My days are pretty free and unscheduled. Having retired, I can choose what I want to do and when to do it. But, not entirely. You see, Jan and I own two dogs, Tucker (white) and Tulip (red). Both are labradoodles, and they are inseparable. They love to be right underfoot, and they spend their mornings and early afternoons napping, or eating, or asking to be let out to stretch their legs in the back yard. Tulip loves to chase squirrels, and we love it when she does. Tucker not so much – he seems content to sit on the back patio and watch Tulip do all the work. For the most part, they are easy dogs to live with, and neither Jan nor I would have it any other way. We love their companionship.
But, starting about 2PM every day, the energy in the house starts to escalate. The dogs begin to stir. They start pacing back and forth and they insist on putting a paw up in my lap or nuzzling up against my leg to let me know that something is up. Not a word is spoken. But, the communication is very clear – “Get up and moving, Jack, and take us to the dog park!” I try to explain to them that they need to be patient, but patience is not easy for labradoodles. I try logic, and when logic fails, I try a stern voice. When that fails, I resort to diverting their attention by offering them an assortment of dog treats, including peanut butter right off the spoon.
I am not just dragging my feet for the sake of making it hard on Tucker and Tulip. I simply cannot take them to the dog park off-leash before 4PM, because that is the hour established by the Boise City Park and Recreation department for legal off-leash use of selected City parks here in Boise. I explain that to the dogs daily, but they seem not to be persuaded. Civil disobedience is OK with them. To hell with the rules, they seem to say, as they both stare at me incessantly. But, the process continues the same way every day, and both dogs know that sooner or later, I will accede to their demands. At about 3:50PM, I begin by telling Jan that I am taking “…the D.O.G.s to the D.O.G. P.A.R.K.” Apparently, both Tucker and Tulip can spell – they begin wagging their tales crazily when I utter those words. I then go to the closet where I fetch a handful of plastic bags – another dead giveaway! Now, they start barking. I then grab my hat, and when I put it on, all hell breaks loose! The dogs run crazily from the front door to the back door, not knowing which door I will use to take them to the car for the ride to the park. Usually, we go out the back door, and both dogs scramble out the door and engage in a wild, and somewhat dangerous, game of “chase” in our back yard. Or, they run full speed at me, and stop only when their forward progress is impeded by my two 73 year-old legs. It is a process fraught with excitement for them, and danger for me.
So finally, we are in the car, where the dogs are permitted only in the back seat. But, Tulip cheats. Whenever I stop at a stop sign or stop light, Tulip steps onto the armrest of the driver’s seat and puts her chin on my shoulder. She then starts licking my ear while she inches her entire body forward – “Back!”, I say. But, my command is ignored unless and until I start the car moving again, when I must physically push Tulip back into the back seat. This dance goes on day after day. Tucker is mostly an observer, but from time to time, he joins in the action. The drive to the park takes about 10 minutes, and the dogs know every stop, light, and turn along the way. Their joy is palpable! Soon, they will be free to run, sniff, pee, and poop with reckless abandon. Life, for them, does not get any better than this.
As for me, I am preparing for the next phase of the daily dog park dance. First, I note the time. I must not arrive before 4PM. The City decided that dogs in city parks must be on a leash before 4PM. Moreover, dogs must be on a leash for the first 50 yards or so (the buffer-zone) after exiting the car into the park. And, the rules do not stop there. All dogs must be licensed, there must be a leash for every dog, and each dog owner/handler must have plastic poop bags in their possession while in the park. There are probably more rules, but these are the ones that come to mind. You might ask, who cares? Why even be bothered with these stupid rules? The answer is simple. The dog park is visited periodically by a City dog policeman/Nazi. This guy is something else! He loves writing citations ($75 per infraction, per dog, per day). He often hides his City-owned truck around the corner and he then hides himself in the bushes adjoining the designated leash-free dog area of the park. If someone shows up with a dog off leash at, say, 3:55PM, bingo! The dog Nazi pops up, ticket-book in hand! And, while he is citing you for an illegal early off-leash dog violation, he then checks to make sure that your dog is currently licensed, that the license is on the collar of the dog, that you have a leash for the dog, and that you have poop-bags at the ready. Heaven forbid if you allowed your dogs to run into the park directly from the car, in violation of the 50-yard buffer zone rule. If any of these are not in up to snuff, then the ticket book comes out again. He loves his job, and he could care less whether the infraction is trivial or not. He goes strictly “by the book.”
Knowing this, I arrive at the park, scanning the streets near the park for the dog Nazi’s pickup truck as I approach. Seeing no sign of his truck is no guarantee that he is not there, but it helps relieve much of the anxiety. I have explained all of this to Tulip and Tucker, and they nod their heads in agreement. But, they have no intention of complying with the rules. So, the minute that I open the car door with leashes in hand, both dogs jump out and race into the park at breakneck speed, breaking the 50-yard buffer zone on-leash rule. Immediately, I think to myself, if the dog Nazi is here somewhere, I have just incurred a $150 fine, at a minimum. But, the dogs usually cover that 50 yards in about 3 seconds, so I figure, what are the odds that we are going to get caught, right?! So far, and for many months now, I have dodged this bullet. But I do not want to brag. Tomorrow could be the day of reckoning with the dog Nazi.
Next, Tucker somehow has set his body clock to ring his poop alarm the minute he is released into the park. So, while I walk into the park and am greeted by other dog owners standing there throwing balls to their dogs with their “Chuck-it” devices, Tucker goes immediately and squats, often in the middle of the assembled humans. These folks are dog people, so they are understanding, but in most social circles, Tucker’s behavior would be a source of some embarrassment. Tulip, whom I have almost never seen poop, is delighted to search out the nearest squirrel or to sniff butts with the assemblage of other dogs at the park. This is just normal dog behavior, as far as I can tell. But it gets a little awkward for me, for the following reason. When Tulip begins to show interest in another dog, or worse yet, when another dog begins to show interest in Tulip, Tucker makes his entrance. He does not just poke his nose into the fray, he claims Tulip as his own by mounting and humping her incessantly until she runs to me and hides between my legs for protection. The other “regulars” at the dog park know Tucker by this behavior – and they know him as “Humper”, not Tucker. Jan is so mortified by Tucker’s actions that she refuses to go with us to the dog park. One lady at the park told Jan some time ago that Tucker needed to go to some specialist she knew of to fix this once and for all. When we explained that both Tucker and Tulip have been snipped, tied, fixed, or whatever you call it, this lady seemed unimpressed. She apparently found the dog’s behavior to be disgusting. So, Jan said to me, “That’s it….I am done taking the dogs to this park.” I have gotten so used to this routine that I just ignore it. People there may think I am a bit odd, but I cannot control what they think.
Our routine then shifts into “taking a lap” around the perimeter of the area in the park designated to be off-leash by the City. For me, this is a relatively short walk, and not worth mention, really. For Tucker and Tulip, however, this lap can be full of fun and adventure. First, there is the dog that lives across the chain link fence adjacent to the park. This dog loves to taunt Tucker and Tulip by running back and forth along the fence line, barking ferociously and stimulating Tucker and Tulip into a frenzy of barking, running back and forth, and growling. This goes on for as long as the owner of the dog on the other side of the fence allows his dog this freedom, or until I intervene to distract my dogs. Usually, it is up to me to bring an end to this fun. I sometimes wonder how my dogs would behave if somehow this fence was removed. Would they still want to play with the other dog? Would they still act like they are so tough? Or, would Tucker just start humping Tulip, who would then run to me for protection?
Anyway, we progress around the perimeter of the park until we reach the creek which runs alongside the park on one side. Both Tucker and Tulip are labradoodles, and Labradors are supposed to love water, right? Well, not Tucker. He will have nothing to do with the water. Tulip, on the other hand, is curious about the water, but will only walk in the water if it is really shallow – she does not want her tummy to get wet. The other dogs in the park jump into the water, frolic in the water, lie down in the water, and love the cool-down. Tucker and Tulip cool down only by drinking from the water dishes of other dog owners who brought them intending to serve their own dogs, not mine. But, this has been going on so long now that these other dog owners are pretty understanding – they just bring along a little bigger jug of water, knowing that Tucker and Tulip will be there.
There is one final area, however, where Tucker and Tulip truly excel. When it comes time to leave the park, I need to leash them up to cross the 50-yard buffer zone. Leashes also facilitate getting them to the car and inside without incident. Other dog owners play hell trying to get their dogs to come and submit to a leash. Our dogs are different. All I need to do is say to Tucker and Tulip, “Come get your leashes”, and they break into an amazing grin and run like the wind to my feet, where they sit and smile at me with tails wagging like crazy. Go figure! I have no idea why they like this part of our daily routine so much, but they do. Other dog owners stare in disbelief. I just smile and say to them, “Have a nice day”. He who laughs best, laughs last….
And, then on the way to the car, I drop the plastic poop bag into the trash barrel. The dogs settle into the back seat where Tucker gives Tulip one more little hump, and then we all relax until we reach the first stop light – when the front seat encroachment begins anew. Whew, I’m exhausted…..think I will go re-sort the socks by color in my sock drawer.