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A three-dog night and behavior at dog parks

Three-dog night

Time by the hot fire was essential last week as we suffered those dramatic dipping temperatures. We heard it was below 20 degrees in our little hollow. I can believe it. It’s the first time in years that both hummingbird feeders stayed frozen solid well past the time the sun arose.

Sweetie had just read Jack London’s famous short story “To Build A Fire” to me only days previously. It seemed time to re-visit that favorite old tale, of a hapless fellow who makes a series of mistakes that result in disaster while his dog looks on in puzzled wonder. London’s story holds up well.

I’ve probably read that tale 20 times. When I taught sixth grade, it was an exciting part of a curriculum that included both of the dog novels (“White Fang” and “Call of the Wild”), and ended with a trip to the State Park.

If you haven’t tried that story in awhile, it’s time for a revisit.

It’s a compelling tale, expertly told that will make our current low temps seem like summer.

Awaiting right dog

Dogs are great companions and they’ve been on my mind a lot lately. We are currently dogless, but still dog lovers. Someday we’ll remedy that. As Pam Wagner promised me recently, “When the right dog comes along you’ll know it.”

So, while I await that dog, I’ve been open to extended visits from extended family canines and their companions. Late last summer, my little bro Rob and his sweetie took off on a month long backpacking trip through the Sierras. Their Bodhi, a high-energy pup, came to stay with us.

If it weren’t for the local Elizabeth Anne Perrone Dog Park in our Glen Ellen Regional Park, I would never have survived the month of boisterous Bodhi. As it was, I fell in love with him. And the park.

Dog park redux

Bodhi recently returned while his folks “visited.” (If truth be told, I talked my little bro into helping with some heavy-duty yard work.) So, while Rob labored, Bodhi and I checked out the dog park once again.

It was a bit of a thrill to see many of the dogs and their keepers I’d learned to appreciate last summer. At various times we’ve romped and relaxed with Marty and Dusty, Paula and Ruby, Michael and Rastus, Ann and Junebug, Patricia and Gus, Sandy and Ramen, along with a lot of other folks, both canine and human whose names I can barely sort out.

There’s beautiful Stella loved by other dogs, sporty Oliver and Bella, queen of the dog park. Tina and her bounding greyhound, whose name escapes me (but that dog can escape anything and anybody) is one of the beautiful early morning racers.

Last week, not eager to encounter ice in the dog’s bathing pond, I hung around the fire at home until my little bro’s Bodhi wouldn’t wait a minute longer. I didn’t arrive at the dog park until well after the sun was up. SVDog.org

As luck had it, I met Bob Edwards, president of the Sonoma Valley Dog Owners and Guardians, along with his loyal buddies Zoey and Ben, two handsome golden retrievers. Bob brings his dogs to Glen Ellen one or two times a week. They all looked pleased to be there ... though Bob readily admitted he’d like a larger park in Sonoma.

As Zoey and Ben bounded back and forth across the park, Bob told me about the SVDog.org website, a helpful compendium of local information for dog owners. The photos and video alone (hilarious; think dogs with opposable thumbs) could entertain any dog lover. The memorial essays attest to the bond of dog and human. But it’s the practical side of the site that any dog owner would appreciate. Check it out.

The dog watcher

Then in a familiar circuitous fashion (which is most often how I get my column fodder), I was led to an article on dog parks written by Sonoma State professor of criminal justice Patrick Jackson. Turns out Jackson is a former colleague of neighbor Andy Deseran, who is a friend of dog park regular Sandy Strassberg. It was she who alerted me to the study that resulted in the scholarly paper by Jackson, “Situated Activities in a Dog Park: Identity and Conflict in Human-Animal Space,” 2012 Society & Animals volume 20, issue 3. Name sounds complicated, paper reads easily. It’s long, but fascinating for anyone who frequents dog parks. Or even anyone who finds driving to a dog park onerous, but wants to know more about them (which turns out to be plenty of folks I talk to).

Jackson was motivated to study the behavior of humans and dogs in dog parks by the current lack of studies by others, despite the growing importance of companion animals to humans. In his paper, he notes the increasing allocation of public space for dog parks over the past three decades. Starting with one in 1983, the number of dog parks in the U.S. today is now a thousand or more.

Speaking for the dogs

As both a dog owner and a scientist, he has noticed some interesting things, which most of us who have spent time in dog parks are likely to recognize. People in dog parks often “speak for their dogs,” as one teenage boy put it. For example, as a coon dog barks repeatedly at another dog, its owner announces, “I don’t know you, so I’m barking.”

People and their dogs act as partners, Jackson says, one of them neither responsible nor reliable, and the other necessarily cast in the role of “control manager,” a role which is made more difficult in dog parks than other places because what constitutes good behavior is not clearly defined.

Mounting tension

Although there is a limited set of rules everyone knows, rules about overly aggressive behavior for instance, deciding what is OK in a given situation and what isn’t must be sorted out by whoever happens to be there. Is a dog park an extension of our own back yard, or is it more like out in the wild? Is a behavior aggressive or is it just energetic? Is one dog mounting another an outrage or just something dogs do? For Jackson, the humans in a dog park can be more interesting than their dogs, and human-to-human interactions more interesting than dog-to-human or dog-to-dog.

So, I’ll be seeing you soon at the dog park. And also, I’ll be watching.

You can read his entire article by searching his name on the Sonoma State University website.

Where’s the food truck

In the Nov. 19 column, I questioned what had happened to Jerry Hallett’s food truck, not even spelling his name correctly. My apologies, Jerry. In response to that column, a kind reader suggested I go to a website that lists the location of food trucks in the Bay Area. No luck there, either.

Jerry’s truck is called Barry’s on the Go and was, for too short a stay, parked in our town. Yes, parked right near the Arnold Drive bridge, so close to Creekbottom, I could sometimes smell the sizzling tri-tip. If I ever harbored desires of returning to a vegan diet, Jerry’s cooking could easily bust those desires.

I haven’t yet reached Jerry, but Kevin Flores, the kind gentleman who works miracles on beat up cars at Marshall’s Garage in the center of town, said that Jerry found there just wasn’t enough business for him to stay in our town. Too bad for us.

Jerry is a single dad, raising two boys, both Dunbar students. He particularly liked his Glen Ellen spot because his boys could join him after school. All three are resourceful fellows, and we’re sure they’re doing well. Which is just the sentiment I send their way now. When I do track down the truck, I’ll be happy to put out my dollars for a taste of that enticing tri-tip.

Upside down on Warm Springs

As for Kevin Flores and his miracle work, we are always impressed not just with his skills at making crumpled cars look snazzy, but also with his kindness to all kinds of folks in our town.

But some folks are less deserving than others. Like the fellow who rolled over his pickup truck on Warm Springs Road last week. He left his girlfriend hanging upside down in her seat belt and ran off.

Soothing anxious thoughts

Many decades ago, I was taught to cross myself in Catholic fashion whenever I heard the mournful wail of sirens. Initially I thought it was to ask God’s protection for my own little self.

Later, with a bit of maturity, I believed it was to ask a blessing on the people in need of those emergency vehicles.

These days, I’m more likely to believe that the quick gesture of forehead-heart-clavicle thumping is a reminder not to worry. God is in charge, aided by his able assistants. In last week’s particular incident, that would be the fine folks of our Glen Ellen volunteer firefighters.

As it was, sweetie had been off to Santa Rosa on errands and was expected home about the time the ruckus arose. With sirens screaming, I quickly employed the brief three-part gesture, then retiring to my spot by the blazing fire to await sweetie. Hot tea, hot fire and the blessed gift of a reassuring cellphone call from sweetie settled me while he awaited a cleared road. I urge the aforementioned girlfriend to seek her own sweetie, a considerate partner who won’t leave her hanging.

• • •

Want to see your own name in the news? Share your stories with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me @ Creekbottom@earthlink.net.