Today being Monday and a beautiful day, I drop my little darlings off at school and head to the dog park. It’s a great place to drop in and let the dog run… without the tugging on the leash, without the constant training commands, without the confines of the backyard. It’s good for the dog… in this case, Emmy. And, I was under the assumption that it might also be good for me. It’s my forth visit with Emmy, and I am thinking fun and freedom.
Now I’m not a dog park newbie. I used to visit the same park in the early days when I adopted Buddy too. And as I’ve begun to spend a little time there with Emmy, it’s coming back to mind why I quit going there about 4 years ago.
This morning begins as any other morning… pulling up, Emmy excited in the back of the car, Emmy leaping over the back seat to get out as quickly as possible, Emmy pulling on the leash in anticipation of the big party that awaits inside the gate, and Emmy running like the wind through the long grass.
The sight of my new dog running full out with ears flapping and tongue hanging out is one of those ‘just as it should be’ moments. Until Emmy dashes after a bird into a bush, only to reappear with said bird hanging from her mouth. My stomach lurches… not for the dead bird, nor for Emmy, but because of my immediate concern for what other dog owners will think (of me). I discreetly remove the bird from Emmy’s mouth (yank with brute force) and give her a treat as a reward, then gently (heave) the bird over a fence before anyone takes notice (I hope).
I excitedly note that Emmy is responding today to “come,” because I’ve brought MEAT this time. She likes meat.
(Did I mention that I carefully wrap up my ‘pinch collar’ when I arrive? Well, I do. Even though I’ve tried all other options, and have great success using this type of collar with Buddy, still there’s a certain self-righteous component of the dog park community that intimidate me with their differing opinions. So I hide.)
Soon the dogs were romping together, playing vocally (grabbing each other by the ears and neck while growling) and I stand back wondering when to intervene. My stomach is churning as I look into the faces of the other dog owners for a clue as to whether they think this is acceptable behaviour. Perhaps because I’m just learning about Emmy, I want to be sure that she isn’t crossing a line. So I ask, “Are you sure this is OK?” “Oh, yes, of course,” two women assure me. “They are just playing.” Emmy is being thrown to the ground at this point by a huge Malamute. OK, I think. Play is play and I’m just glad I’m not a dog. I have a flashback to Buddy and a similar feeling of unease over this type of play at the dog park. Still Emmy is only 45 pounds… at a clear disadvantage here.
An older lady… introduction initiated by the wrestle-mania involving both of our dogs, quickly tells me her dog rescue story, her opinion on collars (thank goodness mine is still hidden) and her opinion on all the local dog trainers. I find my resolve slipping as she uses descriptives like ‘cruel’, ‘mean’, ‘nasty’, with respect to the pinch collar and one particular trainer I am considering.
New dogs arrive, other dogs leave. One new arrival, a Golden Retriever (duh) leaps into me at face level and his owner says… NOTHING! I brush myself off and feel a wave of anxiety wash over me. It’s definitely time to leave now, so I call Emmy to come.
She does not!
She begins to play with the Golden… a huge male who completely overpowers her. But she appears to be having fun being chased by the big boy, and soon the two dogs are doing that wrestle-mania rompy growling thing that I’ve been assured is OK and NORMAL only a few minutes ago.
Only this time it’s not. It’s not OK with the owner of the Golden (same dog that leaped into my face) and she begins to yell, first at Emmy, and then at me! Other people are looking at me and my dog like we are suddenly the ENEMY…
And that’s when it hits me… this is not a good place for me to be. Some people here have NO perspective. People here are, for the most part, ‘doggy’ people… emphasis on doggy first, people second. Their canine companions are their ‘babies’, their ‘family’, their ‘confidantes’, and you’d better not get in the way. Doggy people have strong opinions on lots of things. Doggy people spend as much time talking about their dogs as some people spend talking about their children, or their careers, or themselves. It’s not a balanced place to be. Not for me anyway.
People first, dogs second. That’s how I live. But I’m in doggie territory at the dog park. Instead of confidence I feel… GUILTY, LESS THAN, and I don’t like that one bit.
I sheepishly (why?) walk over and Emmy now comes, sits. I put on her leash while the Golden woman glares at me. “They were just playing”, I say in a low voice. She does not respond. She continues to hurt me with her eyes as I leave the park.
We are home now, dog sleeping on the mat quietly, and me getting on with my day… laundry, dishes, gardening, cooking… and writing. All non-dog activities. All good. A healthy balance, I think.
(Except Emmy is walking with a limp, perhaps from the wrestling… I don’t know. Like I need another reason to steer clear of the dog park!)