The Home Team: A wag's survey of dog parks across America
I enter through the security gates of the dog park at the corner of Main Avenue and Pacific in Santa Monica, Calif., and a young woman with a smallish white-and-black dog says, "Is that Kemba?" Which kind of blows my mind, because I've never laid eyes on this woman before. Turns out that Carol, my wife, had taken Kemba to Joslyn Park -- yet another dog park in Santa Monica -- the day before, and had met this woman, Tanya, and her dog, Parker. Carol and Tanya had a lot of time to talk, because Kemba and Parker were trying, both endlessly and futilely, to get their paws on a squirrel who'd high-tailed it up in a tree.
It's a humbling experience to learn that your dog is better known than you are. And it's also an indication of the amount of time Kemba spends in dog parks on this journey -- the fourth in my series of cross-country-road-trips-with-dog. As regular readers of this column know, the original impetus for these treks was for me to drive Ricky the Beagle out to see our youngest son, Robby, who was then a freshman at USC and was badly missing his dog. That trip morphed into an annual adventure. The first three times, Ricky was my road dog. Now, in Robby's senior year, it's Kemba, my 8-month-old Duck Toller puppy.
Those words, "8-month-old" and "puppy," make all the difference in the world. Ricky was a mature dog of eight years when he made his first trip, 10 when he made his last. All he cared about on our drives across the country was that he got his two square meals a day, a reasonable number of treats, and anything else he could fit his jaws around. The Grand Canyon? Bah! He slept right through it. You've seen one national park, you've seen 'em all, was his take. And Ricky was never one for dog parks. He was fine meeting other dogs, and enjoyed being admired by strangers, but beyond that, he was happy sleeping in the shotgun seat. If I had been able to drive 1,500 miles straight, he could sleep for 1,500 miles straight.
Not Kemba the duck dog. The 8-month-old duck dog. This dog needs exercise -- and lots of it! He needs stimulation! And he needs his social life! During Day 1 on the road, I turned him loose in a Little League field, which was good, but not good enough. He needed the company of other dogs.
Our first overnight was in Front Royal, Va., at the start of the famed Skyline Drive. The nice folks at the Visitors Center told me about the local dog park -- which turned out to be huge, beautiful and had fenced-in fields for fetch. Kemba met and bonded with Cuzco, a very handsome 1-year-old border collie, belonging to Cara, who's from New York, but was in Virginia visiting her mom.
The next morning, we hit Coyner Springs dog park in Waynesboro, Va. -- an idyllic stretch of rolling farmland -- where we quickly became incorporated into the pack of dogs and humans. (Special thanks to Harry for helping me hold Kemba under the spigot for a bath after he and Max, Harry's Blue Heeler, rolled around in God-knows-what.) And the morning after that: The amazing Concord dog park just outside of Knoxville, Tenn., with its separate fenced in and double-gated areas for large and small (over or under 30 pounds) dogs.
And thus, a pattern was born. At least one hour in a dog park for every four hours on the road. Sonora, Texas; Las Cruces, N.M.; Tempe, Ariz.; San Bernardino, Calif. -- we hit dog parks in all of 'em. And now that we're on the West Coast, we've graduated to off-leash dog beaches! Huntington Beach, south of L.A., was outrageously fabulous: Kemba and Reid, an 8-year-old Queensland Heeler, spent an hour-and-a-half fetching tennis balls in the ocean. That was the first time Kemba went swimming -- not to mention in ocean waves! I'm writing this in Morro Bay on the Pacific Coast Highway, and I hear there's a dog beach off Yerba Buena Avenue, which we're about to visit. And when we reach the Bay area, my niece's husband told me we have to make it to Fort Funston, which he swears is the best dog beach in America.
On Sunday, April 26, my well-traveled and very social dog will be back in Winslow Park, Westport, Conn. And I'm sure, after all his dog parks and dog beaches and hotels and motels and miles and miles in the car, he'll be very happy to be home.
"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, email him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.