Okay, I admit it. Franklin has been banished from the dog-friendly park closest to my house. Or, to put it more accurately, I promised the animal control offer I wouldn’t take him there off leash anymore. One too many people tired of his yelling at them when he smelled treats in their pockets. One too many people lost patience with him jumping all over their cars as they crawled to a halt. And quite frankly, one too many dog owners — me — never cottoned to writing checks to fellow park goers to have Franklin’s nail scratches buffed out of their vehicles. (The big, goofy — all right, obnoxious — idiot is yelling out the window downstairs as I type this, no doubt from the couch where he stands sentry. Some “interloper” is probably passing the house with another dog.)
It has been hard on Franklin and his “baby sister” Rosie. They love that park — the park of both their puppyhoods, where they enjoyed daily meetings with their lifelong pals: Bridget the Brittany spaniel, Max the mutt, Moxie the tiny terrier, and so on. But it has been hardest on me. A significant part of my daily social fabric has been bitten out of my life. Now I don’t get to see Tony and find out how his job running the performance center is going, how his son is doing with viola. I don’t get to find out from Anne how her four children and 11 grandchildren are faring. I don’t know whether Meg has made it up with her friend from India who she had the fight with or whether she has taken on teaching more yoga classes.
I’m not alone in having found a social circle among my fellow dog walkers. Research has shown empirically what almost everyone with a dog knows through his or her own experience: people with dogs are more likely to report more friendships than they otherwise would have had because of the need to get out there every day — several times a day — and let their dog have a romp. That is, the dog’s romp also becomes the owner’s. We enjoy the sniffing around just as much as they do (although we’re not as apt to sniff with our actual noses).
Matthew Gilbert came to dog-dog-human-human introductions late in life, in his 40s, when he finally brought home his first dog. And he talks about the widening of his social circle in his charming book, Off the Leash: A Year At the Dog Park, in which he recounts his first year with his new puppy and the new connections he made — including a deeper connection with himself. Read about it on page 14.
As for me, I’m still bruising from the ban. Yes, I do see my fellow dog-owning compatriots at other nearby dog parks once in a while, and Franklin and Rosie — and I — are always happy to reconnect with our original homeys. But it’s not the same.
Some of Franklin’s crazy energy of late probably stems from the fact that my wife and I just managed to slim him down from an awfully portly 74 pounds too 58. Now, I think, it’s time to try some leash training before turning him loose again.
Happy tails to you,