Maybe the puppy wasn’t a bad idea, Heather thinks as she arrives at the dog park. Sun shines across the wide-open field. It’s a beautiful winter day in Southern California. A tall fence surrounds the perimeter of the large flat grassy area, with several posted signs enforcing various rules of conduct and health. Clementine got her last round of vaccinations on Tuesday and the vet suggested that she be socialized.
Because she’s a rescue, it’s hard to determine Clementine’s exact breed. Due to her high energy and long shaggy white fur, it’s suspected that she’s a terrier mix. Aren’t they all? And the whole family adores the pup, even Heather, who’s (not surprisingly) responsible for the majority of the work. Exercise will make the dog easier to manage, Heather thinks as she enters through a metal gate and takes Clementine off-leash. Unlike Heather’s children, this dog shows no sign of stranger anxiety as she bounds across the field and toward a large pack of dogs in the center of the park. Clementine’s tail wags. Perfect, Heather thinks as she decides that this is the best errand of her day. She’ll have time to read and the dog will come home tired.
There’s a shady bench underneath the largest elm tree. Heather sits, despite the strong smell of urine. Time to read is worth whatever unpleasant odor she may endure. Heather removes her book from the tote bag and begins to indulge her passion for a good mystery. Barking dogs make it difficult to concentrate. Heather glances up. Clementine is playing in the mix of several dogs, varying in size and color. Here dogs outnumber people. There must be twenty of them and only five people including her. Two men stand off to one side of the park and throw tennis balls for a small pack. Two women, in hats and fanny packs, talk and point to various dogs. They must be dog walkers. It could be the perfect job for me, she decides. Bring a few dogs to the park, sit, read and get paid. She wonders how many dogs her SUV will accommodate and how bad it could possibly smell. The sun warms her skin and birds chirp loudly in the trees. Spring is coming early. Every year time passes more quickly. Soon Ava will be in pre-school. Maybe I should consider this dog “walking” career, she thinks and then laughs to herself. She looks back to her book, sitting open in her lap and then quickly loses herself in the text.
“Excuse me, “ says a gruff female voice.
Heather looks up and sees one of the dog walkers standing in front of her, blocking the sun.
“Your dog took a shit over there,” she says. “You need to clean it up.” She points across the park to a far corner.
“Sure,” Heather says. “I thought she went before we got here.”
“Dogs defecate on average two to three times a day,” the walker says.
Quite an expert, Heather thinks. Suddenly the career is losing its appeal.
“My bad,” Heather says.
“It’s your responsibility to watch your dog,” the woman says, shaking her head. “You can’t just let that puppy run around unsupervised.”
Heather sets down her paperback and follows the woman toward Clementine. She treads carefully hoping to avoid any other unclaimed feces. “It’s my first time here,” Heather says.
“Obviously,” replies the woman.
A miniature poodle jumps up and begins to hump Heather’s calf. “FRITZ,” the woman says and the poodle retreats, tail between its legs.
“He’s friendly,” Heather says.
“He’s dominating you,” the woman says. “He can tell that you’re new here. I watch him and eight others.”
“Are you available for child care?” Heather says in a failed attempt to joke.
“These dogs are like my children,” the woman says. Heather nods, pretending to understand.
“Clean up after your dog, make sure she behaves herself or else you won’t be able to come here anymore,” the woman says and walks away.
Heathers face flushes. Who’s she to threaten me? Crazy dog walkers. They act like they own this park. Heather watches as the two women talk to one another. They’re probably saying how terrible I am, she thinks. She watches Clementine sniff the butt of a giant German Shepherd. Is that misbehavior? Heather wants to know. She’s not sure of anything now. She feels nervous and doesn’t want to be further admonished. Without wanting to, Heather remembers taking Ava to Palisades Park last week. A little girl came up to her daughter in the sandbox and pulled one of her curls. Ava quickly swatted the girl’s hand away and then threw sand at her face. Heather ran to her daughter’s side.
“No throwing sand,” Heather said to Ava.
“Let them work it out themselves,” the other mother said from the side of the sandbox as she glanced up from her iphone. “It’s better if they can stand up for themselves and communicate their own needs.”
“But she’s two,” Heather replied, slightly stunned. The woman shrugged and Heather held herself back from a rude reply.
Now Heather wonders if these dog walkers are more protective than some of the mother’s at the children’s park. Every child “expert” seems to be encouraging self-expression and emotional development but at what point should parents intervene? Obviously these dog walkers keep an eye on things. There are choke chains and posted rules. If the expectations are clear does that mean they will be met?
Heather decides she’s ready to go home and that this may be her last trip to the dog park. It’s just not any fun. Motherhood is complicated enough. She picks up what she suspects to be Clemtintine’s pile of poop with the shovel and throws it into a trashcan.
“Clementine,” she calls across the park.
Clementine looks at Heather and then quickly runs in the opposite direction. The dog walkers stare at her. What kind of mother am I, she wonders as her dog continues to completely ignore her commands. Heather begins to chase the dog around the perimeter of the park. When she gets close enough, she lunges and manages to catch Clementine by the nape of her neck.
“You’re frightening her,” the dog walker says while shaking her head in obvious disgust.
Heather attaches the leash to Clementine’s collar and drags her forward. She feels the eyes of the dog walkers on her as she retrieves her paperback from the bench and walks out of the park. She tucks her book into her tote. And if I had a tail, she thinks, it would be between my legs.