Well it’s been feeling like February, but the calendar insists that it’s April. One of the best things about the warm weather that (I hope) is approaching is that it means I can take my dog to the dog park.
My dog, Scout, is a mutt — though I prefer to think of her as a hybrid — with the tail of a Siberian Husky, the ears of a German Shepherd, the forehead creases of a Boxer and the ennui of a French actress.
Scout gets major cabin fever in the winter. She has a yard to pace around, and we take her on walks, but neither prospect is appealing when it’s snowing or raining. And while the dog park is open year-round, there aren’t many other pups there to play with when it’s cold, so if we go I just end up sitting on a frozen bench while she waits by the gate for her friends to show up.
But dealing with Scout’s repeated sighs and her forlorn stares when we don’t go is just as unpleasant as a numb behind. She’ll nudge the basket that holds her leash and stand by the door, making a sound that is not quite a whine — more of a warbling vocal protestation. Kind of a Wookie lament, if you will.
In fair weather, I usually relent. I load her into the car and head toward Fairmont Park, which is our doggie playground of choice. As soon as we hit Pierre Street for the on-ramp to K-77, she knows for sure where we’re going and starts whining and hyperventilating. By the time we cross the bridge, it’s all I can do to keep her from taking the wheel from me and stepping on the gas. You’ve never seen anyone so eager.
To be honest, I like going almost as much as Scout does. It’s so relaxing on a warm afternoon than walking around and playing with the dogs while they sniff and chase and wrestle each other.
The park itself is nothing too special, just a big fenced-in area with the grass worn down to dirt on one side from herds of dogs running around on it. But it has some nice old trees and picnic tables, plus plenty of bags and trash cans to, you know, keep the park clean.
The dog park on a busy day is an absolute a circus. A happy, chaotic zoo.
It’s a nice break from humans, sometimes, to be honest — although watching the dogs has made some aspects of human interaction more clear to me than ever. You see the dominance and submission, introversion and extroversion, friendliness and wariness, and you remember that humans, too, are part of the animal kingdom. Some of our most ingrained behaviors are ones we have in common with canines. The only things that separate us are opposable thumbs and Instagram.
As I said, the dog park can be a nice break from humans, but the dog owners there are actually quite friendly. You don’t have to chat with people, but when you do, the conversation often starts with an exchange of the dogs’ names and not your own: “Awww, what’s her name? How old is she?” Followed by the person talking directly to your dog for a while. “Hi, Scout. You’re friendly, aren’t you?” Some regulars already seem to know my dog’s name — probably from hearing me yell it — and I know the names of lots of dogs whose owners I haven’t actually spoken to.
It’s always interesting to see people with their dogs. It’s not quite like that scene in “101 Dalmations,” where the people resemble their dogs — the woman with curly hair has a poodle, the burly guy has a bulldog. But I do think that in most cases, you can see what qualities are important to dog owners by the dogs they choose.
Some look for fast, agile dogs. Some seem to want a guard dog and encourage those tough or aggressive traits, while others have more friendly or submissive pooches. For some people it’s important to have a purebred for whatever attributes the chosen breed exhibits. Others take pride in having a mixed breed or a “rescue” dog.
What do my dog’s traits say about her owner? Well, she’s aggressively friendly. Curious. Impatient. Likes attention. Never says no to a treat. Yeah, sounds about right.
But there’s only one trait I care about Scout exhibiting when we leave the dog park: tired. Then it’s at least a day or so before the whining begins again.