The name “Wiggly Field” suggests as cheesy an atmosphere as any dog owner would expect when scoping out the local dog park. Of course, the dog park is a puppy paradise: Naturally, my dog dominates at the dog park. Tennessee’s part beagle, part Jack Russel Terrier–like Wishbone, but cuter.
Over the past few months, Tennessee and I have regularly frequented the dog park to the point where I get barked out of bed if a weekend goes by without a trip there. We go so much, in fact, that the dogs and their owners have become recognizable, and Tennessee’s favorite “playmates” often spend more time with us than their owners. When a dog is cooped up all day, it’s easy to spend a whole Saturday at Wiggly Field, as a form of canine contrition. For many dog owners, it’s an easy way to get exercise for a dog while minimizing effort. But for crazy people like me, it’s a way to prove that my dog is the fastest, smartest, most well-disciplined and genuinely best companion a person could want.
Like an overzealous parent on the sideline of a children’s sporting event, these dog owners can get even more aggressive than the dogs. One memorable Saturday, a huge dog fight broke out at the far end of the park. One woman took it upon herself to run to the rescue with a pinch collar to beat the doggie instigator into submission. Another overprotective owner scolded her, and eventually the fight between the two was worse than any dog fight I’ve seen yet.
Before I was a dog owner, I never thought I could be as crazy as some of these people. But it’s a rapid transition from cooing puppy owner to overprotective and overly analytical. I’ve only had the “crazy dog person” disease for a year and a half now, but at Wiggly Field, I’ve seen the disease progress to more severe stages among other patrons.
The patrons of Wiggly Field take dog ownership and all of its idiosyncrasies to a new and very serious level. If you strike up a seemingly casual conversation with someone sharing a bench with you, watching their dog play, the interview becomes hostile rather quickly. But even worse are the mothering dog owners, the kind who will carry a dog of any size in a purse if they can. Heaven forbid your dog gets muddy, bitten, or into a wrestling match. Especially in that spiffy dog sweater that matches yours perfectly. These are the kind of people who stay at all times within three yards of their dog, always ready to defend him or her from the cruel world of the park.
All too often I’ve found myself stuck with some guy who feels the need to commentate as if following his dog’s train of thought. Usually there is some unfortunate girl stuck with him, listening to puppy anecdotes and critiques pouring forth from his mouth like baseball statistics. You may also have the misfortune of being stuck with one of the many lonely hearts at the dog park. These people will sit for hours, waiting for the opportunity to trap someone in conversation. They just want some company, but even the dogs run away from these types—follow the dogs’ good instincts, and sit at another bench.
Then there’s me. I have become a dog snob. I can notice a compromised gait on any mutt or purebred, peg a dog’s breeding, and determine within thirty seconds if a dog’s owner knows anything about training, and which method he or she uses. There are quite a few dog snobs at Wiggly Field, but fortunately, we usually keep to ourselves. Too good for everyone else, of course.
One of my favorite mysterious pairs at Wiggly Field is a construction worker who always comes to the park in his dusty, dirty work clothes. He has a black and tan bull mastiff—a great beast of a dog. He and his pet sit there, joined together by the umbilical cord of a leash, just watching. The dog never tugs to be released to play with other dogs, and the owner never releases him. They’re both content to just sit and watch, soaking in surroundings rather than participating. Usually they’re watching another pair playing fetch or running together, bonding over the vicarious thrills. There’s also this strange couple that comes in, and every time engages some poor soul in long conversations. The couple wears matching fishing hats and heavy-duty slickers, no matter the weather. I’m not even sure if they have a dog. But they’ll sit in the grass, among the dog droppings, and discuss the weather until the seasons change. Any trip to Wiggly Field invites interactions with people like these. Come prepared.
I don’t know what it is about animals that causes people to behave as they do. Wiggly Field was erected to create an environment for dogs to run and play off-leash, and to safely socialize them to other dogs and people, enabling a basis for training and interactions after the dog has left the park. Sometimes though, I think it’s a shame that the park does not have the same effects on the dog owners. They come and go just as they were, not learning anything new about interactions or appropriate social behavior. You’d think that from watching the dogs grow in size, skill, strength, and social skills, some of that would rub off on the owners. Sadly, that is not the case. They always remain the kind of people that make me dread going to Wiggly Field—the same inept, awkward, and uncomfortable people I examine with morbid fascination. And they never pick up their dog’s poop.