Sunday, March 10, 2013

3/10/13 No More Dog Parks

Love always has its limits. You know this intellectually, all the time. You forget this emotionally, too often. To wit: Evan is no longer allowed to go to the dog park during prime dog visiting hours.

Oh, we'll still walk in and let him sniff around in the early mornings, when there is no one around. But my beloved dog does not love me so well as to understand that his betrayal has cost him many coming moments of freedom. 

You see, I like to think Evan loves me quite unconditionally, until I am faced with the ugly truth: whenever there are other unleashed dogs around, I cease to exist. 

Well, not cease entirely. He's always watching me from the corner of his vision and staying as far away as possible so that I don't dare try to put his leash back on. But in those moments, we both know that the only reason I matter is a negative one. 

It's pretty crushing, even if I will allow myself the momentary excuse of "dumb animal" and, what's worse, it seriously pisses me off. 

Some evenings, I get lucky. The other dogs and people are leaving about the time the sun is going down and I'm ready to get back home, so Evan willingly comes to the gate with me. 

Other nights, not so much. 

Thursday night was a not so much.

It was gloriously warm, which brings out the dog-parkers in droves. I counted a dozen dogs at the height of the frenzy that evening. The park is set up on a loop, so while dogs play, owners can, if they so desire, measure out their mile (6 circuits) and watch the pups as they play, and pick up poop when it happens. After a slow mile, the sun was beginning to fade behind the mountains, the air grew colder, and some of the wiser folks called to their loyal, listening animals, who happily followed them to the gate to be leashed and walked home. Sigh.

Mine wouldn't come near me.

Evan is not as fast as about half of the dogs at the park, but he loves to chase them with abandon. I am not as fast as any of the dogs as the park, and I hate to even attempt a pointless chase. Dog trainers will tell you, this makes the dog think it's a fun game of keep away. I know better. Evan knows better. This isn't fun for either of us. And the winner is predetermined. I am not catching him. Experience has borne this out for both of us.

I will call to him, futilely, "Evan, let's go!" to which he responds by chasing whichever dog happens to be running the opposite way from the exit. It doesn't help that this elicits a variety of responses from the other humans, none of which are terribly helpful. I will get the pity look from some, now that my plight is writ large for everyone who can leave when they want with dogs who listen to them. And I will occasionally get reproving looks, the ones that seem to say, "Are you going to let him get away with that?" as if my dog is more controllable than a toddler's tantrum. Yes, if I could catch him and carry him, I would pick him up screaming and walk him straight home without treats. I can't. Neither can you. So stop looking at me like that.

My lovely, wonderful dog who acts as though I hung the moon any other time, becomes a dog that would happily let me walk away forever, if only he could stay with the other running dogs in the pen. I will admit to a few dark daydreams in which he finds himself utterly alone in the pitch black, realizing the error of his ways. (Yeah, I see that look on your face right now. Stow it.  Imagination should be dramatic.)

Sometimes, I just go and sit at the picnic table near the gate and pray for new dogs who appear interesting enough to be greeted to arrive. Sometimes Evan and friends will surge en masse to the gate for the smelling of the newcomers, and I can pin him down mid-butt-sniff and snap on the leash.

But Thursday night, probably sensing the depth of my irritation, Evan did not approach as new dogs entered. And as most people were leaving, strange people were arriving. These people were getting to the dark park at deep dusk, with only minutes of fading light left. And I began to despair, because my final play was to wait everyone else out until it was completely dark. Who walks their dogs starting at sundown? And why am I imagining they look a little too much like drug dealers? 

The nice couple with the tiny black Pomeranian who've been here as long as we have by this point, are leaving. I see the look of pity in the husband's eyes. He knows what's going on. He's heard me calling to Evan, walking in circuits that might allow me to get close to him just before he goes dashing off in another direction. We can barely see one another as they walk past me to the gate.

He turns and throws the tennis ball one last time, in a long arc, as far as it will go, and his little Pom turns from his heels and races back into the park for it. I realize after a second what he was aiming for. As the Pom turns with the ball in her mouth, here comes Evan, who has momentarily forgotten my presence, trying to catch her, charging up to the gate, that her owner has propped open into the holding area where I can pin him down. She's way ahead of him, but it works. I have my dog. Her owner just smiled and headed off into the dark with his cute red-haired wife and tiny, obedient, dog.

And thus, Evan and I are on break from the dog park, but still together, and probably in need of couples therapy. No more dog parks for us. We'll have to work on getting a long lead and some good treats and see how it goes. But not yet. First, I need to go for walks in which we bypass the park with other dogs playing so I can reprovingly look down at him and say, "Sorry, buddy, but you lost your park privileges." Because I'm petty that way.

Dumb dog. I wish I didn't love him so much.