Back when my husky mix, Fu, was a rowdy young dog, I used to spend a lot of time at the Reid Park dog park, which back then was on the south side of the park, near the zoo. We went in the morning, when there was a quiet, regular crew of people who worked afternoons or nights, or didn't work at all. And, of course, their dogs.
It's been years now since we went, much to Fu's regret. There were a bunch of reasons we stopped going. I got a day job, he gradually calmed down, and—the reason, actually, that we stopped going even on the weekends—he'd become obsessed with the ground squirrels outside the fence and uninterested in playing with the other dogs. Over time our outings to the park turned into him hauling me around the park from one squirrel barrio to another, choking himself in his eternal, deluded hope of somehow surprising and nabbing one. Fat chance. One of their big colonies was under a huge Aleppo pine inhabited by a pair of Harris hawks. Those rodents kept their eyes open.
But during the couple of years that we hung out at the dog park for an hour or two nearly every day, I loved it. It was fun watching dogs have fun. Standing there watching them crash into and tumble over one another, I'd occasionally get intense flashes of memory of playing as a child—nearly hallucinatory glimpses of grassy slopes and jungle gyms. And the people—as you'd expect of folks who would accommodate themselves to their pets' recreation—were interesting and nice. The odd thing was that you knew the dogs' names, but rarely the owners'.
The person I remember most vividly was a skinny, jumpy guy in his 40s with a couple of missing teeth. When he first showed up it was with an unprepossessing, elderly female beagle-mix that he'd found tied with wire to a street sign downtown.
Out of sheer pity, he'd taken her in, even though he'd never had a dog before and, as he told us, didn't even know what dogs ate. (He'd been feeding her what he ate himself—cheeseburgers.) He'd named her Sadie. Someone had told him about the dog park, and he thought he'd see whether she enjoyed it. She didn't seem to—she mostly lay on the ground, keeping an eye on him and ignoring the other dogs. But he kept bringing her back.
To begin with, he was as marginal as his dog—nervous, not terribly clean, badly dressed and, as it turned out, not that long out of some institution or other ("Anger management issues" was all he said about that). But his story of rescuing the dog, and his obvious love for her, of course, endeared him to all of us. He was in.
Over the year or so that followed, we were both regulars, and I watched him transform from a dazed oddball into a man with friends—and a plan. Sadie died suddenly—she'd never seemed well—and almost immediately he showed up with another female, also a mutt. This one was prettier and more engaging, but was also pregnant with what turned out to be eight puppies. I didn't see him for a while for some reason, but then there he was, posting puppy fliers. He'd taken a picture of each of them, and given them cute, two-part names—Ruby Sue, Sunny Jim, that sort of thing. Thanks to this brilliant stroke of marketing, he quickly found homes for seven of them, keeping just one so the mother wouldn't be bereft.
The last time I remember seeing him—Fu was far gone in his squirrel phase—he was there with the mother and her partly grown pup, a calm, sweet male who stuck close by her. The guy was clean and had gradually gotten a rather jaunty look together. He had a bounce in his step and knew everybody. When I last saw him he was walking the periphery of the enclosure with a really lovely older woman who did some sort of social work and had a big goofy hound. Knowing both their conversational habits as I did, I guessed they were talking leftist politics, in total agreement.
In the process of taking in two no-hope animals, the guy got his life together. A man rescuing himself is a wonderful thing to see.