The Dog Park

Posted on July 13, 2017


Everyone is glued to the television, or to your computer, or tablet, or cell phone, or whatever serves to transport you away from the humdrum existence of home. We want breaking news—the latest tweet from the President or perhaps the newest hammer and knife attack somewhere in European metro or underground (what we call subways) by Muslim-inspired terrorists.

But the Will May Dog Park in the Munny Sokol Park maintained by PARA is our little island of peace and tranquility, although there is a lot of barking, peeing, and sniffing going on.

Will May was a youngster who died in a tragic hunting accident, and his dad, a prominent veterinarian in town, and Will’s family, honored him by helping fund the Dog Park. So, thanks to the May family because my two Standard Poodles, Dudley and Miller, love the park.

My little family consisted of my wife Louise and I and five pets on the morning of January 9 of this year. Our three children are all older, with their own children and professions, and out of the nest. Three of my five pets perished in a fire that morning, and so we became almost instant apartment dwellers, and joined thousands of our fellow Tuscaloosans in the apartments of our growing city.

The last apartment I lived in was in Seville, Spain in the winter and spring of 1970-71 while researching for my history dissertation at the Archive of the Indies. That’s almost half a century ago, a lifetime in modern reckoning. I remember never trusting anyone over the age of 30 since they were old timers who didn’t understand youth.

Now I make friends with youngsters and oldsters just about every day at the Dog Park, gabbing away in my own nosy way. I wonder sometimes what they think of this old man with the Standard Poodles who are the hit of the dogsters. That’s dog lovers since everyone at the Dog Park loves dogs.

For a while every evening, even the college-age kids and Millennials put aside their cell phones and we share the names of our dogs, how they came into our lives, and the curious social scientist comes out in me.

“You studying at UA?”

“Where you working?”

“What church you going to?”

“Man, I love your dog.” And I do, even the ones who invariably stick their muzzle into my lap and drool all over me as they get petted.

People of all ages come to the Dog Park. The protocol is that everyone watches their dogs for a minute or two after entering the Park. The dogs either race around like idiots or quietly sniff here and there, perhaps a bit older and more suitably restrained.

Then we tend to congregate under a roofed in area with tables and benches, and the talking begins.

I have met a delightful group of people, some as young as high schoolers and others retired who have moved from far away to live near their children here in Tuscaloosa. It’s tough, I think to move or retire to a town and community where all you know are your children.

But our dogs create community among the dogsters. And when we return and see our new dogster friends, the community gets even warmer and friendlier. I’ve met lots of college and recently graduated kids working their first or second jobs, stretching their wings. They love to talk. And one learns to not only get the conversation going, but also to sit back and listen. To have good conversations, we all have to be good listeners.

For a little while each evening at the Dog Park, we are away from the instantaneous bad news coming at us from the world, or from the constant intrusion of the cell phone. We talk, we laugh, we even occasionally talk politics but not too deeply. T & T always draws a laugh; that’s Trump and Tweets.

After an hour or so, I usually call in Dudley and Miller who have been dogging it with other dogs or getting chummy with other dogsters—Dudley is a natural people dog—and we head off home, our apartment.

I thought about it a bit.

Most of my dogster friends are apartment dwellers and I have moved back into Millennial or Generation X or Y country. Even the few who doggedly pursue their tablet or cell phone can usually be persuaded by the friendly conversations around them to yield a bit and join the human throng, the dogsters.

Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday June 18, 2017 as Dog Park is a Nice Place to Put Aside Cell Phones