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Tag: parks

You’re the cutest little human I ever did see

SONY DSC

Earlier this week, I asked – only semi-whimsically — if the day might come when dogs start speaking, actually speaking.

I wondered what dogs might say, and whether, once dogs became verbal, we humans would actually listen, as opposed to just giggling and taking video and posting it on YouTube.

It would probably be far in the future when that happens — and only assuming we humans can keep the planet together that long.

But it’s not too early to start thinking about it, at least semi-whimsically, including the very real possibility that – given dogs tend to reflect us more and more as time goes by — they could end up talking to us as we’ve been talking to them all these years.

And wouldn’t that be awful?

These, as I see it, are the two worst-case scenarios:

One, they will be bossy-assed nags, telling us, far more often than necessary, what to do: “No!” “Stop that!” “Leave it!” Hush!” “Get down!” “Sit!”  “Stay!”

Two, they will be sappy, high-pitched baby talkers: “You’re such a cute human. Yes, you are! You’re the cutest little mushy face human in the world, with your mushy-mush-mush little face. It’s the mushiest little face I ever did see. Yes it is! You’re a good little human. Aren’t you? Yes! Yee-ess! Yes you are!”

Those, while annoying extremes, are highly common approaches when it comes to how we humans speak to our dogs.

Some of us are order-dispensing dictators who only talk to our dogs when issuing commands.

Some of us are babblers, spewing a non-stop stream of syrupy praise and meaningless drivel.

A lot of us are both, myself included, especially in the privacy of my home. Sometimes, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Who’s the handsomest dog in the land?  Who’s a big boy? Who’s a genius? Ace is. Yes, Acey is.”

Sometimes, I realize several days have gone by when the only words I’ve voiced to Ace are orders, at which point I lapse into baby talk to make up for it.

He is probably convinced I am passive-aggressive, if not bi-polar.

horowitzThere are, thankfully, some in-betweens when it comes to talking to one’s dog, and one of our favorite dog writers — by which we mean a human who writes about dogs — took a look at some of those variations in an essay posted recently on TheDodo.com, a website that looks at how we can better understand animals and improve our relationships with them.

Alexandra Horowitz is the author of “Inside of a Dog” and runs the the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has spent 15 years studying what dogs might be trying to say to us, but recently she did some cursory research into what we say to them.

“… (O)ver the last months I have been doing some top-secret quasi-science. That is, I’ve been gathering data in my neighborhood in New York City by eavesdropping on the things people say to their dogs. Humans are a species which anthropomorphizes dogs to incredible degrees (as can be attested to by anyone who has seen a pug forced to dress like Winston Churchill). Sure, we know they aren’t really small, furry people (well, most of us seem to know this), but great numbers of people would willingly attest to their dogs being “their children” — or at least claim to think of them as members of their family. But do we really treat them like little people? I figured that some clue to that would come in how we speak to them.”

Horowitz  did some eavesdropping on people out with their dogs in public, making notes of the one-sided conversations she overheard at parks and on sidewalks.

“And, oh, there were many utterances: on every walk I’ve taken in the last months, on a commute, to the store, or out with my own pups, I encountered people with dogs. Some pass silently, but many are in apparent constant dialogue with the pup at the end of the leash. What the dog-talk I’ve gathered shows is not how much we talk to dogs, nor the percentage of people who do so talk, but the kinds of things we say to dogs.”

She wrote that, based on what she heard, how we talk to dogs falls into five categories:

1. The “Almost Realistic,” or talking to a dog as if he mostly understands what you are saying (with grown-up words, but not words so big he needs a dictionary),  as in “Do you want another treat?” (The question that never needs asking.)

2. “Momentarily Confusing Dog With A 2-Year-Old Kid,” as in “Who wants a treatie-weetie? Who does? Who? Who?” (For some reason, no matter how old dogs get, many of us keep talking to them this way, probably because it makes their tails wag.)

3. “Assuming Extravagant Powers Of Understanding:” This is another one I engage in simply because you never know how much they might be taking in: “C’mon Ace, we’re going to stop at the drug store, visit grandma, and go to the park. The duration of the last stop might be limited, because Doppler radar says a storm might be approaching the area.

4. “Totally Inexplicable:” The example Horowitz cites is “Be a man.” (That’s a phrase that bugs me almost as much as “man up” and, worse yet, ”grow a pair.” I think a man is the last thing a dog should want to be, and for man to tell a dog to “grow a pair” is just too full of irony to even comment on. I have no problem, however, with “Grow a pear,” and consider it to be legitimate advice.)

5. “Ongoing (One-way) Conversation:” These are those non-stop talkers who conduct a monologue as they walk through the park with their dogs, as in, “Let’s go down the hill and see if your friend Max is there. It would be nice to see Max, wouldn’t it? Remember the time you and Max went swimming? What fun you had. Speaking of fun, do you want to play some tug of war when we get back home? Oh look, there’s Max!”

As Horowitz notes, all of us dog-talkers, and especially that last group, are really talking to ourselves, providing an ongoing narrative of what we are doing and what’s going on in our heads. We are thinking out loud, and our dogs are the victims/beneficiaries of that.

“We talk to dogs not as if they are people, but as if they are the invisible person inside of our own heads. Our remarks to them are our thoughts, articulated… Many of our thoughts while we walk our dogs are not so profound, but they are a running commentary on our days, which serves to lend meaning to ordinary activities …”

(Sounds kind of like Facebook, doesn’t it?)

As with that earlier post that got me started talking about dog talking, this one reminds me of a song, too. I used it in a video I made for a photo exhibit about Baltimore dogs a few years back. The song is called “Talkin’ to the Dog.”

(Top photo and video by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!; photo of Horowitz by Vegar Abelsnes)

Human poop poses problem for Berlin dogs

biodegradable pet waste bagsThe health hazards that unscooped dog waste in public places can pose to humans has been well-established, well-documented and well-hollered-about.

So — yucky as it is – it’s only right to share some news that shows the reverse side of the equation can be true, too.

According to a report from the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, dogs in Berlin are being sickened by human feces left in some public parks frequented by drug users.

Veterinarians say they’ve seen an increase in such poisonings.

Dogs who ingest the waste show symptoms that include shaking, dehydration and difficulty walking. Tests on dogs have found heroin and other illegal drugs present in their systems.

Vets say most cases took place in parks the city’s Treptow and Kreuzberg areas, where drug users are known to gather, especially at night.

Berlin-based veterinarian Reinhold Sassnau told Tagesspiegel that the poisonings are rarely fatal. Most dogs recover if they quickly receive treatment, which includes inducing vomiting. Otherwise, prolonged treatment might be required.

Just something to keep in mind next time you (or your dog) step in a  pile of dog poop (or is it?) at the park.

Paris dog owners march for more off-leash space, and access to public transportation

parisdog

Paris, with all its pooch-welcoming restaurants, is generally considered a pretty dog-friendly city, but some think it could do more, particularly when it comes to park space and access to public transportation for canines.

At least 100 dogs and their humans marched outside the Louvre Saturday in a demonstration demanding more of both, the Associated Press reported.

Organizers of the canine-citizen march dubbed “My Dog, My City” estimate about 200,000 dogs live in Paris, but say that the city lacks the dog-friendly public spaces of places like New York, London, Montreal and Brussels.

According to the city’s website, two of Paris’ 20 sections have only one reserved public park space for dogs and both require leashes.

(Photo: Remy de la Mauviniere / Associated Press)

Bulletin: Not everybody loves your dog

Farhad Manjoo doesn’t want to pet your dog.

In fact, he’d prefer it if you’d keep your dog to yourself — out of the park he wants to read in, away from the cafe where he enjoys his Frappuccino, and definitely not in the gym in which he works out.

It was a case of the latter that triggered a well-written, semi-playful, anti-dog diatribe he wrote for Slate last week.

Manjoo argued that dogs are getting too many privileges. He pointed out that not everybody enjoys their presence, cited health hazards they could conceivably pose, and suggested all those people who take their dogs everywhere start leaving them at home.

Not sharing one’s dog? To me, that’s the equivalent of hiding a Van Gogh behind an ironing board in the basement. Or putting a newfound cure for cancer in a time capsule. Or shielding your eyes — just to be safe — from a blazing sunset.

Still, we’d defend Manjoo’s preference to live life without somebody else’s dog in his face. That’s his right. It’s his loss, but it’s also his right.

Manjoo is Slate‘s technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. So it doesn’t surprise me — he being caught up in all things digital — that he has failed to catch on to or be captivated by the wonder of dogs.

Microchipping aside, dogs and technology are best kept separate. They don’t always get along, maybe because they are the antithesis of each other. Technology may be the cure for everything, but dogs are the cure for technology. We’ll get back to this point, but first let’s look at what Manjoo said — after an unwanted encounter with a Doberman inside his gym.

“The dog came up to me, because in my experience that’s what dogs do when you don’t want them to come up to you. They get up real close, touching you, licking you, theatrically begging you to respond… I guess I was fairly sure he wouldn’t snap and bite me, but stranger things have happened — for instance, dogs snapping and biting people all the time. 

“Why was this dog here? And why was no one perturbed that this dog was here?

“…No one was asking because no one could ask. Sometime in the last decade, dogs achieved dominion over urban America. They are everywhere now, allowed in places that used to belong exclusively to humans, and sometimes only to human adults: the office, restaurants, museums, buses, trains, malls, supermarkets, barber shops, banks, post offices… Dogs are frequently allowed to wander off leash, to run toward you and around you, to run across the baseball field or basketball court, to get up in your grill. Even worse than the dogs are the owners, who seem never to consider whether there may be people in the gym/office/restaurant/museum who do not care to be in close proximity to their dogs. …”

Manjoo admits to not being a dog person, but at least — unlike most anti-dog types — he has a sense of humor about it.

“It’s not that I actively despise mutts; I just don’t have much time for them, in the same way I don’t have time for crossword puzzles or Maroon 5,” he writes.

“But here’s my problem: There’s now a cultural assumption that everyone must love dogs. Dog owners are rarely forced to reckon with the idea that there are people who aren’t enthralled by their furry friends, and that taking their dogs everywhere might not be completely pleasant for these folks.”

And seldom, he points out, does anyone whose dog accosts him say they’re sorry.

“… I can promise you she won’t apologize for the imposition. Nor will she ask you if you mind her dog doing what he’s doing. Nor will she pull on its leash, because there won’t be a leash, this being an office, where dogs are as welcome as Wi-Fi and free coffee.”

The same holds true, he notes, at coffee houses.

Here we should point out that the dog pictured atop this post is mine, and that, in the photo, Ace is enjoying an iced coffee product at Starbucks, offered to him by a customer whose behavior indicated she wanted him to visit her table.

When I take Ace to a Starbucks, or most anywhere else, it’s usually pretty apparent who wants to meet him and who doesn’t, and I restrain him accordingly. I don’t have to compile any data or crunch any numbers, I can just tell. It’s not brain surgery, or computer science.

Even though most people go to Starbucks for the free Wi-Fi, or the expensive coffee, I’d estimate about one of two customers wants to meet my dog. Ace — and this isn’t true of every dog — has a way of figuring that out himself, and generally will avoid those who show no interest in him, unless they are in the process of eating a muffin or pastry, in which case he’s willing to overlook the fact they may not be dog lovers.

What makes the numbers even more impressive is that 8 of every 10 customers at your typical Starbucks are under the spell of their computer device and not at all cognizant of what’s going on around them.

Ace is sometimes able to break that spell, at least he does for me.

As for me, I’d rather have access to Fido then Wi-Fi anyday. Fido will soothe me. Wi-Fi will likely, at some point, make me angry and frustrated. Fido will focus me. Wi-Fi will distract me. Wi-Fi will accost me with uninvited and intrusive messages, and send me alerts, and remind me of all the things I need to do today.  Fido will remind me all those things aren’t really that important and can wait until tomorrow. Wi-Fi will take me out of the moment; Fido will keep me in it. Wi-fi has no soul. Fido does, and his presence allows our souls – those of us who have them — to be refreshed. Dogs keep us from becoming an entirely manic society.

No one, if I have my laptop on, will want to come up and pet it, except maybe Farhad Manjoo, who — while not having the least bit of interest in my dog — is probably curious about my gigabytes and apps.

On this much I will agree with Manjoo: There are dog owners who seem unaware that not everybody will delight in their dog, oblivious to the fact that some might find their dog annoying and intrusive. Similarly, though, there are parents of children who don’t realize not everybody will delight in their antics. Similarly, too, there are grown-up people who fail to realize that they themselves are annoying and who we’d prefer not to have inflicted upon us.

Unfortunately, we can’t just ban them. Our choices are limited. We could work on being tolerant –  of all ages, sizes, shapes and species, despite their noise, intrusiveness and abrasiveness levels. Or we could go somewhere else. Or we could complain.

Sometimes, when visiting a Starbucks or other coffee place, I wonder if I should lodge an official complaint with management about Wi-Fi — objecting to its omnipresence, and how it seems to be turning people into keyboard-pushing zombies.

“No,” I’d say, “I’m not technically allergic to it, but I’m uncomfortable with it near. I’ve had some bad experiences with it. Sometimes it bites people when they least expect it, and I’m pretty sure it harbors germs.”

“But it’s wireless,” the manager might say.

“Exactly,” I’d say with a huff. “Put a leash on it.”

Roadside Encounters: Mikey and Soju

Names: Mikey and Soju 

Breeds: Pug and Great Dane 

Encountered: At Riverside Park in Baltimore

Backstory: I got to spend some time with two of my favorite local dogs yesterday — a day whose warm temperatures led both humans and canines to linger at Riverside Park, in no particular hurry to get back home.

Even if it’s not here to stay, the mild weather was welcome — especially to Ace, after a winter of being rushed through the dog walk by an owner hoping to quickly get the “mission” accomplished and himself back indoors …

“C’mon, do your business, my toes are frozen. It’s too cold. Let’s go.”

In retrospect, in this past month, I’ve probably been, in Ace’s eye, a bit of a buzzkill.

Doing his duty, I don’t think, has ever been the foremost mission in Ace’s mind during trips to the park (hence the urging). He sees it as more of a happy hour, or preferably two – a chance to add to his scent portfolio, visit old dog friends, meet some new ones, and track down those folks who, at some point in history, have provided him with a treat.

Yesterday was the kind of visit he likes best — a long one, with good dog friends to play with, new ones to sniff out, and lots of humans to mooch off. (If you have treats in your pocket, Ace will determine which pocket and, should you need prompting, attempt to insert his nose inside it. When it comes to freeloading, I think I have learned some of his skills, and he has picked up some of mine.)

We got to catch up with our old friend Soju — he’s named after the vodka-like (but sweeter) Korean beverage. Soju and Ace are old friends, and they used to wrestle endlessly at Riverside, a true up-on-the-hind-legs, paw-swinging battle of the titans. When one of them went down, you could almost feel the earth shake.

They went at it for a bit yesterday, with Ace, the older of the two, watching as Soju galloped around him in circles, then tackling him like a lazy linebacker when Soju veered close enough.

Mikey stayed out of the fray — a wise choice given he’s not much bigger than a football. Mikey, a therapy dog with one of the more expressive faces you’ll ever see, generally avoids the roughhousing, choosing instead to sit at your feet, looking up at you with big brown bulging eyes until you give him a treat, no matter how long it takes.

Good things, he seems to know, come to those who wait – and spring is one example. Yesterday didn’t mark it’s arrival, but even a false precursor was welcome, and dogs and humans soaked it up. It occurs to me that we should send thank you notes to spring — perhaps that would lead her to stay around a little longer and forestall the inevitable arrival of her evil sister summer, who always comes to early and stays past her welcome.

Speaking of staying past one’s welcome, Ace and I — after a glorious month in a friend’s empty house in Federal Hill — will be hitting the road again next week.

As of now, it appears we will be heading south, where we plan to stay in an undetermined location for an indeterminate period of time. How’s that for a plan?

Once again, we’ll tear ourselves away from Baltimore, where — in addition to promoting my new book — the last month has allowed us to get ourselves organized, experience a semblance of stability, soak in a hot tub on a rooftop deck (just me, not Ace) and savor the pleasures of our old neighborhood.

I’ll miss my corner bar. Ace will miss his favorite park. But, as I think I said nine months ago — when Ace and I first embarked on our journey to discover America, its dogs and the people who love them — there’s one thing we’ll miss most of all:

Friends … big and small.

(To see all our Roadside Encounters, click here.)

Are we thirsty in the desert? Oh Ace is

Ace — though he seems to appreciate the slightly wobbly stability our temporary trailer home in Cave Creek, Arizona, is providing — woke up Saturday morning raring to go.

Where, I do not know.

Maybe, with all the driving of the last six months, he now feels the need to ride. Maybe it was the crisp morning temperatures; or perhaps he’d gotten worked up by all the coyote howling the night before. They sounded as if they were having a feast, or a fight, or possibly an orgy.

Ace galloped out of the trailer, ran up to the car and took a seat in the dirt, his wagging tail kicking up dust and a look on his face that said, to me, “What are we waiting for?”

So, on the spur of the moment, I decided we’d revisit Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area — 2,154 acres of desert that over the years has been home to cowboys, Indians and mining operations. Now it’s part of the Maricopa County park system — and it’s just a few miles of paved and dirt roads from where we’re staying.

I’d driven out there last weekend, hearing it was a good place to romp with dogs, but didn’t really explore. On Saturday, I tossed Ace’s leash, water bowl and jug in the car, and off we went — planning not a long hike, just a 30 minute tour to better check things out.

The first thing we encountered was not a gila monster or a rattlesnake, but an extremely nice sheriff’s deputy. He was explaining the lay of the land to me and suggesting some trails when three guys on horses rode up. Ace, who had been around horses only a little — like back when we were passing through Maine — was a perfect gentlemen, and sat at my side. His eyes got big, as they seem to do when he’s amazed, but his hackles stayed down.

The weekend cowboys rode off, and the deputy and I talked some more. I asked if there were any areas where dogs weren’t allowed. He said they were fine everywhere — that rules call for them to stay leashed, but that the rules were pretty flexible. Well behaved dogs, he implied, could romp a bit off leash.

So, 50 yards down the path we chose, off it came.

Ace walked tentatively, avoiding the rocks as he veered from one side of the dusty path to the other, carefully sniffing the various types of cacti as I tried to remember their names, all of which I’d made a point of learning when I moved to Tucson 35 years ago — saguaro, cholla, prickly pear, barrel, agave … my memory of the rest had gone dry.

So had Ace. Not planning a long hike, I hadn’t brought any water — for me or him.

I wasn’t particularly thirsty. We’d only been walking 30 minutes or so, and at a very slow pace, with lots of pauses for sniffing. But Ace, who seems to have a better understanding of the need to hydrate than I, was clearly wishing for water.

He got his wish.

I didn’t know there even was a Cave Creek — as in an actual creek — much less that we were headed towards it, or that it, unlike most alleged bodies of water in these parts, would actually, at this particular time anyway, have water running through it.

Ace, after approaching cautiously, made the most of it. First he pawed it, then he took a tiny taste, then he plunged his head in, taking a long drink, running in circles, then drinking some more.

It wasn’t exactly a raging river, but here in the desert, you take what you can get. We hiked a little deeper down the trail, then turned around. By the time we reached the creek, he was ready to celebrate it once again.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Dogs have a way of living fully in the moment – no matter how piddly a moment it is — and we could learn from that.

Our 30-minute hike took two hours. We encountered five other dogs along the way, people on horses and people on mountain bikes, one of whom, as he rode, was singing at the top of his lungs. Possibly that guy was living in the moment, or just a nut.

We had one sour moment, when a lone female hiker snuck up behind me and decided I needed a scolding for not having Ace on a leash.

I hooked him up and let her pass, holding him to my side and assuring her that he was friendly. “That’s what everybody whose dog has ever bitten anybody says,” she said. She kept mumbling as she went by and, once at the trailhead, reported me to the sheriff’s deputy, who — though he didn’t consider it a hanging offense — reminded me of the official rules.

Spur Cross is the newest addition to Maricopa County’s Regional Parks System. Citizens of Cave Creek voted to pay more taxes to help the county and the state to buy the land. The conservation area’s trails pass through through archeological sites of the ancient Hohokam, who once lived along the creek, and one can see relics as well of its mining heritage and its days as a dude ranch.

None of that mattered to Ace. But he sure liked the water.

Seattle: Where dogs are king

To my list of top five dog parks in America — which for all I know may number 16 by now — I must add one more: Marymoor Park in King County, Washington.

This is what a dog park should be — not some over-landscaped half acre, not fake hills covered with fake grass, not a field of gravel or a stretch of pavement.

Marymoor’s dog park is about as organic as dog parks get — this is Seattle after all — with the only obvious addition to its 40 acres of nature being the tons of mulch on the trails to keep things from getting too soggy.

“Doggy Disneyland,” as some call it, is huge — and hugely popular. When Ace and I visited this week, we saw two jam-packed parking lots, and well over 100 dogs romping about, some in the river, some in the open fields.

Located on what used to be a farm, the dog park features several hundred feet of river access and numerous walking paths. It’s less than two miles from the main Microsoft campus, which is something to behold as well.

The Seattle area, just as it draws high tech companies, seems to attract dog lovers — either that or it sprouts them from its well-watered soil. The abundance of dogs,  the esteem in which they are held, and lots of hard work have combined to make it a good place to be a dog.

Seattle and its surrounding area started opening dog parks before a lot of cities even started thinking about them.

The Save Our Dog Area committee of Marymoor Park formed in 1987 when citizens learned the King County Parks Division planned to close the off-leash area.

It managed to convince the county that dogs and their owners were as deserving of some recreational space as soccer-playing kids, kite-flyers and picnickers.

In 1995, the King County Council voted to adopt the new Marymoor Master Plan which called for keeping the dog area open and operating. After that SODA, which initially stood for “Save Our Dog Areas,” became “Serve Our Dog Areas,” working to maintain the acreage devoted to dogs.

Within the city of Seattle, another group, COLA (Citizens for Off-Leash Areas) was formed in 1995, seeking permanent off-leash recreational access in some of Seattle’s nearly 400 parks.

After opening seven dog parks on a trial basis, the Seattle City Council in 1997 voted 9-0 to establish permanent off-leash dog areas, giving COLA the responsibility of stewarding the sites for the Department of Parks and Recreation. There are now 11 of them.

In our 17,000 miles of traveling so far we’ve seen a lot of dog-friendly towns, including the dog-friendliest, but the Seattle area, in our book, has got to be one of the dog friendliest big cities in the country … Rain or shine.

Continued