I’ve spent a lot of time at dog parks. Back in college I fostered dogs for a group that took adoptable dogs from high-kill shelters. Often, my fosters were labs or pitbulls, breeds that require a lot of exercise to be happy and healthy. Dog parks are a great place to socialize dogs while they run their little legs off. Oliver, The Most Difficult Dog In The Universe, is the first small dog I’ve ever had. I’m more nervous with him at the parks so I tend to stay in the small dog areas with the crazy people.
All dog park people are a little “weird,” in the sense that it’s the only place that owners are forced to interact and free to talk nonstop about their pets. Every dog owner wants the freedom to ramble about how “unique, special, brilliant,” or in my case, “fucked up,” their dog is. The dog park is this safe haven to let the crazy flag fly. We, the dog park people, are a tribe of mushy soft freaks whose lives, one way or another, revolve around our intense love and affection for our little four-legged fruitcakes. No matter where you are in the world you’ll find the same types of people in every dog park. I lived in Italy for four years and the dog park people there were the same as dog park people in Utah, Arizona, and California. In every dog park you’ll find:
The Know It All: This is the person that has read a dog book or two, has paid for a shitload of dog training, and wants to tell everyone how they should train their dogs (this person is often me).
The Random: This is a person who does not actually have a dog. He or she is simply at the dog park for no fucking reason whatsoever. Maybe in company of their crazy friend, or just to peruse and watch doggies play. In one case in Italy, The Random, was a public masturbator who stood on a hill overlooking the dog park while he jerked his salami, terrifying both humans and K9’s alike.
The Worker: This is a person who doesn’t actually own the dog he or she is in care of. They’re professional dog sitters or some relative but they are having a great time pretending like they own a dog.
The My Giant Dog Is A Lamb: This is the person who always, without fail, brings their one-hundred pound dog into the “tiny” dog area proclaiming, “he’s large but he’s really sweet.” These people are under the assumption that the small dog area exists to protect smaller dogs from larger ones. This is partially true. However, it’s not always the case. I go to the small area because my dog is a dickhead and he’s afraid of large dogs. As soon as he sees one he flies into little-man complex mode. Then, after Oliver runs over and bites the shit out of someone’s giant dog, I have to explain that, “My dog doesn’t like large dogs, which is why I’m in the area for small dogs.” Without fail, the Giant Dog Is A Lamb Person will not remove their dog from the area, instead, they’ll sit on a bench and glare at me and my dog for inappropriate dogpark behavior and I’ll fantasize about her/him getting hit by a bus (the person, not the dog. I love dogs).
The First Timer: These people are the people who have probably never had a dog before but they’ve heard that the dogpark is a great way to socialize. So they trot down with their six week old puppy and let the poor thing get mauled by mastiffs and excited boxers who just want to smell the puppy. The dogs aren’t trying to be mean, but they’re without a doubt scaring the shit out of the tiny, helpless puppy. The First Timer, often naive about the actual damage that can go down in a dogpark, talks merrily about what a blessing it is to have a puppy. They prattle on about his or her’s little quirks and the difficulty of potty training while their puppy is pinned on his back ten feet away, trembling. The entire dog park is usually on edge when there is a First Timer around. You can see us all mumbling things like, “asshole,” and “dipshit,” under our breathes, shaking our heads in disappointment, edging slowly towards the puppy so that The Know It All can nonchalantly interject information about the proper age for dogpark socialization and puppy parvo.
The Silent: These are people who come to the dogpark yet it’s unclear why. They come in, throw a ball (or stick or toy) obsessively, avoid interactions with other people or dogs, and leave.
The Saint: These are sweet folks who have obtained their dogs from a rescue group. They lovingly watch their dogs play, knowing that they had saved their lives. They are devoted dog owners. They are also the people who upon asking, “what kind of dog is that?” will ruin your day with the heartbreaking story of Little Orphan Annie’s abandonment, abuse, and rehabilitation.
The Guilty Puritan: This is a person who has had a purebred puppy from birth but feels like an asshole for it. They know the statistics on animal shelters and they truly love dogs but they couldn’t help falling for that tiny little face in a pet shop window.
My Dogs Are My Only Friends: Every dog park is sprinkled with either a single person (often recently divorced) or a married couple who have lost touch with all other humans in their lives. In Italy, these were often old men who owned a cell phone for the sole purpose of snapping pictures of Fido. They would often stop me in the street with “Look at my dog!” and I’d be stuck there for forty-five minutes as they showed me picture after picture of their dog at home. Sometimes they’d also throw in their other three dogs, recently diceased but were terribly missed. This variety also comes in the form of older Italian women pushing their chihuaha across the bumpy cobblestone in a dog stroller. In the United States, this variety is on the cusp of fascinating entertainment and Norman Bates scary but of the animal loving variety.
The last time I went to a dog park was a month or so ago with my friend Ty. Francesco was out of town and Ty was abandoning AZ for the east coast so we were having a last hangout hoorah. I like Ty. We met in Salt Lake City, we’ve been friends for going on five years. He’s the kind of friend who will yell at you when he feels like you need to be yelled at but will also come over to your house to have painting parties and fly to Italy for your wedding. Ty is not a huge dog person but he’s the kind of guy who will see your dog going absolutely batshit crazy over a toy in Michaels and buy if for him when you’re not paying attention. That stuffed, pastel, Beanie Baby unicorn is still Oliver’s favorite toy and he carries it around on most days. Also, I love Ty’s mom and am campaigning for her to adopt me.
Ty and I entered the small area of the dog park around ten a.m., where a variety of dog park people camped out on a picnic table with their tiny dogs nearby. We introduced ourselves and then Oliver got into a fight with a My Dog Is A Lamb person’s dog. Then, feeling victorious, he trotted off to drench agility tunnels, tennis balls, and vegetation in urine. Ty stood in the 100 degree sun because he “liked it,” but really I just think he wanted to avoid interacting with any of my fellow dog park humans who were huddled together taking up the only shade in the park. Everyone asked about each other’s dogs as dogpark people do. “What kind of dog is that? A rescue? How old? Did he come all the way from Italy?” Slowly, the mormon looking humans with the poodle left, then the lesbian couple with the terrier left, and the My Giant Dog Is A Lamb person left, until eventually we were down to only me and Ty and a young military couple. Ty eventually joined me on the picnic table as the other humans fled the park.
It was getting hot and it was just about time to leave when the gate opened and two small Oscar Meyer wiener looking dogs rushed into the park. Their caretaker was on the opposite end of the field slowly making his way over towards us but the dogs arrived way ahead of him in only a second or two. One wobbled, the other joyfully greeted us with tail wags, circle spins, and a loud string of cackles. “What the hell was that?” I turned to Ty, “Did that dog just make a dolphin noise?” The remaining dogpark humans stared in confusion towards this tiny little dog that sounded like an ocean animal. “EhhEHEHEHEHEEHEHEHEH eh eh. Eh. EH EH. EHEHEHEHEHEHEH. Eh. Eh.” The dog then ran over, lifted it’s leg and peed in the communal water dish. “Eh, Eh, eheheheheh.” Fucker. “Wait, is that a vagina? Is that a girl? Have you ever seen a girl dog lift it’s leg and mark something?” I asked Ty who shrugged and mumbled something about not knowing shit about dogs. The Military Couple shook their heads as they talked amongst themselves. Dolphin Dog’s brother was hobbling around enjoying the grass and flopping occasionally into the dirt. Eventually their caretaker arrived.
“Do you know that your dog lifts it’s leg and pees? It sounds like a dolphin. What kind of dog sounds like a dolphin?” He smiled lovingly towards Dolphin when she cackled and peed for the third time in the water bowl. The group started their usual questions, “How old are they? Where are you from? What the fuck is up with Dolphin?”
Since Ty was leaving me for the northeast his face lit up when he realized that Caretaker Of Dolphin was from the same city that Ty was running off to.
“I’ve been searching for a house in that city because I’m moving east next month,” Ty said to Caretaker, “Is there any particular area that is better than others?”
Caretaker paused, “Hmm, you know what, there is this thing called a sex offender database. If I were you, I’d check that thing first so you can avoid the rapists and pedophiles.”
Seeking out perverts and avoiding them isn’t necessarily a bad idea but his advice was random and seemed out of place. If I were to check would Caretaker be on that list? Had Caretaker been a victim of one of these listed perverts?
Ty shot me a look then continued, “Uhm, okay, yeah, I’ll check that out. Thanks. But are there any areas that are better or nicer? If you were moving there is there one area you’d prefer to live over another area?”
Caretaker took a step forward and moved his sports sunglasses onto his head, “I’d just check that database. You can never be too careful.”
There was a short break in the conversation before Caretaker turned back to our dogs, specifically Dolphin who suffered from separation anxiety, like Oliver, except Dolphin went about it more violently.
Caretaker explained that Dolphin basically turns into a Sharknado when left alone, “Yep, I bought my new $4,000 recliner and Dolphin ate it. She ripped it into pieces. I left her home one night and she just ate it. I’ve had her since she was a puppy, I didn’t realize getting a puppy was bad back then. She’s been better though since I got Brother, he’s a rescue. He was abused and starved and that’s why he walks funny. I’m so happy that I could give him the life that he deserves, where he’s safe and loved.”
“Awe, poor guy!” We watched his funny walk with newfound empathy. I decided based on that information that Caretaker was a good person. “Dolphin ate an entire recliner? Like she digested it?” I asked, eyeing her ten pound frame.
“Well, no, but she ripped all of the leather off. Pulled the stuffing out. She also ate all of my wood figurines.”
“I’m sorry. I misunderstood. You’re what?”
“In my spare time I carve little people out of wood. She ate them.” He giggled, “She’s a real terror.” Dolphin looked up and put in her two cents, “Eh, EH EHEHEHE. EH!”
I nodded as sympathetic as I could, trying to understand what it would feel like to be the kind of person who widdled wooden people. I pictures a lonely man sweating over a choice piece of pine. I pictures Geppedo and Pinocchio.
“Yeah, she’s real weird. She’s not as strange as my cat used to be though. Back when I was married my wife and I had a cat.” He paused to reflect on the fact that he was married once and had a cat. “Anyway, the cat was named Watermelon and it was addicted to Aquanet hairspray.” This caught my attention. I was now hooked on the story. “You know, that Aquanet hairspray that they used in the eighties to get the big hair? The aerosol can? Well, my wife was all about it. Then at some point she started running out of hairspray just a few days after she’d bought it. She kept blaming me! Like I would use her Aquanet! Then, one day we were having coffee and we kept hearing this, ‘pssssssssst’ noise coming from the bathroom. We went to check it out and found our cat pushing on the nozzle to let all the gas out! He had his face in front of it so he could shoot himself in the head! It was like crack for him! Like hairspray crack! We made sure to keep it capped after that and he’d sit by it and cry, and meow! He wanted it so bad!”
I pictured a small Siamese cat with cross eyes shooting himself in the face with hairspray. The fur on his head slicked back and hardened into an organic helmet. Later, with hollow cheeks, a skeleton of his former self, he could be spotted outside of dingy rock-n-roll bars trying to sell himself for a little extra cash.
“When we divorced my ex got the cat ; I should have fought harder for him. He was a great cat, it was a sad situation. He died shortly after,” he shook his head in mourning.
“Oh no! How did he die?”
Ty and I both leaned forward in anticipation. He let out a long sigh, “One day she left in a hurry…she was so stupid. Anyway, she left and forgot to put the cap back on after she’d done her hair. She came home a few hours later…and…well…he overdosed.”
Ty and I left the park shortly after. We walked back to the car with Oliver leaping, pulling and barking along the way. I thought about the difficulty of being a good dog owner, about how hard it is to be patient, about how the world would be a better place if everyone that had a dog loved them as much as most of the people that go that park every week. I thought about how annoying it is to live with another species, about how hard it must be for dogs to adapt to us and how we take for granted that they can’t understand us, talk to us, yet they have to give in to our care. I thought about all the things that dogs have done for humanity, for different people from all walks of life. Dogs have an incredible ability save us. They literally save lives in war, like Sargent Stubby, they guide the blind, cheer up the sick, detect seizures or cancer, and sometimes they save us from ourselves. Sometimes they are the bizarre, cackling, pride and Joy of a lonely man who lost his wife in a divorce and a cat to haircare product addiction.