gall and gumption

Sunday, December 12, 2004

One Less Reason

It has always been at the center of my dog management philosophy that dogs need to run around loose and hang out with other dogs. Most of the people I have met in dog parks, and their dog companions, apparently see things the same way. As did, unreservedly, the previous dog, the late and still lamented Linus.

So I live in a town that has no dog park because it is sort of a sensitive place where people worry about every little thing. The county has just approved a dog park for the county park at the edge of town, and it won't be built for years.

So today, finding myself with some unexpected free time during daylight, I decided to do this good deed for the incumbent Sweetie. The dog park is a good half hour drive away, on the far side of Santa Rosa. So it is a bit of a hump but, I thought, worth it. She hadn't been all that enthusiastic about it the first time but people assured me that she would get used to it. On one hand I thought that would be nice, play some tag, maybe learn to chase a ball instead of just cringe and look for the exit, in the manner of all Caribbean dogs, when someone bends down to pick up the ball.

Well, certainly progress was made. Clarity must be regarded as progress. And she has become more clear and decided in her mind that the whole thing is loathsome, best simply observed from the safety of the top of the picnic table, where she can try to plant kisses on the cheek of a total stranger named Larry whose life is apparently one disaster after another. "Committed SUICIDE? Oh my goodness Sweetie NO KISSING!" All sorts of people have suddenly and for no reason turned mean to Larry. Except his dog, a big collie who likes to comment on everything. About 2 minutes into all the miseries of the last couple of years of Larry's life I begin to fear that I may end up being one of those people who suddenly and for no reason turns mean on him. I'm starting to look forward to it.

But Sweetie won't, she can't seem to get enough of his wonderfulness. Usually she shuns strangers, people at the office who she has known for months, who give her treats and massages and didn't yell at her when she had an accident by the fax machine, she will suddenly decide that they are the enemy and go bolting and scooting about the office at the sound of "Hi Sweetie!" Or will bark at the owner of the paper, a man who shows up three or four times a week, because he is wearing a hat.

But Larry. She just really suddenly spontaneously liked Larry. I suppose she felt sorry for him. I think she would have licked his ears until he fell over asleep, if either he or I had given her the least encouragement.

I used to go to dog parks in New York and in the East Bay with the late lamented. I do not remember there being this sort of gab, and I will tell you I met some pretty odd folks at the ones in New York. They were odd but they were at least fun.

But nothing like this. There are people who stand there at the Santa Rosa Park and just talk about their dogs the entire time. "When he was a puppy, just a little bitty thing, my cousin had this dog, she's smaller than he is now, and she just had puppies and he went out in the flower bed and all of a sudden he found her standing straight in front of him, she gave him a piece of her mind, I tell you..."

You could hang your coat on a stick, put a hat on it, and just walk away and come back, they probably would just talk to the hat and stick wearing coat without even a pause.

"Last year she got a rash from swimming in the pond..."

"He won't let anybody dominate him..."

"He loves that stick. He loves sticks." Then follows this sort of Bubba Gump Shrimp Aria but it's about sticks.

This is how bad it was. Larry noticed that one of the Dog Talkers was wearing a 49ers jacket and said something about the football season, which finally got the conversation off dog biography and Larry biography and I was relieved to hear sports talk -- even football talk which is the worst -- because at least it meant that they were no longer channelling dog and despair.

Well I have pretty fascinating tales I could tell about my dog if I felt like it, but under the circumstances I just didn't even try. It was just too humiliating even to think about. So I sat there and listened and nodded and said "Wow" and other polite noises (I seem to be increasing my repertoire of these and am not altogether happy about it for some reason).

So really. Sweetie just sat on the picnic bench and peered over my shoulder at the other dogs who were all happily romping. And took a break from that occasionally to offer the comfort of a cold wet nose to Larry. I think I mentioned in a previous email that I was not unsympathetic to her distaste for the other dogs. I mean they seem like canine yahoos, slobs, and I was worried about what sort of influence they might have on her character. But she has settled all this, as far as I am concerned.

It was a relief to think I didn't have to try and do that any more.