While I was growing up in Valley Center, my dogs had the life. We lived on a five-acre ranch and the dogs were free to roam. We had a Collie, who was an adult, and a Chihuahua puppy. She was our baby. She stayed close to us, but King was a strong, alpha male who controlled his own destiny. He prowled the neighborhood, frequently making stops at the home of the lady who lived on the hill — a lady who sunbathed in the nude. She was 38, the mother of two and ivy-league educated. Her gardner said he had to remove her "pantalones" from the lawn before he could mow.
I worried that King would disappear, having no fences to keep him in. My dad, a former farm boy, scoffed at my concern. "He'll always come home," he said. Then one day, King didn't come home. We'd had him three years. I couldn't breathe without him. His absence from his command post on the porch, made me sob.
After six months, I resigned myself to never seeing King again. Times were hard and my dad had bigger things to worry about — like how to feed four horses, a wife, two kids and a Chihuahua during the recession of the 70s. He did say that he thought someone had picked King up because he never would have abandoned us on his own.
Then a miracle happened. Dad says he heard a familiar bark in the night and got up to look out the window. There was King, waiting for him. He always loved Dad the most, even though he was the crabbiest among us.
Flip to 2001 and the grand opening of the Mayflower Dog Park on Valley Center Road, near Dixon Lake. King had been replaced by Bliss, my fast-action Labrador Retriever. She was the first dog I'd gotten as an adult. With the proliferation of big houses built on postage stamps, dog parks had become the thing. Gone was the "neighborliness" we had enjoyed with the naked lady. She didn't mind when King went up to visit her; and in turn, we didn't mind when her Great Dane came to visit us. Our Chihuahua would make figure 8s around the big dog's legs and we'd laugh ourselves silly.
By the 21st Century, these good times had been replaced by dog rage. When Bliss got loose, my neighbors would screech as if I'd told her to pee on their Easy Turf. WIth the opening of the dog park, I was thrilled that my dog now had 1.5 acres to run on. She was so elegant, a video of her loping across the grass made Fox News.
Most people use their time in the dog park to socialize with other people. They jaw jacked on the picnic benches while I played on the ground with their pets. One lady said that I reminded her of The Dog Whisperer, because I was always surrounded by dogs. Why wouldn't I be? They're the sweetest, most devoted creatures on earth.
Once, my husband and I brought food from McDonald's, intending to eat at the park if there weren't too many dogs there. Except for one small dog on a table with its owner, the yard was empty. Before I swallowed my first French fry, another lady appeared and yelled about eating in front of the dogs. She claimed that her dog was food-aggressive and that he'd be euthanized because of me. I glanced at the alleged mad dog. He yawned and looked away. She insisted that the sign posted out front prohibited eating and that I was breaking the rules. My husband stood dumbstruck, as I squirted her with the water gun from my Happy Meal.
Upon leaving, I read the sign out in front. It said nothing about food.
Another time, I'd just split with my husband and was licking my wounds on a park bench. A young couple stood close by, talking in hushed tones. The woman glanced at me as if I'd broken into her bedroom. She clearly didn't want me in the yard, but tough turkeys. She didn't own the place. When they started to leave, my dog decided to squat. The woman glared at me.
I've always picked up dog poop, but I didn't like the way she looked at me, so I just sat there. "Aren't you going to pick that up?" she asked. "I don't know. Maybe," I said, studying my cuticles. This launched her into a maniacal tirade. She called me a "selfish bitch" and reminded me that we were responsible for picking up our dog's poop. Each time I tried to say anything, she hummed loudly.
Her brother (It had to be, who'd date her?) tugged at her arm. "Let's go," he said. But she wasn't finished. She headed to the next yard and announced that I was a crazy bitch who wouldn't pick up her poop. One guy got on the warpath. When he couldn't gode me into action, he placed a fake call to police.
"They're coming right over," he said, snapping his cell phone shut. I laughed. The police don't even come out for car theft anymore, let alone a dog pile. I never did pick up the mess and would have cast it in iron as a reminder that crazy people can't tell me what to do.
Then one day, a short, crusty fellow with gray stubble appeared with his son's dog, Cap'n Jack. The Australian Cattle dog scrunched his nose up, bore his teeth and frothed at the mouth. Thankfully, the guy kept him on a leash and only walked the parameters of the yard with him. But this wasn't good enough for the doggie do-gooders. Like the lady on poop patrol, they railed against him. Several people mentioned that aggressive dogs weren't allowed. When the pair got to me, the guy said "He's fine."
"I'm not worried," I said. "I know how to suffocate them if they get out of line." He and Cap'n Jack left the park.
I was a hero that day.