- Written by Bill Levine Bill Levine
Since our South Florida city’s dog park was closed in late March, our 2-year-old Boston terrier, Mabel, has missed the socialization opportunities it offered and so have my wife and I, snowbirds from the Boston area.
Mabel has been more rambunctious in our condo as she misses her workout with her fellow small dogs. She is very social and playful, so she has never met a Chihuahua, miniature schnauzer, or pug that she didn’t like or didn’t steal a ball from.
She is used to participating in my wife’s Leader of the Pack playgroups in our Boston suburb’s backyard, so she is now going cold turkey.
We anticipated Mabel’s enjoyment of the small-dog park. We, however, had tried other vehicles for social interaction since we started wintering in Florida two years ago, but none has been as integral as the dog park in forging friendships.
The condo-pool approach didn’t work; two years ago it was too cliquey a crowd, and this past year there was a virus-diminished crowd.
We had trouble finding meeting groups to meet with: One we signed up for was too intellectual (applicants had to supply years of education), and the movie groups were too idiosyncratic (horror only, feminist only).
Besides, meetups don’t get together all that often. The small-dog park was open six days a week and became a daily activity that we and Mabel enjoyed.
Indeed, Mabel’s enjoyment was obvious. Like a skilled football defensive back, Mabel would outrun other small dogs for a saliva-coated ball, intercepting it from the thrower’s intended target.
She would then bring the ball back near our chairs and, shifting directions as quickly as a running back, elude our grasp. (Football analogies are proper for the park because it about the size of a football field.)
Mabel would tend to run all over, so tracking her could be difficult. Often, she would be down the other end, playing with a new set of small dogs, announcing herself to other owners, and helping herself to their dog’s water bowls. Occasionally, a pied piper with dog cookies would draw Mabel and her fellow canines to march behind her.
Even without cookies, Lesley and I were drawn to the ambience among owners at the park. Our fellow small-dog lovers were a breed apart from the expected lapdog-loving older ladies; there are always a few football-player types with their best-friend Chihuahua, Yorkie, or Dachshund. We have found the small-dog owners to be unpretentious and welcoming to other owners and their dogs.
That our dog park charges a modest fee, requires inoculation records, and can ban attendees exhibiting bad behavior — mostly owners — mean that the crowd is regular as opposed to itinerant. The dogs and owners know one another and tend to congregate in distinct groups, staking out territory around the well-spaced-out park benches.
For the past two winter seasons, we have been lucky to find a friendly group that has helped us metamorphize from clueless snowbirds to overly tanned South Floridians.
Our corner of the park has been the hub of our social life in Florida. My wife’s favorite Floridian relationship started over dog talk, while mine grew from conversations about the midcentury New York Yankees.
From our early-morning corner bench group, we learned about park-etiquette rules: always pick up, gently harass unobservant owners to pick up, the water fountain is for the dogs, never complain about heat until August, and assume any unidentified breed is a Chihuahua mix.
We also learned about restaurant deals, homestead laws, mothers-in-law, good neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods, reviews of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, etc.
When conversation was low, we could always use dog-lover talking points, such as, “Since Shaggy got his haircut I realize he has eyes, and they’re beautiful” or “I never saw a pug run that fast; he’s on steroids, right?”
When we abandon our snowbird residency and return to Massachusetts, we will be quarantined with Mabel for the mandatory 14 days, after which my wife’s doggy playgroup will be on hold, so Mabel will not have an outlet for her playful instincts for a while.
We don’t need the social catalyst of the Florida dog park as much as Mabel. But we are looking forward to seeing our dog-park friends next winter in Florida, even if there are still 6 feet of separation between us — that’s just normal tug-of-war distance between dogs.
Bill Levine is a retired IT professional and active freelance writer. Bill aspires to be a humorist because it is easier to be pithy than funny. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.