Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Dog Park.

Between DC's cold winter wind and the shortened daylight hours, Alice's visits to the Dog Park have taken a serious hit. She's a pretty active dog and needs to get out and do things, or else she steals our rugs. I've definitely had moments when I've considered leaving work at two in the afternoon to run her down at the Dog Park. But alas, I have to keep my job in order to keep her in treats, which means working full days.

Alice loves the Park and misses her daily trips. It's so sad when we're walking her around the neighborhood at night and she starts tugging her way over there. Poor dog, she hasn't grasped the concept of time of day and daylight yet.

So on the weekends, when it's not too cold and windy, we bundle ourselves up like Randy in A Christmas Story, grab some coffee, and take her over. This past weekend was no exception.

The Dog Park is a really neat place. Physically, it's a long and narrow stretch of land, butting between the back of some plain, cinderblock warehouses that are crying for a mural and a river, stretching a good six blocks or so and about half a block wide. I think it's owned by the city, but a dog group supports it, and one man apparently is in charge of all of its upkeep—organizing clean-ups, refilling the poopy pouches, etcetera.

What's most special about the Dog Park is who shows up at it. First, there are the dogs. While you frequently run into purebreds like pugs, labs, Bostons, greyhounds, or Frenchies, you just as often (if not more frequently) find some interesting mixed breeds—labradoodles, bulldog-boxers, lab-beagles, dachshund-pit bulls, Rottweiler-German shepherds, and my favorite, something that kind of looks like a brindle Boston-pug-Italian Greyhound. No matter their ancestry, the majority of time you'll find that they've been rescued.

Before we started looking for Alice, I understood that animal abuse happened, but I had no idea how prevalent it actually was. Scars are commonplace at the Park. Like this weekend, we saw this dog-- a big, beautiful boy that kind of looked like what might happen if a Great Dane bought a pit bull a few drinks and things got a little crazy. He had a long stretch of a bald spot along his back (as if someone spilled something hot on him), his tail was cut to an odd length, and his ears showed the unmistakable sign of an at-home cropping job, far too short and cut ragged. It was heartbreaking to realize that someone intentionally did something so horrendous to that sweet dog. And unfortunately, here he's not alone.

Yet at the Park, all is forgotten. The dogs run in circles, dig holes, jump in piles of dirt, carry around sticks larger than their bodies, splash in the river, nip each other playfully, and run after whoever has a tennis ball in a desperate yet trance-like state. They play freely—not only free of their leashes, but free from their pasts, free from whoever beat, cut, burned, or starved them, free from any concern in the world. All that's here is the happiness of just getting to be a dog.

Watching these displays of unbridled joy are the dogs' owners. Occasionally you come across the owner who likes the idea of a fancy dog but can't be bothered to take the time to train it. More often than not, though, you see the people whose imperfect dogs, with their questionable and obviously paperless heritage, battle wounds, and unsolvable quirks, are perfect fits. They tell their dog's story matter-of-factly, knowing from their tone that they've spent endless hours wrestling for an answer to how anyone could've caused such harm to their dog, only finding peace by resolving to never let it happen again.

I love watching Alice at the Park. She still has some minor hesitancies around new dogs and people we met on the street and when we leave her at home alone, but all of her fears are gone at the Park. She plays with dogs three times her size, unaware of them towering over her as they run loops through the park. She squeaks out little high-pitched barks, like she's a hound on a great foxhunt.

Watching her play always reminds me of the day we got her. After seeing her in her cage, we asked if we could take her outside and see how she walked on a leash and played. We took her into a fenced-in pen in the back of the shelter and threw a tennis ball around. Alice ran back and forth like the wind, a big smile on her face.

I remember watching her and thinking, this little dog is free and happy, and she needs a home and people to love her. She needs come home with us. Watching her at the Park makes my heart feel all fuzzy, and reminds me of the promise we made to her to give her a family.

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