Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The fight of the Beast's life**

(**Some melodrama may apply)

There are two things that you should know about me.

1 - I am not - by choice - a parent. While there are undoubtedly many wonderful things about having children, I have found that there are more than a few fringe benefits to not having any. Such as: freedom to go on a vacation whenever I want to; the ability to spend all of my money on myself; peaceful nights of uninterrupted sleep; and the ability to hand over a screaming child to someone who is truly responsible for their well-being.

2 - I am also a very bad volunteer. I have tried to find a cause so inspiring that I would be more than willing to give up my precious spare time for the greater good. But alas, I am selfish with said precious spare time, and loathe to share it. I appease my bad-citizen-induced-guilt in two ways: I give an outrageous amount of money to various charities (remember, no R.E.S.P. to which I must contribute...); and I don't nag my obsessively civic-minded husband when he gives up his spare time to any number of community-oriented causes, from the alumni association to the community association to the community spring clean-up to delivering community newspapers. Believe me when I say that he volunteers enough for our entire neighbourhood.

So with this knowledge about me firmly in hand, you may be surprised to hear that last night, I found myself sitting in on a community meeting involving the redesign of an area local park to make it more family friendly. Certainly, I was surprised that I was willing to give up 2-plus hours of my life that I will never get back. Also certainly, 6 short months ago, I wouldn't have gone to such a meeting, since (a) we don't have kids who could benefit from new play structures in the 'hood and (b) my civic-minded husband always goes to these things and would aptly represent our interests (or non-interests as the case may be).

But not last night. Nope. This time, I found the cause that made me willing to forgo pvr'd episodes of The Dog Whisperer and a glass of wine.

(Insert suspenseful pause HERE).

They want to mess with the dog park!!!!

(Insert audible gasp HERE, followed by a solid "How could they?!?!" HERE).

I suppose I should back up and tell the story properly...

So, hubby and I live in a downtown neighbourhood. We have a backyard, but it is tiny (20 by 40) and taken up mostly by deck. Hardly any kind of yard in which a high strung doggy can run around freely. As a result, since adopting our Beast, my husband has been forced to listen to me muse about moving to a bigger house with a bigger yard (and a bigger mortgage). Being the money conscious kind of guy that he is, and knowing that my musings have a tendency to turn into ceaseless nagging, he has taken it upon himself to remind me that a mere block and a half away, there is a fabulous green space, officially designated by the City as a dog-friendly park, where the Beast can run around to his heart's content. Furthermore (hubby takes great pleasure in pointing out to me), if we were to move away from this community, we would be tearing the Beast away from all of the great puppy pals he has made over the past six months, including his girlfriend Ruby the Black Lab, whom he loves more than life itself...

So by manipulating my Beast-sympathetic heart strings, hubby has convinced me that this park makes our 'hood the best possible place for us to live. So I should just STOP looking at houses for sale on mls.ca...

But then a few weeks ago he came home from his monthly meeting with the Community Association with news that our City Councillor had found money for the redevelopment of the park, and that...

"What?!?" I exclaimed before he could finish his thought. "They can't take away the Beast's dog park? Who the hell do they think they are?"

"Um, honey, nobody said anything about getting rid of the dog park," he said in his oh-so-logical-and-measured tone of voice.

"Oh, she might not have said it, but she is thinking it!!!  Why else would they renovate a perfectly lovely green space where only dogs run around, hubby? Huh? Huh? HUH????"

...

It took awhile for hubby to talk me down off a ledge and to convince me that our Councillor was not, in fact, the devil incarnate out to destroy our life with the Beast. When he finally did manage to calm me down, he recommended that I e-mail the Councillor with my ideas about the park redesign, so that they could be taken into consideration during the design stage. So I sat down with my laptop in hand and typed out the following statement in the subject line:

LEAVE THE PARK ALONE! LET THE DOGS RUN FREE!

Which hubby later made me erase, along with a few expletives, when I asked him to read the e-mail.

In the end, I toned down the rhetoric and sent a somewhat less bitchy e-mail, and the Councillor was kind enough to pass my comments along to the designer. She was also kind enough to invite me to a community meeting, where the plans would be unveiled and we would have a chance to comment.

It is only fitting to pause here and ask if anyone has ever seen the movie Footloose.  Remember the scene where Kevin Bacon appears in front of town council to request permission to hold a senior prom? He knows that the entire council is against dancing, and that a good number of townspeople are equally against dancing, and that he has a hard battle in front of him. So he whips out a Bible (thanks to his girlfriend) and finds ample evidence of Christian dancing to bolster his case. And in the delivery of his impassioned speech, which secured him a standing ovation, he gave millions of viewers goosebumps, and the feeling that they could achieve the impossible... (Even though town council ultimately voted against the dance and he had to hold it in another jurisdiction...)

...Well, in my head, this town meeting became my Footloose. I convinced myself that the Councillor and the designers and a big whack of community members would show up determined to run the dogs out of town. And while I didn't turn to the Bible to find evidence of the goodness and utility of canines, I spent days thinking of what I would say when given the opportunity so that I could convince them that they were wrong, that I was right, and that dogs deserve a place in the 'hood to hang out too. I was bound and determined to be articulate, convincing, and get my standing ovation, dammit!!!

So I went to the meeting. I looked at the plans. I listened to the Councillor talk about responding to the needs of the entire population of this area. I listened to the project manager give an overview of park renovations. I listened to the designer give a description of everything that he thinks he should do to this park to make it perfect, including reducing the dog footprint to a fenced-off 30% of the park so that elements such as a splash pad (there is another three blocks away) and a community theater stage (and there is another of these too, just one block away) could be included.  And I waited patiently for the presentation to be over so that I could get a chance to speak.

And when the presentation was finally over, I put my hand up faster than everyone in that room, and I got to take the floor first.

And so I told a packed room what it means to dog owners to have a park in the area. That it is difficult to see a plan that reduces dogs to a mere corner of the park when they have access to the whole thing now. That there has to be a way to make it more inviting without pushing one segment of the population out. And that elements such as splash pads and theaters that exist a few blocks away need not be repeated here at the expense of space for everyone to enjoy the natural elements of the park.

I didn't get a standing ovation. But I did get a few fellow dog owners thank me after the meeting. And I did spark quite a debate about the splash pad (who knew...). But most importantly, I stood up for my Beast. I articulated for him something that he can't say for himself: the importance of having his space and his friends and his time to be a live-in-this-very-moment dog.

So no, I don't have children. And no, I don't volunteer very much. But I am responsible for taking care of another sentient being, albeit one with four legs and a lot of fur, and I do believe that his well-being should count for something in this community.

I have no idea how this park battle will turn out. But I know that I will fight until the bitter end to get rid of that damn splash pad and make sure that my boy has enough room to be a dog.

And who knows. When all of this is said and done, maybe I will have found the civic cause that makes me get off my ass and work in the community...

The things I do for this dog...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday morning blues

From the time that my mother and father got me my very first clock radio in the fifth grade, I have set my alarm every Sunday night with a hint of sadness. After all, this ritual marks the last few waking moments of my weekend, and the rapid descent into the most dreaded day of the week. Monday.

Waking up on Mondays is always the harshest of the rise-and-shine rite. After a two-day hiatus, the alarm ushers in some insanely early hour with a far-too-loud-for-that-time-of-day alternative rock song from my fave radio station. Hubby, who sleeps furthest from the alarm, always seems most surprised by its obnoxious ring on Monday mornings, which makes him more prone to reaching across my face with his arm - elbowing my nose in the process - to shut it off. And every Monday, without fail, the first word that pops into my head is an expletive, followed by "I am sooooo not ready for this...." I can honestly say that there has never been a Monday morning where I have sprung out of bed, excited about life and about the week that awaits me.

And if I ever meet someone who is that excited about the start of the week, I will clock them, so help me God....

Nonetheless, rise-and-shine I must, particularly since in the division of the Beast's a.m. exercise, I somehow drew the short Monday stick (along with Wednesday and Friday, while hubby takes him out in the wee Tuesday and Thursday hours). So like it or not, I have no choice but to get up-and-at'em. (Insert a second expletive here...)

Now unlike humans, dogs have no concept of time. They don't know that there is a difference between, say, Monday morning and Friday afternoon. They have no concept of the weekend as fun time and the week as responsibility time. So they obviously can't be affected by Monday morning blues...

...Or can they?

(Cue dramatic music...)

Lately, it would in fact appear that the Beast hates Mondays just as much as I do...

Take this morning as an example. Just like every other Monday, my alarm clock went off at 5:00 a.m. Hubby jumped three feet out of bed and hit me in the face in a vain attempt to hit the snooze button. I cursed at him, shut off the alarm, and grumbled something about not wanting to go to work. After a few more grumbles and curses, I slowly got out of bed and rolled my sorry body downstairs to let the Beast out of his crate.

About halfway down the stairs, I realized that there was something amiss. Normally, the Beast would be roused by the sound of the alarm clock, and would start rustling around in his crate, eager to gain his early morning freedom. But not this morning. He made absolutely no sound as I made my way onto the first floor, not even when I punched in the code on our house alarm. When I lifted the blanket that is over his crate (placed there to stop him from waking up with the sunrise... although admittedly not so important at this time of year...), he was not in his usual downward dog stretch position. Instead, he was still curled up in a ball. Even opening the door to his crate barely stirred him. He just wanted to laze around in his bed, as I had wanted to do just a few moments earlier.

A couple of minutes later, I cajoled him out of his crate and to the back door so that he could step outside for his morning constitutional. Normally, he happily stays outside for a few minutes, taking the time to explore the backyard (even though he has seen and smelled it a million and five times before). Not today. He did his stuff and then came right back inside. And instead of following me upstairs to patiently wait for me while I don my running gear, he went right back into his crate, curled up in a little ball, put his head down, and let out a great big sigh.

I actually thought that something might be wrong....

And then hubby said, "Maybe he's bummed because it's Monday..."

"Don't be ridiculous!" I said. "He's a dog! What does he know about the days of the week."

"Well," said hubby. "You're always watching those dog shows. Maybe he's sensing your unenthusiastic Monday morning energy and mirroring you."

(Note to self - stop watching dog shows when hubby is home...)

Admittedly, I found this theory slightly interesting. So I went to my journal. Since bringing the Beast home, I have kept a journal that chronicles our successes and our failures. I keep track of his exercise, his feeding, his playtime with dogs, his barking, and so on and so forth. And I always, always comment on his mood, as well as mine. The purpose is to see if I can find any patterns that account for his behaviours, both good and bad. And so I looked back at the last few Mondays. And low and behold, this is what I found:
  • Seems more sluggish on our run than usual;
  • Went back into his crate when I brought out his leash;
  • Not as playful at the park with his best friend this morning;
  • Barely barked at all this morning.

Oh my god! The Beast really does hate Mondays as much as I do!!! I mean, he never willingly spends time in his crate, especially not when it is time to go for a run! And when he sees his best friend at the park, he usually goes nuts! And he barks all the time because he is always excited! Could it really be that, like me, he just wants to hide away from the world a little bit longer on a Monday morning? Is he as unwilling as I to face another (potentially stressful) week?

Then it hit me. The Beast's Monday morning mood has nothing to do with it being Monday. It has to do with Sunday.

You see, Sunday is the biggest, most fun filled day of the week in our little family. All three of us sleep in (until the oh-so-late hour of 7:00 a.m.), but that is where the laziness stops. Once we are awake, we hit the streets - hubby and I on our bikes and the Beast pounding the pavement alongside of us. We cover a distance of just over 4k, the first 3 of which are at the Beast's all-out-top-speed (because in his excitement, he pulls me) before we arrive at our destination: the farmer's market. The market is scintillating enough on its own, with a million different scents to stimulate a young pup's senses. Including a breakfast tent full of bacon and sausage ripe for a mooch like the Beast's pickings. But right next door to the market is a fenced-in dog park, where we let the Beast run around with his friends for at least 30 minutes before we even hit the stalls. Then hubby and I go shop, while the Beast tries his best to look charming in the hopes that another market-goer will give him one of said pieces of bacon. After wandering the aisles of the market, we hop back onto our bikes and, albeit at a slower pace, make our way home over another 4k. After these two hour outings, the Beast can be counted on to nap for most of the afternoon.

But of course, the day doesn't end there. By the time the afternoon winds down, the Beast is ready for another walk, and so we usually take off together for a nice long but easygoing stroll. To end off the weekend, we almost always end up at one of two neighbourhood dog parks, where the Beast will spend some time burning off the last vestiges of his energy reserves before heading home for dinner. Then he spends the rest of the evening watching me as I cook Sunday dinner, chewing on an elk antler (purchased at the farmer's market), and patrolling the front window as he watches all of our neighbours put their garbage out for Monday morning pick-up. By the time my bedtime rolls around, he very willingly runs into his crate, and is more than ready for Doggy Sandman to take him off to Doggy Dreamland.

And then, a mere seven hours later, there I go waking him up before he has had the chance to replenish his vast reservoir of puppy energy. I'm the obnoxious alarm clock. But not because it's Monday. Simply because he's still recharging his batteries.

So maybe he doesn't mirror my Monday morning blues. But it's still kind of nice to know that in this house, at least on Monday mornings, he and I share the same low key energy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Arboretum

Despite living in this city for over 17 years, until very recently, I have never set foot in the arboretum. I've cycled past it or driven through it a million times, but I've never ventured in. As beautiful as trees are, I'm just not all that in to nature. I prefer to spend my time in sidewalk cafés or checking out funky downtown boutiques rather than picnicking with Canada geese and ducks in the middle of a bunch of trees.

But then I got a dog, and everyone kept saying to me, "Have you taken him to the arboretum yet?"

"What's so special about the arboretum?" I would ask.

"It's doggy heaven!!!!" area dog owners assured me.

And so it was that I found myself leashing up the Beast for a run one morning and heading south towards the fabled arboretum to find out for myself what exactly was so special.

I really don't even know where to begin... Suffice it to say, if I were a dog, I would LOVE this place...

First, there are the trees. Obviously, right. I mean, it's an a-r-b-o-r-e-t-u-m. But think about it. What do dogs love to do when faced with a tree? Sniff all the dogs that have been there before, and then pee all over the thing to leave their own trail. The first time I let the Beast off-leash in the arboretum, he literally ran from tree to tree to tree in a dizzying zigzag pattern, peeing on every single one. I don't actually know where he gets his pee reserves from, but he could spend the entire day peeing on each and every tree in the arboretum if I let him.

Then there are the other dogs. Brave dog owners from across the city flaunt the no-dogs-off-leash signs that pepper the entire 16 hectares of the arboretum. And there are dogs of all kinds. Fearless squirrel chasing German shepherds. Ball crazy Labrador retrievers. Leaping Jack Russells. Energetic pitbulls. Pony-sized Great Danes. Not to mention the most adorable Welsh Corgi that I have ever met. They run around all over the place (peeing on trees), offering the Beast more than enough opportunities to socialize. In fact, our little Romeo has snagged himself a couple of girlfriends who meet up with him every Saturday morning for little wrestle-and-chase dates (in between bouts of peeing on trees). And if they don't show up, it's all good. Because there are lots of other willing playmates to choose from!

And of course, there are ducks. Millions and millions of ducks. Although the Beast will leave wildlife alone 99% of the time, every now and then something inside of him goes absolutely crazy for ducks. Some sleeping prey drive awakens, and when he is done peeing on trees, off he goes, sprinting and leaping through entire flocks of ducks, causing them to disperse and rally in another corner of the arboretum, only to be disrupted within seconds of settling in. Perhaps he is practicing his herding. Whatever it is, it is so funny to watch that I even don't mind that his recall sucks when he is in the throes of rounding up duck droves.

And why are there so many ducks in the arboretum? Well, because of the big giant duck pond right smack int he middle, that's why! Which means SWIMMING!!!! (http://herdinthehood.blogspot.com/2011/10/waterlog-dog.html). Ducks or no ducks, the Beast is liable at any time to take a cautious leap into the pond. In fact, he loves the pond so much that even once it has dried up by mid-October, he still can't help himself from going in and wading in the mud (mixed with god knows what else, but it sure does stink!). Even the dreaded hose-down that he gets when he arrives home from one of these romps is not enough to dissuade him from his mud bath. And to the disenchantment of many other arboretum-goers, he has persuaded more than one of his canine friends to follow him into the stench hole for a little wrestle....

But best of all, there is a never ending supply of sticks, which he usually discovers under a tree that he has been peeing on. And sticks are the GREATEST THING EVER ON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE PLANET - at least according to the Beast. First of all, they make great toys for playing fetch, so on those days when I leave the house too quickly without a ball, the arboretum has this unprepared mommy covered.

Secondly, every dog knows that one of the best games in the world is keep-the-stick-from-the-other-dog-who-really-seems-to-want-it-as-badly-as-I-do.  The Beast will literally run laps around every single dog in the arboretum - with a stick hanging out of his mouth - until he succeeds in convincing one of them that they MUST GET THE STICK NOW!!!!! He will then spend the next few minutes torturing said puppy by kicking it into high gear and weaving in and out of trees to protect his stick at all costs. The odd time, he will let the other dog have his stick, but only so he can either (a) give chase and bark at the top of his lungs or (b) play another top-five favourite game - tug-'o-war. Either way, I have seen him wear down some of the highest energy dogs out there with his never-ending love of games to be played with sticks.

So yes, the arboretum is definitely doggy heaven. About the only thing that could make it any better would be if liver treats grew on the trees. And while the Beast likes spending time in any dog park that we take him to, there is something about the arboretum that has me convinced that it is his absolute favourite. Nothing matches the look on his little face when he realizes that we are about to enter this treed paradise. Certainly, his bum never wiggles as much as it does when he gets unleashed on arboretum soil.

One thing is for sure, it is my absolute favourite. Seeing the Beast run around like a kid at Disneyland, hopping from tree to tree, sniffing everything in sight, making new doggy friends, bouncing through the duck ponds, and chasing down or eating sticks puts a smile on my face every single time. (Not to mention how ecstatic I am that an hour in the arboretum is enough to tire him out for the rest of the day...).

But it's more than that. I have discovered, 17 years after moving here, that the arboretum is truly a gem within this city. There is nothing quite like a sunrise run through the tree-lined lanes that border the arboretum and that lead you straight into its heart. And there is nothing like spending a beautiful autumn day strolling through this magnificent park while sipping away at a Starbucks coffee. And there is nothing like watching the pink hues of sundown through the trees and over the canal. It is truly a beautiful place, a small refuge from the loudness and craziness of the city that surrounds it.

And I would likely have never discovered it had the Beast not come into my life.

So thank you, Beasty, for leading me straight into doggy heaven. Because it's a pretty great place for humans too.