Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Walk in the Park, or What Should Have Been

Zarya and Betsy
In my thirties, I had two dogs: Sam and Bart. Bart, pictured below, weighed 105 pounds. He stood 32 inches at the hip.

A veteran I used to walk with liked to say I could stroll through Kabul with these two dogs.

After Sam and Bart passed away, I acquired three new dogs.  The fact that I had a pack of dogs meant that I continued to avoid faint-hearted pedestrians, bicyclists, joggers, and single-dog owners.  I walked exclusively with other people who owned packs of dogs--Irish Wolfhounds, Gordon Setters, Cairn Terriers. We got along famously well.

But two of my three dogs passed away in August.

Within 24 hours of the second dog's passing (this is not meant to be a eulogy), we adopted Zarya, a ten-week-old puppy, from the Dane County Shelter.  I wouldn't say that we rescued her, I would say that she rescued us: we were in rough shape after losing two dogs in two weeks.

Zarya looks something like Bart:



 And while it's nice to know that I could safely walk my dog through the streets of Kabul, it was rare that I ever found myself in Afghanistan.  More commonly, I found myself in south-central Wisconsin.

 Zarya's paws are outsized (though not quite as huge as Bart's were).

Bart--huge paws!

Zarya--note paw size

A dog like Zarya, with her coyote eyes and five-finger paws, needs to be socialized often and early. That way, not only will I be able to walk safely in Kabul, but dogs and people in south-central Wisconsin will be able to walk safely around me.  ( :

Almost every day now, I go out and hobnob with dog people.

The best word to describe the dog park is Portlandia.  Basically, everyone seems to be improvising to comic effect for my particular entertainment.  I'm sure that's what's going on. I'm sure these people are perfectly normal people as soon as they step out of the park. I think they're mostly out-of-work actors, secretly honing their craft.  If they understood how closely I have been observing their performance, how much I appreciate the farce and genius of their act--how inspired I am to attempt to capture the essence of the absurdity--they would all be deeply touched.

But just in case, I'm changing the names of the actors and the dogs and the parks. And all physical attributes of the people and dogs.  Whatever I write, picture the opposite.  That will save me a lot of trouble.

Story # 1.  "Daphne Enjoys Her Privacy"

Of course, people talk to dogs with long strings of words tied together with spit in the American monotone that pets understand perfectly.

Actually, that's not true. I think dogs miss quite a lot of what we're saying.  It seriously irritates me when people speak to their Corgis as though they were five-year-old children taking viola.

That said, I catch myself doing it with every dog I've ever had--my 4-month old puppy, Zarya, being no exception, so I can't be critical of other people on this point.

However, there was this lady at the dog park, about sixty years old, white hair pulled up in a sock hat, dressed very practically in early-morning dog-park style, as though she might belong to a coven.

Her dog is a seven-month-old Great Dane, Daphne, out-sized but elegant, her every step all grace and grandeur.  It looked like she was compressing a lifetime of motion into a Great Dane's short life.  So, in a sense, I thought, maybe it didn't matter, existentially, if she had only eight years to live.

My four-month-old pup, who was big, but not that big, threw herself into playing with Daphne.

Zarya tackling Daphne

There is no way Zarya was going to win, but either she did not know this or she did not care, or winning was not the point.

Eventually, Daphne traipsed off into the tall grass in order to take a dump.

Daphne's owner (we had exchanged names of our dogs, but not ourselves--common practice in parks because, after all, we name our dogs, not ourselves, and the dogs pretty much are our avatars) followed Daphne's trail back into the tall grass and returned with a big plastic bag full of pasty, Dijon-colored shit.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and I did not want to see anymore.

But Daphne's owner fell in step beside me, so I couldn't help but notice the foul smell and appearance of yellow-brown shit overflowing onto her gray knit gloves, the more so as she attempted  to close the bag without enough room at the top.

Daphne's owner realized that this grotesque situation required some explanation.

"Daphne likes her privacy," she explained.  "Usually, when I walk her on the leash, when she starts to squat, I get the bag ready behind her, and she poops right into it.  So, when she knows we're going to the park in the morning, she holds it in...That's why there's so much of it."

It was early in the morning when I was hearing this.  I had only had one cup of coffee. My affect was still pretty flat. But, if you had been there like the ever-present camera on "The Office,"  I would have shot you a look, like, WTF(?!?).

The mustard-yellow shit smeared on her gloves, the three-quarts of crap in a transparent bag that had once been used to keep sliced bread fresh...I thought: This lady is nuts!

I mean, she just said that Daphne liked her privacy, and yet she makes a practice of disrupting Daphne's most private moments.  Daphne would one day die of constipation rather than poop into her owner's outstretched arms.

But that was how life was going to be for Daphne with this lady: a short life of outsized acts of humiliating shit and revenge shit.

I managed to quietly drift away toward some other people who were speaking in long sentences to their dogs--dogs who, playing at being dogs, were not listening to their owners very well.

As I leashed up Zarya and (eleven-year-old) Betsy to go home, I looked back into the park and saw the lady and Daphne off in the distance, by themselves.  Seven months old, and with all of that energy, Daphne was leaping up onto and pawing the white-haired woman over and over again.  And  in the distance I could hear the white-haired lady with shit on her hands solemnly begging her Great Dane to stop.

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