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For ages, the hardest men have been forged in fire. Shaped by steel and molded by a crucible. I had my own such coming-of-age story last week when I agreed to watch my roommate’s year old dog while she romped and played on a vacation in Ireland. Now, I’ll admit, it wasn’t exactly a Spartan-like indoctrination into adulthood in which I was ritualistically flogged and beaten, but it was a shocking reminder at how inept I am at taking care of another living being. Each morning, it was a test of will to get up and take the dog out for a casual 3-mile jog in order to tire her out before I went to work. Between her treating me like a serf and laying down in the middle of the run to her taking a steamy dump that would make Danny DeVito blush, I was consistently running 10-15 minutes late to the office each day.
Do you enjoy having some alone time at lunch while you shamefully devour a cheeseburger in your car? Say goodbye to that when you’re taking care of a dog. I was coming home each day at noon to make sure that she didn’t turn our place into a Shia LaBeouf after-party by peeing on all of the furniture. On the lunchtime walk, she would get into the habit of laying down in the middle of the street while we were crossing, as if to challenge oncoming cars to an extremely one-sided game of chicken. What choice did I have but to pick her up and carry her across the street? I don’t need the stress of a doggy ghost on my conscience, I’m already losing hair over this Cubs postseason.
Yet, through all of those trials and tribulations, by the far the strangest behavior I witnessed was at the dog park. Where do I begin. For one, I want to give my full endorsement of dog parks right off the bat. It is truly one of the most ingenious creations from a society that hates to interact with one another (online Dominos ordering has saved my life). It was a surreal experience, not unlike a Salvador Dali painting. But instead of dogs melting in a freakish desert-scape, it was a group of grown adults standing there unflinchingly while their dogs wrestled, bit each other, ate each other’s shit, licked each other’s snickerdoodles, and roughhoused in a mud-pit that could double as a demolition derby arena. I don’t know what I expected or if it was just this particular dog park, but not a single soul was interacting.
Naturally, I said hello and all the niceties, but in terms of conversation, it was as if everyone was dead inside. It was like Inception when someone was disturbing the dream and all of the inhabitants knew that something was wrong; I did not belong there. Everyone just stared fixedly at their dog to ensure that it was playing appropriately; asking the person seated next to you how their day went was answered with a concise sentence as if the topic was taboo. One girl was doing her nails at a picnic table, which I assume is a telltale sign that she was the Zodiac Killer. Why would you do your nails at the dog park and then walk your muddy friend home right after? I’ll take speculations in the comments. I did end up engaging with someone eventually, and right before she left, I asked for her name as I didn’t get it earlier in the conversation. Her response? “Oh, I’m Hannah. People don’t usually ask for names around here. We all know each other by our dogs.”
The Addams Family aside, even the style of play that the dogs were partaking in was mystifying for me. Now, I’m not a mouth breather. I knew that the dogs weren’t going to be on swings and going down slides and doing human shit, but I didn’t know that there was such a fine line between dogs playing and trying to rip one another’s throats out. One second, the group of dogs is chasing one other around the enclosure, and the next, they’re all ganging up on the smallest one, barking and biting, like they’re initiating it into the Bratva. There was one instance where my dog and another were reciprocating holding onto one another’s necks for around 20 minutes, and after it was over, I got reprimanded by another owner for not being able to tell by her dog’s body language that it wasn’t having fun towards the end. Sorry I’m not Cesar fucking Millan.
That was if they even played at all. You would think that with all of their pent up energy from being inside most of the day that they would jump at an opportunity to be outside and to play. There were some dogs that had to be pushed by their owners to even interact with others. One particularly robust dog stayed by all of the humans and demanded to be pet by every single person there. My trendsetter? Stood in the corner and ate a surprising amount of mud and then subsequently threw it up. Give her a MacArthur genius award.
Dog parks are a strange concept. In theory, having a place for dogs to interact makes sense. I think over time however, and with the advent of technology, they have morphed into this place for animal enthusiasts to simultaneously avoid socializing while exercising their dog without putting any real physical or mental effort in. There has to be some serious mental gymnastics going on to convince ourselves that dog parks are a normal part of life. Or maybe my problem is that I’m picturing the human equivalent and am severely disappointed that there isn’t a child named Cletus Ray out there mud wrestling other kids and dropping deuces wherever he pleases. Either way, it was fun while it lasted, but I think I’ll be steering clear of dog parks and their Lord of the Flies inhabitants for the foreseeable future..
Image via Shutterstock