I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons. Will Rogers
The Run is two acres of patchy, broken grass and hardpan, enclosed by a split rail rectangle of fence. It buttresses adjacent paddleball courts and the town’s community pool. It is not much to look at but within it lopes the ultimate harmonious society. It is a place where dogs run free and their humans loiter and talk, observing a diverse community of animals as they leap, wrestle and chase out of sheer joy of being off leash. Spencer’s Run is an oasis for dog owners who love their animals and who understand their need for the companionship and enthusiasm of dogs from all different walks of life. Dog owners know that dogs, like teenagers, need to get out, socialize and occasionally dig a hole. If not afforded the chance to exercise and yield to their genetic programming, these affectionate canines transform into mischievous billy goats capable of indescribable mischief and destruction.
There are the regulars, the inner circle and social order of mornings and afternoons , dogs, men, women and children who arrive with a certain arc of the sun, tossing tennis balls and conducting traffic as the herders, lap dogs, hunters and pointers collide in great waves of movement and mayhem. Spencer’s Run dogs are pack animals and while they possess predictable genetic triggers and embedded instincts, dogs have an amazingly human side. They are our mirror images – – proud and insecure, particular and accepting, high strung and laissez faire, confident and paranoid, deviously intelligent and a tad slow. Like their handlers, they prefer garbage food to brussels sprouts. They teach us to live in the moment and to shrug off the fact that sometimes life can be boring or uncertain. The daily roster of The Run’s actors is too lengthy to mention. There is Seamus, a herculean St Bernard, a micro celebrity in these parts who looms over the green field like a wooly mammoth. Daily ground traffic is highly regulated by a pair of bellicose Bassets named Hoover and Minerva who patrol the Run looking for signs of sedition and disrespectful behavior. On any given day the dog park is a blurred Grand Central Station of breeds: Shitzus , pugs, boxers, German Shepherds, Russian Samoyeds, Labs, Airedales, French Pyrenees Mountain Dogs and Afghans – – each day a UN meeting without politics.
My ticket of admission is my seven month Australian Shepherd, Brody. “Mr Wild Thing” is a high energy herder that chases anything that moves and is incapable of resisting the instinct to buzz his target du jour into a tighter and tighter circle of control. The focus of his shepherding could be a bird, squirrel, an octogenarian or UPS truck. Already neutered, Brody still plays the alpha and like the man with a prosthetic leg who still swears he can feel an itch, he means business. To my chagrin, he occasionally expresses his desire for lead dog status through a series of highly inappropriate acts that can only be described as X rated.
Children are for people who can’t have dogs. — Cicero
Like any loved one, we want to raise Brody to respect others, play nice in the sand box, not talk with his mouth full and avoid stalking four-year-old toddlers. When we found Spencer’s Run, Brody was a rough pup from the South side of Boston. He lacked finesse and the social graces required to be accepted into the pack. He found an unconditionally accepting community that would quickly socialize him to the ways of the canine world. Despite his Down Under heritage, Brody is distinctly American – – good-natured, naïve and prone to bark loud when meeting a dog of another nationality for the first time. While as humans, we tend to shake hands upon greeting one another; dogs tend to go right for sniffing various parts of one another’s anatomy. His penchant for the ” sniff” makes me cringe knowing that I still let him lick my face. I wonder if it was a dog that started the rumor that a canine’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. I wager this observation was written like third grade bathroom graffiti in crayon on the side of some barn in the Midwest and an incredulous farmer figured it had to be true. His sheep dog was laughing his bottom off that night.
From the dog’s point of view, his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog. ~Mabel Louise Robinson
I notice that owners like their dogs choose to either join the pack or sniff around the edges of the Run. Some humans are clearly experienced pet owners and radiate a sort of god-like wisdom. These dog-whispering oracles can explain to you the dark mysteries of your basenji – – the ten things canus africanus does not want you to know. Dogs tend to resemble their owners and the demographic in the Run is similar to that of America with about 30% needing a dry food diet and a mandatory two hours of exercise each day. Others breeds are sleek, sinewy paragons of discipline — practically eliciting applause from the crowd as they prance from one part of the park to the next – – and that is just the blond owner. Like his human, Brody seems to go for lighter hair and gravitates to those from the wrong side of the tracks. Purebred dogs put him off. He prefers big dogs and pound puppies perhaps because he himself is a descendent of convicts. Brody avoids small dogs as they often suffer from Napoleonic complexes. He thinks they are carrying handguns. He tends to pal around with a yellow lab from Pound Ridge and a magnificent collie named Graham.
I sit under a shaded tree and watch as a well-mannered beagle trots by my bench doing the rounds. He is beaming after seeing a distant relative win Best In Show at Westminster. Everywhere, people and dogs are chatting, mingling and exchanging pleasantries. In the Spencer’s Run community there are surprisingly few protocols: Stay with the person you came to the dance with, be kind, clean up after yourself and have fun. Not a bad way to run a dog park or a high school for that matter. Brody and I debrief after each visit. I barrage him with questions as he lays panting like a child just home from school: ” So, you really caved in to that miniature boxer, didn’t you?” “Did you see that Afghan? I mean was she exotic or what? ” He trots over covered with a mud mask mixed lovingly from dirt and a thousand licks. He is filthy, exhausted and content – – the way I looked after my first Rolling Stones concert. As he leaps into the passenger seat of my car, he barks one last yelp over my shoulder as if to say, “see you tomorrow”. I back out and watch as another car enters my spot. An excited Schnauzer jumps out of his handler’s car and strains against his leash. He is speaking in German, “Achtung, Achtung! Dies wired groß sein (Hurry, hurry. This is going to be great! )”