Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Two Sets of Eyes Are Better Than One

I'd been feeling kind of badly about my last post, which cast an unflattering light on the characters I met at the dog park.

Look at that: Calling people "characters," as if they were not human, or real(!).

And my intention had been to write them that way, in story after story in which I would always be some hybrid creature: author/character, bemused narrator. ("Narradoodle.")

Clearly, Zarya, my pup, wasn't the only one in need of socialization.  These are skills--relating to strangers, chatting up acquaintances, making friends--that require practice, like playing an instrument. When I stop practicing, I get rusty; I sound out of tune; my tempo is off.

I had forgotten how to partake of people, how to participate.  I forgot whether I'd ever known how to mix in, socially.

Slowly, I'm getting better at it.  Though still tempted to refer to people as characters, I no longer see them in the same flat way.

So, instead of becoming friends with my son's friends' parents, like everyone said I would, I am becoming friends with my dog's friends' parents.  It may sound weird, but, if I like your dog, chances are good that I will like you, too.

I walk along, chatting with people who own dogs that are compatible with mine.  Our dogs tend to be young, energetic, playful and nonaggressive. As owners, we are not necessarily young and playful, but we bring energy, curiosity, and humor to conversation. We enjoy some of the same dog toys.  Most of us have a Chuck-it, for example, though our dogs rarely return the ball.

We start out talking about dogs.  How old is your dog?  Is she an Aussie? Is she a Goldendoodle?  (I have seen Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Newfydoodles, and Berniedoodles.)

I have seen Norwegian Elkhounds, German Pointers, Australian Shepherds, Irish Foxhounds, one Basset-Shar-Pei, one Golden-Chow, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, one Spinone Italiano, and one pregnant Tibetan Mastiff.  I've also seen a Beagle-Pit, a Bijou-Frise-Papillon, and a couple of Airedales.

My dog Zarya (Z, for short), and I light up at the sight of her favorite dog friends and their owners. We light up at at the sight of their cars.

Most of my intel now comes from The New York Times or the dog park.

I am so habituated to the park community that I no longer dread encounters with the people who are out of their minds.

One such gentleman has two dogs--a Lab mixed with Shepherd and a Lab mixed with Pit and Beagle.  They are not especially curious or friendly. They keep to themselves.  They don't expect a pat or a treat from anyone.  They seem to understand that they, along with their owner, walk on an outside track--usually alone.

Surprisingly, this gentleman, strange as he is (the way he remembers where we first met--in the hardware store--and what we talked about: a place on Schneider Road; and where we've encountered each other  since then, like Papa Murphy's, and what we talked about there); despite all that mental hoarding, which can seem creepy, he also watches current movies and can offer a thoughtful review.

After our first few conversations about movies, his dogs began to acknowledge me as an acquaintance.  The expression in their eyes softened.  They are good, loyal dogs.

Anyway, it's nice to see people of all sorts, to talk about dogs, and to gradually wander off into other subjects. We're all fenced in together, here, hoping to get along.

Some days at the park are so harmonious and cheerful, it makes me feel happy and warm.  We watch the dogs wrestle and run.  Their antics make us laugh.  We talk about when, where, and how we got our dogs.

Suki's owners took two years to grieve for their Labrador Retriever before adopting Suki from the local animal shelter.

My family adopted 10-week-old Zarya from the same shelter, pretty darn quickly after losing two dogs in two weeks.  It was just too quiet in the house. Even the new puppy was not loud enough, though we seem to have made the adjustment.

Life stories seep into conversation; trust and friendship take root.

I lost my keys at the park the other day, just as it was getting dark.  A young man with a beard and  a son and a dog were leaving at the same time as we were.  When I realized that I didn't have my keys, I turned back toward the park entrance.

The man asked if I had forgotten something.  I told him I seemed to have dropped my keys somewhere in the park.

He returned through the gate with me, saying, "Two sets of eyes are better than one."

Friends of mine happened by, former neighbors with their dog. They helped comb the fields for three blue plastic balls on braided bungee cord attached to the key fob.

I told the young dad and his son that they should go home, since my friends were there, and my husband and son were on their way.

"The more eyes the better," he said.

It was getting more cold and dark by the minute, almost too dark to ssee anything in the grass, when the young bearded guy held them up high and called out, "I found them!"

I could not have been more grateful.  I couldn't express to him what it meant to me: that he was returning not only my car keys, but also some faith I had lost in humanity.

It doesn't always go well at the park.  Sometimes, there will be a bad combination of dogs, and things can go terribly wrong.

Sometimes, people bring dogs who are mild-mannered at home, but real shits at the park, and they just can't believe or understand why their dog gets so mean in public spaces.  They don't understand their dog's behavior, they can't predict it, and they can't control their dogs.  But they come anyway, hoping for the best. They unleash their dog, and express surprise and dismay when it attacks someone else's dog and injures it, or worse.  

Sometimes, like on the afternoon I lost my keys, there aren't very many other dogs at the park, and it is a lonely and rather boring walk for Zarya and me.  But when a stranger, who also happens to be walking his dog, turns out to be the kind of person who won't stop looking for my keys until he or someone else has found them...?  Well, that just makes me feel hopeful and happy, like some sentimental character out of a Frank Capra movie.

No comments: