensland Heeler pointed me to another off-leash beach in Morro Bay, up the Pacific Coast Highway toward Big Sur, which was even more beautiful.
I like to think I’d extend the same kindness to an out-of-towner who found his/her way to Winslow Park in a similar random fashion.
So to all Kemba’s good friends at the dog park — Sadie and Bolt and Lily and Cookie and Eli and Moose and Juno and Scout and Tinsel and Vinci and Winston and Wolf and Zoey — and their owners, Kemba and I would like to say, great hanging out with you, dawgs!
“The Home Team” appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank’s adventures on his blog, “Beagle Man,” on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman. To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.