Discovering the wonder of the off-leash park

Once inside the gates, the quarreling stopped as dogs big and small bounded across the green grass side by side

My golden retriever, Fergus, and I attended a very special grand opening recently. The ribbon has been cut on the local off-leash dog park.

I wasn’t sure we were going at first. The Ferg has not yet completed basic training and he doesn’t walk well on a leash. I had no idea what he would do if let off it around strange dogs.

Fergus didn’t need any signs to get to the new dog park. He could smell the way. Dozens of dogs were there, lining up to form a parade behind some bagpipers and municipal officials. He started to whimper and whine in the back seat as I pulled into a spot. So many smells. So many dogs. Let me ouuuuut…

As we passed the bagpipers tuning up, Fergus shot one of them a worried look. He wasn’t sure why the man was squeezing and torturing the bag that way but it clearly hurt, as evidenced by the mournful sound leaking out of it.

Then he turned and saw the dogs. This brood of beasts was behind the bouquet of odours that had been assailing him. He cheerfully approached a lounging pug and tried to introduce himself by sniffing his tail. The smaller, more mature dog gave Fergus a look of disgust as if to say, calm down, little punk. Ferg got the message and moved along.

Pulling as hard as he could on his leash, he bumped noses with one dog after another until he had met most of the group. A nervous Shepherd-mix shot out from the shade when Fergus got close, and snapped at his nose. Fergus ducked his head and skulked away. Fine, be that way.

A woman with an adult Golden Retriever came over to meet Fergus. “Is he a Golden?” she asked. I nodded. She appeared unconvinced. “His legs are a little long, and his hair is kinda short …”

I explained that he was at that gangly stage, just six months old. Ferg assessed her tone and gave me a look. What does she mean, mom? What’s wrong with my legs? I scratched his ears and led him away.

I was surprised that Fergus was willing to march along with the crowd. I guess he just wanted to follow the other dogs. As well, the smell of grilled meat emanating from a barbecue at the dog park entrance might have been leading them in the right direction.

Once everyone had assembled, some dignitaries spoke about the idea behind the park, the groundswell of community and corporate support, and the tireless efforts of volunteers to make it happen. The park is about four-and-a-half acres of wide open space leading into a forest on a hill. It’s doggy heaven. They even have bins for your dog waste, buckets for dog water and benches for humans to sit on. Donors have planted trees, each of which bears a plaque in remembrance of the donor’s four-legged friend.

The canines were growing restless during the speeches. The occasional insult and retort rang out. Fergus’ head whipped around as if he understood what they were barking. Come here and say that to my face, he replied, as he locked eyes with a grumpy Wolfhound panting in the shade of a cedar. Some of the smaller dogs started to pick fights with the bigger breeds. It’s a good thing the park includes a segregated area for those that suffer from small-dog complex.

Once inside the gates, however, I witnessed something I had only read about in books. I’ve never seen strange dogs interacting off leash. The quarreling stopped, as dogs big and small bounded across the green grass side by side. Occasionally you would hear one put another in his place, but those conversations were over after one quick bark or growl.

I kept Fergus on leash just to be safe, and let him trot along and introduce himself to everyone. I’m looking forward to the day when I feel he has had sufficient training to come when I call and heed my commands. Then we can return to the dog park for some off-leash fun and he can revel in the joy of his own language.

Troy Media columnist Diana Fisher is a freelance writer living on a 200-acre farm along the Kemptville Creek in Oxford Mills, Ont.


off leash park, dog park

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