14 April 2010

A park is not a dog park

Toni, Téa and I just got back from the park—not a dog park, just a regular park. The gates are not secured. In fact there aren’t gates—just fences with openings that allow people to come and go. There is a basketball court, tennis courts. There is a popular children’s playground and lots of grass. There is not a specific area enclosed for, dedicated to or safe for dogs.

So I cannot for the life of me figure out why people who seem to care about their dogs take their dogs to this particular not-a-dog park and let them off of the leash. Certainly some of these dogs are well-trained dogs who stay with or return to their people when called. Others are old dogs who are simply happy for another opportunity to walk through the grass or snow in their bare paws, with a little tree sniffing thrown in for good measure. But many of the dogs, most of the dogs that I encounter when we are at this not-a-dog park are not well trained. They do not obey their people when called. This isn’t particularly surprising when their people don’t sound much like they mean it: “And then I said…. Hang on. Ziggy. Ziggy, no… He never listens. Anyway, so I said…. Ziggy, I said no. Honestly, he’s terrible.” So I am not surprised, nor should they be (though they always seem to be), when their dogs also do not come when it actually matters.

The reason dog parks were created are very good ones. Dogs need space to run and play. People who own dogs do not always have access to a private, spacious area for that to happen. Dogs do not always come when called, so a safe, enclosed environment is a good way to ensure that dogs don’t disappear into the city streets or under the wheels of passing vehicles. General parks, those not specific to dogs, were designed with people in mind. General parks, not-dog parks, belong to an entirely different category of park. Most people who go to not-dog parks do so because they don’t want to be in dog parks. This is true even of some people who have dogs.

So you can imagine the frustration of being at a perfectly nice, perfectly not-a-dog park and having to deal with dozens of dogs every week who come barreling up to us as their people stand around. Their people are half way across the park from us (and their dogs), nursing their Starbucks and watching the kids in the playground more than they are watching their dogs. We choose to go to the park at off times to avoid this as much as possible. But they are always there in some large or small number, these people who choose to put their dogs in charge of their own playtime and safety; and they all react the same way. They begin a slow amble in our direction. “Sasha. Come on, Sasha…. Sorry. She’s friendly. Come on. Saaaaasha.” Sasha never comes—they always have to come all of the way over to get Sasha/Molly/Benji/Duke. There was even the one woman who let her Chow mix make his way over to us while she continued on her own walk, making no effort to fetch her dog. This didn’t seem to be much of a problem until the Chow thing flattened his ears, lowered his head and started growling at Toni. I looked toward the woman, who just waved and said, “Don’t mind him. He loves dogs.” My response was, had to be, “I don’t think so and if you don’t come get your dog I’m going to call the police.” What else could I do? Wait to see if I was wrong?
So today it was a fluffy one. In the entire not-a-dog park there was just Toni, Téa and me, off-leash fluffy Frank (we learned), his lady and one other woman walking two Sharpeis. It’s a big park, plenty of room for all of us. We had gone to the opposite end of the park to express our disinterest in playing off-leash. No matter to fluffy Frank. He was in high spirits and looking for playmates. And as he came closer and closer, I realized his lady hadn’t even noticed he had taken off. So I used my best booming, projecting voice (and I’ve been trained to boom and project, so it’s got some serious power behind it) to yell, “HEY! Stop your dog. NOW! My dogs are NOT both friendly.”

By now fluffy Frank had zoomed around us in two circles. Téa was doing her very best not to get into trouble, but I could hear the bizarre squeaking noise she makes when she’s overly excited starting in her throat. And Toni, who forgot she was on a leash, made a move to chase fluffy Frank, yanking all three of us about 10 feet to the side. All the while, this woman, this person responsible for fluffy Frank’s well-being, never even picked up her pace from a casual walk. Fluffy Frank had now made about six circles around us and I repeated, “My dogs are not both friendly.” And she started in with the, “Frank. Come. Come on, Frank. Oh, you’re such a jerk. Frank. Back on the leash for you after this.” Except it wasn’t because fluffy Frank continued to prance and dance and bounce around just out of her reach, which made it clear that this was a regular game for them. She got a hand on Frank eventually, at which point I felt safe to turn my back on her and move away, only to have Frank make another pass around us. All the while she was like a broken record, “Frank. Bad. Come on, Frank.” I kid you not, this happened two more times.

Finally, I pointedly reminded her, “This is not a dog park, you know.” And because I know people are most motivated by the things that affect them, I added, “You could get fined $500.” She just stared at me blankly, which allowed me to realize that somehow she thought I was the one who was out of line. (I’m still trying to figure out how that could be the case.)

After she left, the woman with the Sharpeis came up—at a respectful distance. “That was despicable,” she said. I liked her already because she used the word despicable. “People do that at this park all the time. And then you’re the one who gets pulled around by your dogs, and your dogs are the ones who get in trouble because you’re trying to control them in a situation that they shouldn’t be in anyway. It happens all the time. I’m going home to call the police. You should, too.”

I didn’t call the police, at least not this time. It was over, and fluffy Frank and his careless lady had already gone home. All we had wanted to do was go to the park; not the dog park, because that’s not the kind of park we like, and yet somehow that’s where we ended up.


  1. Seriously. People who let their dogs run/walk off leash - at the park, on the sidewalk, wherever - annoy the heck out of me. I think we ALL need to remind folks of the fines involved in having unleashed dogs. This is how "bad things" happen... the "bad things" that always make it into the press. Ugh.

  2. Love your blog! just spent my Sunday morning rading through your posts! Justwanted to agree with this. I have off leash dogs run up to us, and the owners say don't worry he/she is friendly. And I say well mine is not and you better call your dog now. Although I don't know if Daisy would harm a dog, if they showed agressive posturing I am sure she wouldn't stand for it.