I allowed my gaze to drift slowly down from the clear blue sky, along the edge of a sail, and pause for a moment to watch the reflection of the water ripples dancing on the bow of a yacht, before finally landing on David’s aquamarine eyes, which were laser-focused on a moving point in the distance. I followed his line of sight to a sizable gray poodle that was ambling ahead of its owners, sniffing at the base of each pole it passed. “That dog just got off one of those boats,” David said. With his eyes still glued to the animal, he added, “I bet it really needs to go, you know?”
We were sitting at a bar overlooking a private pier in Oak Bluffs, one of the more bustling towns on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. “I can’t believe I’ve never considered how boat-dogs relieve themselves,” I said. I’d seen people in San Diego who appeared to live on their boats with their dogs, but I assumed they took their furry kids for long walks in the park, like anyone else. Still baffled, I said, more to myself than to David, “What if they’re out to sea for days?”
Just as I was trying to wrap my head around the salty-dog bowel-and-bladder conundrum, a bigger question bubbled to the front of my mind: “Wait — can dogs pee when they’re in the water? Like kids peeing in a pool? Are they even physically able? Like, does their biology let them, or do they need to be raising a leg? I can’t imagine it would be comfortable or natural for them to relax enough to go while treading water. Then again, I think other animals, like deer, can go while they’re running.”
I took a sip of my Dark & Stormy cocktail and continued to speculate aloud while David retrieved his iPhone from his pocket to consult the global hive mind. I found it unusual, in an endearing way, that David had been the first to raise the question. Usually I’m the one to ponder potty issues, whereas David is the guy who, upon hearing a fart joke at a party, rolls his eyes and repeats the adage that, given enough time, all conversations seem to devolve into discussions of bodily functions.
It’s not that I’m obsessed with the biological need to eliminate waste, it’s that I’m preoccupied with my own comfort, and when it comes to things that trigger my anxiety, “needing to go” and not being able to is in my top three. For example, when my sister Jenny told me that her father-in-law got a boat and was planning to take the family (including Jenny and her two young boys) out fishing, the first question I asked her was, “Is there a bathroom on the boat?” She told me she hadn’t thought to ask. “Well, what if you’re out there and everyone’s fishing and you suddenly have to pee?”
“Gee, thanks,” Jenny said, with no small amount of sarcasm. “I hadn’t been concerned about that, but thanks to you, now I am.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” I said. “You don’t have the same issues I do. I mean, just think about going to the movies.” At this, Jenny laughed in agreement. For whatever messed-up reason, if I’m under the impression that I won’t be able to use the restroom, I am cursed with a constant urge to empty my bladder. I could chill out at a party for five or six hours without a thought of where the toilet is. But prior to a movie, I need to visit the ladies’ room a minimum of three times in the 15 minutes prior to the show — because I know that once that movie begins, I cannot leave the theater, for fear of missing anything. And that knowledge, the awareness of any kind of obstacle between me and a proper commode, triggers some kind of emergency valve in my body. Psychologists call it an “anxious bladder.”
Despite having downed two cocktails and a tall glass of water, I felt no need to accompany our friend Ellen to the ladies’ room in the adjacent restaurant, choosing instead to smile and watch the bustle of people on the docks.
“Okay, I have an answer,” David said, finally looking up from his phone. “They train the dogs to go on a patch of Astroturf or a carpet.”
“Like on a patio in a condo? That makes so much sense,” I said. I was familiar with the system, thanks to some of our apartment-dwelling, dog-loving friends. “So, basically, a boat is like a floating condo, I get it. But on a patio, you’d hose that thing off — how do they clean it on a boat?”
David explained that once a day or so, boaters will tie the doggy-toilet-patch to a line and drag it in the ocean. This cleans the potty pads enough so that humans don’t smell any nasty odors, but the dogs, with their enhanced sense of smell, can still sniff out their privies for future use. “Oh, and by the way, dogs can pee in the water like people if they want to,” David said. “But all the anecdotal evidence of doggy doo-doo seem to have them squatting in shallow water.”
Our friend Thor lives on the island but works in Boston (his daily commute involves flying his own plane for 40 minutes over road traffic that take normal humans over two hours). Thor doesn’t have a dog, but he does have a boat, and he invited us to join him for a boat ride with “charcuterie and champagne.” I love boats, and revel in the sea air. A day on the water with our good friend, good food, and good drink sounded divine, so I was quick to accept the offer. “I’d love to! Just one thing...does your boat have a bathroom?”