Good in an Emergency, Otherwise Not So Good by Kathryn Merrifield

Dog parks are a thing of this world because dogs, like people, need a place to hang out and meet.  Dogs, like people, have an innate need for connection.  Some need it more and some need it less.  No matter what anyone says, or moreso, needs to say to differentiate all of the beasts in this world, connection to our species is what drives us.  When that connection is lost, we go bonkers.  Solitary confinement is a form of torture.  Even for those of us who need solitude to recharge and gain perspective on life – to step back and tinker to the backbeat of our inner voice – we need people just like dogs need other dogs.  We need people and those humans are the vehicles that get a pooch to the park.

The Port Chester Dog Park is not particularly glamorous or clean or warm, unless it’s too warm, but the Golden Retrievers, the Aussie herder mutts, the Pit mixes, English Bull and Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, Malamutes, Huskies, Pugs, Labs and every four-legged brut of human companionship is present to socialize and expend energy there, to get it out appropriately so as not to essentially saw off half of the house with their teeth which are sharp and destructive.  Several now newly-homed foster dogs later that stopped between a shelter and our home, I’ve learned that temperament is everything.  Toothy destruction has mostly been attributable, however, to Gidget who eats everything.  We’ve disposed of countless shoes, socks (which have been swallowed whole, barfed and passed), pieces of pine boxes*, kitchen table chair splintered to bits, hats, reading glasses…  and more gone to the paws and jaws of a bored puppy.

Port Chester, where I take Gidget on a cold day to get out some of that combustible energy she holds inside her beautiful fifty-plus pound, fluffy dog being, also has people inside its chain-link fences.  Three areas, one for large dogs, one for small dogs and a naughty “time out” section, are fenced off.  One Friday morning before work, I took Gidget there so I could focus productively I let her into the big dog area.  Thirty minutes of conversation passed among some of the regulars and in particular between me and one dog mom of a giant Sheepdog, Bama (as in Alabama) and Bulldog, who never got up off her place on the ground well after the sun had moved away from it (and was the catalyst to the addition of Bama because her husband claimed she only liked ugly dogs).  Activity spiked at the entrance and I kept talking though Gidget ran into the entrance area and back in.  Thirty seconds passed and a dog attacked her, viciously pinning her on her back, chasing her down, biting at her and emitting a snarl with no beginning or end, as Gidget yelped.   The dogs and people around her did nothing but yell like a bunch of squeamish girls allowing no stop to the attack.  Chuck-In in hand, I reflexively began hitting the offender with the cupped end of the orange device until the dog’s owner got a grip on the collar and pulled the horrible canine away from my sweet puppy.

I quickly assessed Gidget, found no blood, put my arms around her to soothe her, and answered “yes” to Gay’s (dog mom of Bama and Bulldog) question.  “Is she a puppy?”

“[Forgot Name Dog] has a problem with puppies.”

The woman took the dog in the small dog area and Gay and another woman gathered around her.  I asked, “Why did you bring the dog in here if she attacks puppies?”

They explained from their circle of team sympathy, that they’re working on it.  “It’s another stage in the training.  I asked if there were any puppies in here.”  On the verge of tears, she said, “I’m sorry if my dog hurt your dog…”  I had to ask her to stop shushing me to tell her to take her dog to the time-out section next time before letting her in.  But the woman and her little tribe of regulars huddled, their backs to me, in defense of the dog and my words bounced of them even though I repeated myself until the woman heard me.

Dog parents can be far worse than human parents, I’ve learned.  You cannot tell a dog parent to keep their dog in the bad dog section if that dog is aggressive or has a notable behavior problem.  You cannot ask the dog parent to intervene.  Even more palpable – you cannot speak up at the dog park against idiots and be a champion of the dogs who are difficult because that makes you a hater of animals.  After all, I have a Goldendoodle – a trendy dog made for people with no tolerance for imperfection and no love in their hearts for the homeless.  I went to the dark side.  Nine fosters (that included two trial adoptions) later, I discovered that my boys’ asthma, our close quarters, consistently bad timing, indecipherable breed traits that emerged against the human and child good of my family intolerant of aggressive behavior and my worry that one of the kids in and out of my house would get bitten, sent me to the dark side.  And, if I was to foster a dog that needed other dogs to become socialized after rescue from the dog meat trade or abuse, I still needed a furry with a consistent personality and zero aggression to pry such a sweet little furry from her abused shell.  I had some experiences that made for deliberate decision that took everyone into consideration.  But I am a demon at the dog park.

After a full twenty-four hours to process this event, I realized that just like Gidget’s good experience at the dog park that dissolved into an unprovoked dog fight by the human equivalent to a child abuser, my experience met the same outcome.  I also realized that my adaptive capabilities are not so well-liked in situations that require an emergency response.  I respond and if my Love happens to be the underdog (in this case, really underneath the body and fangs of one), I react with equal or more defensive tactics.  That part of my brain that makes sense of a situation dissolves and I defend.  It occurred to me that the woman who ostracized me did so because I engaged in a counter-attack with the Chuck-It and likely participated in the derailment of training time invested in a dog that would likely just never like puppies.  Accepting that makes me unpopular, but I’m a person who had worked out a lot in a life that’s not long by most measure, as much as it’s just fat with experience and an Everest of internal struggle.  I’m no hurdle jumper.  It’s a long hike uphill.

I’ve always said that I’m good in an emergency, but situations like that make we wonder if I’m good anywhere else.  That gaggle of broads at the dog park and their unknowing canine charges kicked me out of the herd because I simply didn’t back down from the truth:  she needed to ask the people if puppies were in that section of the dog park before letting her child abuser dog inside.  I said it a few times before she heard me so it’s likely I’m not going back.  People who don’t like kids and dogs who attack puppies will receive a very clear message from me and that’s, “I’m not the asshole.”  I will always vouch for the underdog – kid or adult – even if you ostracize me for what appears to be a character flaw in the offending participant.  If the child abuser goes to church it’s still a child abuser.

Could I have handled it differently? Maybe, but sometimes my coping mechanisms of a lifetime actually do some good.  More importantly, my fuffy puppy emerged unscathed and it’s likely that woman and her friends will take better care in their communication in the future.  Next visit, I’ll take along a bat… which opens the door for another story for another time.


*Outside of most liquor stores are pine wine boxes which make both free and excellent chew toys.  Someone will tell you not to do that, but if your dog likes to chew on wood, they make for more than suitable dog toys and people shoe bins, especially if your dog has already destroyed every other esthetic shoe bin in the house.