It's a Dog's Life

Running and playing at Reid Park, chasing tennis balls and meeting new friends--life is good.

A couple months ago, we got a new dog, Lai Fu the Terrible. This makes three. According to my husband, and according to ordinary common sense, this is one too many. Before it was even; now, we're outnumbered.

Dogs have always loomed large in our lives--and up until now, they've always been small dogs, so the looming is pretty impressive. We never bothered to train our rotten little dachshunds, Biddo, 13, and Lulu, 9, and we're not ashamed. Their legs are laughably short, Lulu weighs less than a sack of flour, and, truth be told, we sorta like our dogs bad. As a result, we've lived for years in a flurry of Milkbone-throwing, blanket-arranging, door-opening and non-stop bed-hogging--with, thanks to Biddo, growling on the side. But, hey, we're way bigger than them and they don't know how to write checks. We maintained a pretense of superiority.

But last fall my son, who goes to school in Manhattan and didn't have enough to do--what with taking classes, riding the subway and playing in three ensembles--went to the SPCA and adopted an adolescent male dog with a wolfish, foxy, wicked-smart look and abandonment issues who--get this--had been captured running in an urban pack. Dave named him Lai Fu, which, his then-roommate told him, means Bringer of Good Fortune in Chinese, although that could be one of those cross-cultural practical jokes.

Dave did yeoman's work taming the dog--but by Christmas break, he was ready to find Lai Fu a home with somebody who had more time and space. So he brought him home to Tucson on the plane--not Fu's favorite day ever--and, of course, I fell for him. Life will never be the same for the dachsies, although the indignities they've suffered at Fu's big blonde fluffy paws may, in their minds, be worth the introduction of liver training treats into their ken.

Lai Fu is part malamute and part shepherd and part God only knows, but he's all ruthless young canine, and when he gets bored, he steals shoes and toothbrushes and teases something awful, mainly by offering to eat Lulu. Ed, who never had a big dog before--and never one with so many white teeth--finds this last particularly upsetting, even though the threat somehow never comes to anything.

So, for the last month, I've been spending part of every morning at the dog enclosure at Reid Park watching Fu and a crowd of other mostly young, mostly male dogs get their ya-yas out for the day. It turns out that the dog park is so great that I can't clearly remember life before it.

All us dog-park people unceasingly sing the praises of Tucson Parks and Rec for giving us this precious, dusty, muddy, unglamorous, smelly chain-link-fenced paradise of dogs. (There are two others, I'm told--one out at a park on Silverbell Road, the other up off Sabino Canyon.) It's the best thing Parks and Rec ever did, a brilliant gift to animal happiness, and we love it, love it, love it--that's the general tenor of our remarks. Our would-be wayward dogs can run and chase and wrestle without danger, without guilt, without the fear of a stint in dog jail and the--gack!--$128 recovery fee. Afterwards, you can leash up and walk around the duck pond next door while your dog fantasizes transparently about a mouth full of mallard.

And a dog meets the nicest friends at the park. In the regular mid-morning crowd there's Bodhi--short for Bodhisattva. Her owner, Glenn, believes that she is, as her name proclaims, enlightened. This is all the nicer because Bodhi's no pacifist: She's a small but Alpha critter, a former starving puppy covered with ticks who takes no prisoners as she tears around the enclosure starting fierce run-and-gun wrestling matches and grinning from ear to pointy ear. There's Dutch, a dark, handsome, deeply beloved 15-week-old shepherd with huge feet and beautiful puppy manners. (When overwhelmed by the rough-and-tumble, he picks a pair of legs and sits between them, looking meek but composed.) There's big old affable Marcel, who's got to lose weight, and Darla, a running nut with mismatched eyes, and Sammy, a huge Doberman whose only interest is hoarding all the tennis balls.

They're all hilarious and strangely comforting to be around. We, their owners, stand around with knees unlocked in case the thundering herd cuts a turn too close, always poised to clean up--dog-park mores for humans are simple but strict. We throw ratty balls and dented Frisbees and chat lazily about our animals, about the weather, about where to buy hearts of Romaine and daily life in Japan. The quarter-hours click by with incredible speed inside the chain-link walls.

The contentment of the dog park is perfectly explicable, according to psychologist and dog-trainer Stanley Coren (How to Speak Dog, The Pawprints of History). Coren says that Homo sapiens' association with dogs may go back 100,000 years, and that our partnership as species shaped our evolution as much theirs: It may even explain why we took over the world while the Neanderthals died out. (Neanderthals apparently didn't keep dogs, and had to keep doing their smelling and perimeter defense on their own.) Whatever the backstory, it's good for the heart to be around dogs, especially dogs at play.

Long live the dog park. Long live Tucson Parks and Rec.

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