Like (and unlike) many people my age, I don’t have children. I have a dog.
And even though Charley, my four-year-old border collie/lab mix, doesn’t serve to supplement my lack of offspring, she does, however, take the form of a quasi child.
Both require discipline, time, love and poop duty.
And unlike cats, birds or fish, dogs crave our attention and approval. They cower when we scold, greet us when we come home and console us with a head-in-the-lap when we’re sad. Any dog owner, childless or not, will tell you the same thing: dogs are family members.
So, it’s no surprise these special pets have special parks.
OUR OWN DOG PARK
It wasn’t until this past summer that Traverse City got its own dog park. Located on the corner of Division and Bay streets, the TC Dog Park is approximately 105 x155 of fenced-off grass, or—as of late—dirt, thanks to its high usage and our dry summer.
Like adults observing children at play, dog owners use these parks for their exercise and social utility.
“Which one is yours?” “That chocolate lab over there.” “Yours?” “The Welsh corg-…Tippin! Stop humping that poodle!” Although the dog park is off-leash, it requires constant supervision of your pet. Expect mounting, rough play and occasional nips (sounds like the dance club, eh?). They’re dogs. However, there is tactfulness in recognizing the shift from “Let’s play” to “Back the bleep off.”
I’ve heard of some owners asked to leave because they couldn’t control their dogs. Aside from shunned behaviors like excessive barking or jumping (I apologize to you, lady in the khaki slacks, but you might want to rethink your attire), aggressive dogs can be dangerous. If you do have an aggressive pup or maybe it’s just a bad day, consider the consequences of bringing a set of teeth into an enclosed area.
On that note, stop bringing your toddlers.
Yes, your actual children who stand next to you and that flurry of teeth, claws and muscle. When dogs play, it’s a free-for-all of unpredictable direction.
Heaven forbid your child comes in contact with that, let alone yourself.
“A woman tore her ACL last week,” one owner tells me.
“Someone sprained their ankle real bad,” I hear another time.
When at the dog park, it’s best to stand with your knees slightly bent lest a crowd of dogs comes barreling into them. Better yet, just stand near the fence.
ZOOMING INTO THE PACK
Keep your leash handy, but remove it once you enter the gate. It’s up to your dog to find their space of comfort, whether it’s behind your legs or zooming off into the pack.
There is, of course, etiquette and common sense that applies to the park. Clean up after your dog, keep his shots up to date and talk with the other dog owners. You’d be amazed by the stories you hear – from the good (harrowing shelter rescues) to the heart-breaking (failing health issues).
In our society, we’re wired to keep personal space. While walking down the street, we avoid eye contact and continue about our errands; but add a dog and we’re not only smiling, but asking strangers if we can stop them and make physical contact – with their dog, of course.
Imagine this encounter 20 times over in a dog park. Suddenly we are smiling, laughing and conversing with total strangers.
Some visitors are regulars and others are first-timers. Breeds come and go like the weather, with patterns emerging daily. An afternoon of English bulldogs, a morning of Great Danes and a full day of mutts, their breed origins as mysterious as the location of your swallowed car keys.
There are big dogs with big hearts and small dogs with big attitudes. Although there is a separate fenced-off area for smaller breeds, you’ll find plenty who hold their own with the big dogs. They race like Energizer bunnies around their slower companions and bark adamantly about their presence.
Hey! Hey! Hey! I always imagine them shouting.
EXCITED & UNSURE
Some dogs play with others while some prefer to play by themselves, snatching up the soiled tennis balls that lay strewn about like land mines.
The arrival to the park is my favorite moment, not just when Charley and I first reach the gate—“Buddies!” I coo excitedly, taking inventory of the numbers—but watching others arrive, too.
Dogs enter a holding area where leashes are removed and treats are securely tucked. One by one they are greeted by the others. Like a child’s first day at school, they are excited, nervous and unsure. Tails wag, ears are perked and everyone is there to check out the new kid.
Sure, there may be a disagreement or two but after rear ends are sniffed, harmony continues and playtime ensues. Everyone goes back to their business.
Speaking of which, looks like Charley just did her own business by the bench. Excuse me while I go on poop duty.
The Traverse City off-leash dog park is located on the corner of Division and Bay streets, across from the Elks Lodge. The park is open during daylight hours. For more information, visit tcdogpark.com.
Check out the dog park footage at the Video Seen page: northernexpress.com.