Etiquette at the Park

Dog days.

NUVO Magazine: Dog Days

Illustration by Paul Blow.

My dog and I enjoy going for walks through the city at midnight. We don’t have any particular attraction to the witching hour, but rather we have an anti-social streak. It’s specific, not widely misanthropic: we want to avoid other dog people. Some dogs are nicer than others, but it’s even truer that some dog owners are more unpleasant than even the most unfriendly of dogs. Our time and route through the city are strategically planned to avoid the weirder dog owners.

In cities and some towns across Canada, the ongoing war between children and dogs has resulted in the creation of kids’ parks and dog parks. Lest there be any fraternization or sharing of sensitive files between the two solitudes, Berlin-style walls and fences often separate each zone. Dog owners tend to take a keen ownership of these small patches of land because it is their hard-won territory (dog parks being the third rail of municipal politics). And because dogs and their owners congregate in the same place, you tend to see the same people, and dogs, every day—almost like a family.

And like any family, the dog park is full of people you’d rather not see. There are the self-appointed park police, who will tell you your dog barks too much, runs too much, or intimidates the other dogs with its colourful knit sweater. If you look even a bit distracted while your dog is doing its thing, you might be passive-aggressively told that your dog is, in fact, doing its duty—without any of the polite euphemisms Canadians usually employ when discussing anything toilette-related. The moral code in the dog park is so tough that you can actually be chastised before you fail to stoop and scoop.

In extreme cases, one wonders if the neurosis is not only spread from owner to owner, but from owner to dog as well. These made-for-each-other human-canine couples are given considerable real estate as they argue over who’s going to go get a Frisbee, like long-married bickering spouses (the dog usually wins and the human fetches). We also give space to the man who is always trying to hand out his flyers opposing the oppression of pit bull terriers. Although his own pit bull is about as sweet as a dog can come, his in-park lectures and the conspiracy-theory prose on his flyers are reason to pretend you’re in a fierce argument with your own dog over a Frisbee.

Outside of the park, there are some odd rules as to where you can and can’t take your dog for a walk in a city. You can’t bring your dog into a restaurant, unless you live in Paris; nor can you bring your furry friend into most shops, unless it’s on the higher end of the retail spectrum. Years of seeing videos and photos of Paris Hilton, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Elizabeth Taylor out buying fancy things with their miniature canines has meant that dog parks extend into Holt Renfrew.

And so, all the more impetus for us to walk at midnight, when the parks remain our peaceful, uncontested weirdo-free heaven.