We all held our breath when the police car drove up to the dog park. Had somebody been turned in for an aggressive dog? Had there been a fight earlier?
It turned out the police wanted to know who had been illegally planting trees at the dog park. But dog owners are a tough bunch; we weren’t talking. “What trees?” we asked innocently?
The dog park that we go to is pretty awesome: 6.1 acres, a 1/3 mile trail around the interior perimeter, covered benches, and a small separate area for timid or small dogs. The park has two drawbacks though. It has no running water and, with the exception of the covered benches, no protection from the sweltering sun during the summer.
The regulars appealed to the city to add some trees, but the lack of running water was a problem. A couple of the regulars, though, had a solution. They would buy and plant the trees, and then assign people to come out and water one or two trees on a regular basis. With enough people pitching in, we would soon have shade. These people are a dog park’s Caretakers. Thinking about them, I wondered what kind of people go to a dog park. There’s at least 5 types:
These are the people who bring their dogs regularly to the dog park around the same time every day. They take pride in the park, and they greet each other like old best friends. Most don’t even know the other people’s first names, everybody is just “Chip’s mom,” or “Muffin’s dad,” although sometimes strong friendships are formed among the regulars at a dog park. I know one dog owner who organized the other Regulars into helping serve the homeless on New Year’s Eve, which eventually turned into a ritual for the Regulars at that park. Typically, the Regulars’ dogs are well-behaved and well-socialized because they’re used to the daily routine and greeting of both new dogs and old friends.
The Caretakers are a subset of the Regulars. Caretakers don’t just plant trees and waterthem every day for 5 years, they’re also the people who bring jugs of water to a waterless dog park and distribute it among the five water bowls set around the park. One Caretaker was out early in the morning after a huge snowstorm, shoveling the entrance to the park so that the elderly Regulars wouldn’t fall on the ice. Caretakers also scoop the poop that goes unclaimed, often gathering up over 50 or 100 piles of poop that other owners have carelessly left behind. Caretakers leave the park much better than they found it.
Some of these can be Regulars, but they don’t have to be. These are the dog owners who show up at the park with their Pumpkin Spice Latte, sipping it and chatting, glancing at their dogs occasionally to make sure nobody is getting into any real trouble. Socialites are in it because they want to give their dogs some exercise, but they really have no interest in walking around themselves. Socialites can be nice, sometimes fun to talk to, but there’s a good possibility that their dog left a present somewhere in the park that went unnoticed.
The Rule Breakers
Rule Breakers are almost never Regulars. These are the people who think the world revolves around them, and that the rules simply don’t apply to them.
Most dog parks have rules that are posted as you enter. They include things like keeping your dogs leashed when entering and exiting the park, children should be strictly supervised, no unneutered dogs, no smoking or eating, things like that. Then you have the mom who shows up in her van with her dog and three little kids, one with a kite. Her dog comes over to hump my dog, and it turns out he isn’t neutered. One of the kids has a donut, which my dog immediately grabs out of her hands. The woman screams at me, screams at the person telling her kids not to run around the dogs or they’ll chase them, and I think about saying something to her. Then I imagine the headline the next day in the local newspaper: “Cat Fight at the Dog Park,” and I decide to just move on and let her go, because I probably won’t see her again.
The Gate Lurkers
Some people only bring their dog to the dog park so that the dog can zip around and release some energy. These people have no desire to socialize, to get any exercise, and they usually look miserable, especially if the weather conditions are particularly cold and snowy. They take two steps into the park and stop, hanging by the gate. These are not bad people – at least they are letting their dog burn off a little energy. But Gate Lurkers’ dogs can be aggressive because they don’t come a lot, and it’s not likely that a Gate Lurker is going to see that their dog left a heaping pile in the far corner of the park. Sometimes you’ll see a Caretaker say really loud to the Gate Lurker “I’ve got a baggy here if you need it!” as he points to the huge steaming pile. Embarrassment can work wonders as a motivational tool.
The Car Sitters
This isn’t one you see often, and Car Sitters mostly only show up in extreme weather, but these are the people who put their dog in the park and then go sit in the car. These people usually have the worst-behaved dogs; it’s no wonder as to why. Dogs are very social animals and look to their owners for cues, so a dog left alone in a dog park is probably likely going to have some social issues. And, much like the Gate Lurkers, Car Sitters are pretty much guaranteed not to pick up after their dogs.
About the Author
Lura Vernon is a resident of Boulder, CO and is the author of the children’s book Marlo’s Rainbow Pony as well as several short stories, and she was once nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Fiction. Lura is the parent of two grown daughters, and, as her children grew up and moved out, she began to replace the kids with pets. She is now the parent of two Yellow Labradors, one Humane Society dog of unknown origin, and a very special black cat. Lura recently joined a 12-step program for people with a severe puppy addiction, but unfortunately Lura has never made it past admitting that she has a problem.
Laura’ new book – Cool Dogs and Crazy Cats
Cool Dogs and Crazy Cats – A Book of Haikus is a gift book of humor, haikus, and pet photography. The pets depicted in this book have exceptional narratives that are told in an often humorous, sometimes sweet, and sometimes touching haiku format. Haikus are Japanese poems of seventeen syllables that traditionally evoke images of the natural world, which is what makes them a perfect format for describing the viewpoints and emotions of our beloved pets.