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Call Off the Dogs


In the beginning, I’d follow my dog around, smiling and nodding to others as our dogs greeted each other, sniffed each other and frolicked. But the more we went to the dog park, the more I became familiar the regulars and their dogs and their unofficial dog park rules.

Apparently, it’s OK for dogs to put their feet in the communal water bowls. It’s not OK for dogs to roughhouse or bark. It’s OK for dogs to sniff butts but not OK to hump. It’s OK to offer observations about other people’s dogs (someone once told me my dog looked like a “pig on a spit.” I said I’d take it as a compliment) and to comment on their training abilities. It’s OK to go to the dog park every day of the week but one must be careful of the weekends.

“Those weekend dogs are animals,” one regular said to me. “I just don’t go on weekends anymore.”

The more time I spent at the dog park and conversed with the regulars, the more I felt like I was in some sort of freakish parenting group. My fellow parents would gather—or maybe we’d stroll—and talk about our dogs. Not politics. Not sports. Just dogs. We’d one-up each other with tales of health scares and funny stories. We’d compare weight, age, food consumption, temperament and other stats that I never knew existed or knew that I even cared about. People would ask me, “Is she a good guard dog?” I’d pause and think about the panicked look on my dog’s face whenever it’s dark outside and there’s a noise. “Oh, yes!” I’d lie.

As a group we’d only separate when our dogs needed mothering or when we had told all the best stories about our dogs. Often, I’d just quietly follow the group—watching to make sure my dog didn’t do anything to embarrass me in front of the cool people.

Or at least get me in trouble with a rare breed of dog owner. If this was a neighborhood playground, these were the moms and dads who had parental wisdom coming out of their diaper bags. If I told my dog to stop drinking the dirty puddle water, chances are there would be someone not far away, telling me that dirty puddle water helped my dog stay cool on hot days.

I began to miss the days before I knew too much. I missed being able to go to the dog park without feeling judged for my parenting or my dog’s behaviors. I began feeling judgmental of others. I began creating my own rules for the dog park.

“That guy doesn’t let his dogs play with other dogs,” I’d say. “Why would you bring your dog to a dog park and not let him play?” I still find that odd, but I don’t say it out loud.

I was beginning to get a bit sore from the whole thing. And I was annoyed that I was actually getting annoyed by the dog park. My dog loves dog parks, probably more than she loves me. And if I can’t handle dog park politics and parenting, how am I going to handle having kids? The PTA may just kill me.

But that’s when I met Keno.

Keno is a funky little bulldog with a sweet face and a bad leg. He hobbles after the bigger dogs he longs to play with, and other owners look at him with pity.

My dog and Keno were playing one blustery spring weekend. I began to talk with his owner, a friendly woman with round, cartoon-like eyes and pieces of blond hair sticking out from her hat. She had just adopted Keno from a local rescue, she said.

Keno’s former owner had loved him dearly, so much so that she left a note with the rescue telling his story to potential owners. The note told of her love for her dog, and how he had been the one to find her breast cancer. And then her bone cancer. She had to say good-bye to Keno when she entered into Hospice.

Keno then sat in the rescue for six months. People were turned off by his wonky leg.

His new owner and her family had gone to the rescue to pick out a guinea pig. When she saw Keno and learned of his story, she couldn’t leave without the bulldog in tow.

As she told me, I felt myself tearing up a bit. Now that’s a dog worth bragging about, I thought.

She smiled and complimented my dog. “She’s so sweet,” she said. “What’s her name?”

And then she did something I wasn’t expecting. She asked me for mine. one winged ear and out the other. For all his guardian’s efforts—the long talks, the expensive training—Stewart will continue to do the one thing his guardian finds most embarrassing, and he will love every minute of it.


email no info send march17th/09

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