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...