I got the surprise of my life on Saturday. It was Dan's birthday and he and his finance, Al, together with my black nemesis, Dex (that's short for Dexter, aptly named after the TV serial killer), all visited our place for a birthday luncheon and a day in our beautiful Highlands home. When I first met Dex last year he was just a baby and I really had absolutely no time for him, but now that he is 18 months old and an almost fully-grown Labrador, I have gotten used to his playful ways and deep down, I really look forward to his coming here, or my visiting his backyard in Sydney. He does carry on a bit - as soon as Dan lifts him out of the car he leaps, ducks and weaves around and over me relentlessly to let me know he has arrived and it's time to play!! Oh well, I suppose I can tolerate his childish ways for a day - even join in - and occasionally I'll chase him around the garden, which he really adores. I know he loves me and deep down I love him too, but I dare not show it as I'm the alpha-male and at almost 8 years old I have to demonstrate who is in charge, and to simply set a mature example for this very playful puppy. And after all, Dex is His and Her "grand-dog" and they very obviously adore him, so I best not put a foot wrong, otherwise my considerable privileges could be curbed!!
Whenever they visit, we all like to rug up and walk into town - I usually lend Dex one of my several designer dog coats and off we trot - both on leads, but Dan also puts a "haltie" on Dex (a rubber strap which goes over his snout and connects to his collar and lead to keep him from pulling hard) - with Dex and me out front, respectively held by Dan and Him, while She and Al follow close behind. It's a well-worn path we take but the temptation to stop for a cursory sniff or a mandatory relief under a sasanqua hedge never dims. And while we attend to dog business, the four of them stop to admire the lovely homes and gardens that line our way. We always have to walk through the town park, Corbett Gardens, widely acclaimed for its beautiful tulip display each springtime and our Tulip Time Festival in late September never fails to attract copious tourists who come from far and wide to enjoy the carnival atmosphere of the country fair that is packaged around it. The gardens are dormant presently, though the park itself retains its magical charm despite the winter cold and already the new bulbs - some 10,000 of them newly planted each year to ensure a fabulously vibrant array - are already starting to show through. Another month and they'll be in full bloom! And once we reach the open mall on the other side, the highlight for us two boys is to drink out of the fresh water spout, purpose-built for all dogs to quench their thirst. I usually drink from the flow as it falls from the water tower - and because it's cold, it always catches my breath, causing several involuntary regurgitation which always amuses He and She. - but Dex prefers to drink from the stainless trough below, which I suppose you could say is his subtle way of demonstrating his pedigree breeding!!
But on Dan's birthday and unbeknown to me, we were doing something totally new and certainly unexpected. I was ushered into the back seat of the Merc - I have my own sling which covers the entire seat and He even has a thick travel rug under it so my claws cannot possibly damage the leather seats - and Dex into his car (they have a hatchback and Dex has complete run of the back half - and we drove across town. On arrival, we were put onto our leads - nothing different there! But then we were lead into a huge wire-fenced and grassy enclosure which was purpose-built by our council, complete with taps and water buckets, and litter bins complete with doggy-do plastic bags on the ready. But to my dismay, there were other dogs of all shapes and sizes all running freely - no leads, their owners standing casually around in groups engrossed in conversation - and Dex was immediately set free to engage with the other canines. He was obviously used to this sort of environment and totally at ease. He is a very "social" boy. Me on the other hand, having until last year spent my entire life on the farm, am not a particularly social animal at all - well that's not entirely true but I much prefer people to other dogs! And because of my puppyhood leg operation, I am always on guard to protect my "injury". And He and She, acutely aware of my distain of other dogs, kept me on the lead but as they engaged with other owners, they were encouraged to let me off the lead to socialise untethered. They did, so very tentatively, with Dan on the ready to crash-tackle me should I become in any way aggressive.
Well, I had the best time, a bit unsure and keeping to myself initially, but soon the others - there were at least 3 other Labradors, 2 Beagles, numerous Jack Russells, a Border Collie, Boxer and even a Great Dane - all wanted to come to sniff me, which for a "stitched-up" dog like me, was really ever so worrying. But I slowly warmed to the idea and in almost no time was doing it right back at them! Next thing I know, we are all running around together, the best of mates and ever so cool. Some then broke away to do their own thing, chasing balls and generally "humouring" their owners. Dex and I had a great time, but here's the thing: He and She struck up conversations with the other owners and before long they too had made yet more new friends in our new country community - but here, there was that very special connection of their all being dog owners. After several hours of play, it was time to go and you guessed it, no sooner was I back in the car than I was fast asleep, totally exhausted from this new and very exhilerating experience. As you can imagine, Dex and I collapsed in front of the fire once back home, and he was unusually very subdued. They finally left about 11pm to head back to Sydney - Dan's Birthday celebration had been an absolutely lovely day and certainly a ground-breaking one from my perspective.
To my surprise on the following day, He and She asked if I would like to go back to the Dog Park and of course my ears immediately pricked up. So back we went for another sunny afternoon, frolicking in the park. Of course, I was a "natural" on my second outing - I knew exactly what to do and was by now a so very socially aware (and responsible) dog - I even found a new "best mate" in Chip the Parsons Jack Russell owned by locals, Dave and Liz. Again I was very exhausted afterwards but I had just the best time and my good behaviour even surprised me! I think She and He were equally surprised and I certainly ended up doing them both proud. I suspect they will take me on a regular basis now. And you should encourage, dare I say, pester your owners to take you too - take it from me, you'll love it and so will they. It's truly a levelling experience for both us dogs and our owners, who will meet like-minded people that equally appreciate their canine companions.
How good are Dog Parks....who knew!!
...and remember...have a fabulous retirementLIFE!