Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., Dec. 12
Outlawed Canine Community
I am not the kind of person who usually breaks the law. But who can resist those brown Precious Moments eyes, the excited tug on the leash, and that frantic tail wagging? If I ever get caught, there will be no way to plead innocence. Leo doesn't know he's not wanted, but I can read.
The signs are huge. They display the universal picture of a dog with a red X across it's featureless silhouette. No dogs, it proclaims, regardless of size, breed, training, or irresistibility of their puppy dog eyes. The phone number for animal control is listed on the sign with instructions to call if an offender is seen frolicking free. No one calls. The temptation of the large fenced-in area is more than we can pass up in this beautiful but decidedly anti-dog neighborhood. We call it our illegal dog park.
During the day, this field belongs to an elementary school. After four o'clock, the dog owners take over. We are, for the most part, law abiding citizens. We understand that a child might slip on a pile of dog poo if it is left in the grass. We tie plastic bags to the fence just in case one of our numbers forgets to bring clean-up supplies. If a dog digs a hole, we fill it back in so young soccer players don't twist their ankles. When our labs and collies steal the tennis balls brought by an unwitting batter attempting to practice his swing, we make our pups give them all back. So, the balls are a little slobbered on. Dog drool dries. We share the field with athletes and yoga moms. We don't bring our dogs when full scale games are underway.
Truth be told, I don't like having to break the law. I feel guilty every time I open that gate with the no dogs sign and let Leo, my adopted mini-mutt, run free. I wish I lived in Ocean Beach where the dogs romp on the beach and at Dusty Rhodes park. There are simply too many anti-dog rules in Pacific Beach and no good place for our community of pooch lovers to go. The bay-facing lawns all have time restrictions for when our four-legged friends can play and there are strict, 24-hour leash laws. Rumor has it that hefty fines are doled out to people in violation of those laws. The beaches and even the boardwalks are closed to dogs. There is no jogging on the beach with your golden retriever unless you head out before 9:00AM. There is no space to train new puppies.
Our one option is a poorly maintained, tiny dog park on Soledad Mountain Road. The place is a patch of dirt surrounded by chain-link fence. The large dog side is small enough to cause concern about fights. The location is ugly and out of the way for most residents. We'd like to be able to walk our dogs to a nice lawn for socializing and outdoor exercise. We are trying to keep our carbon footprint small. Maybe, we should join together and start a petition. Or we could have an off-leash sit-in. That would make a cute feature for the news.
I understand non-dog people's arguments for keeping parks and beaches pooch-free. Some people don't pick up after their pets. The occasional dog is badly behaved. A few dog owners have blind spots when it comes to their pets' less than adorable actions. But are all dogs really the nuisances city authorities make them out to be? The most annoying, problematic situations I've witnessed in these areas are usually attributed to people: inebriated people, toxic smoke exhaling people, inattentive to their undisciplined children people, and litter-bug people.
Whenever I sneak over to the illegal dog park, the atmosphere of community is what strikes me most. Sure it's a pleasure to see all the different sized dogs gleefully chasing and playing, but their people are happy as well. We chat about the neighborhood, swap tips for pet care, tell comic antidotes about our animals, and share the common language of high-pitched doggie talk. If you come at the same time each day, you'll start learning names and recognizing faces. There's the aging bulldog who comes just to nudge his oversized ball around. His owner brings him in a wagon. The three-legged toy poodle tries to keep up with the chihuahuas. Leo likes to carry around forgotten water bottles and is known for his disproportionally giant ears. Children join in the fun as they shout over their shoulders for their parents to watch each pups' antics.
In our modern society, marked by isolation and the dwindling sense of community, we should celebrate the activities that get us outdoors and mingling with our neighbors. Instead of putting up regulation signs, the city should invest in providing us with more places to go. Dog parks are a vital part of a quality neighborhood. After all, there isn't room for every dog owner to move to Ocean Beach.