Doing it with the dog

Why do you think they call them ‘the dog days of summer’?

Mr. Reno took his dog, Schlitze, over to the neighbor’s lawn where he encouraged him to do his dirty doggie business …

Mr. Reno took his dog, Schlitze, over to the neighbor’s lawn where he encouraged him to do his dirty doggie business …

Photo By David Robert

About a year ago my girlfriend, Nicole, and I adopted a stray dog of indeterminate breed from The Humane Society. We named her Freyda. She (the dog, not my girlfriend) is small, clumsy, emotionally needy and mildly bitch-aggressive. I think she’s wildly entertaining.

Nicole and I have spent more evenings than I like to admit rewriting the lyrics to pop songs to make them about our dog. We sing these new versions to her. I don’t know if she likes this, but I do. Once, and I’m not proud of this, I even bought her a hat.

I never planned to become the sort of person who dresses up his dog, but I was browsing in an arts and crafts store and I noticed a doll’s straw hat about her size. It cost only a dollar, and I thought it would make her look a little like Georgia O’Keefe. It was an impulse buy. Freyda didn’t enjoy wearing her hat, but I forced it on her once or twice anyway. I thought I wasn’t asking too much—I feed her, after all.

Now, Freyda has never taken advantage of any of her several chew toys. Nevertheless, a few days later I found a trail of straw leading to a corner where Freyda lay quietly devouring her hat—a gesture of contempt for which I still haven’t completely forgiven her.

My point is, I consider having a dog akin to living with a clown. When I’m sad, she cheers me up by making funny faces and bumping into doors. And occasionally I entertain myself by affectionately stealing her dignity.

Increasingly, people are concerned with the physical and emotional well-being of their pets. Are they getting enough exercise? Do they have enough social contact with other animals? Do they find their lives fulfilling? Dog parks, which now number four in the Reno/Sparks area, are an important component in this trend. They are places where dogs can run, fetch, sniff and generally do doggie things with other dogs. The dogs that frequent them are likely to be healthier, better socialized and happier than dogs that are stuck in yards all their days and have contact only with humans.

This is all very well, but I have to admit we take Freyda to dog parks not so she can exercise (though exercise is important) and not so she can socialize with other non-bipeds (she’s actually not crazy about dogs). We take her to dog parks mostly for our own amusement. I mean—if, like me, you think one dog is entertaining, imagine a whole park full of them.

Previously, we had taken Freyda to the dog parks at both Rancho San Rafael and Whitaker Park. The Rancho San Rafael off-leash area is a huge pasture at the northwest corner of the park. Whitaker Park offers a fenced three-quarter-acre strip of grass and mature trees directly overlooking Interstate 80. If you can convince yourself the noise from the freeway is actually a rushing river, it’s almost bucolic.

Last Monday, we investigated the remaining two dog parks in the area: Virginia Lake Park and the Sparks Marina.

Unfortunately, Schlitze was more interested in the neighbor’s dog, Clementine, than in doing his business, and Schlitze squashed Mr. Reno when he showed Clementine how well he could sit.

Photo By David Robert

The dog park at Virginia Lake is a large, sandy rectangle with several trees on the perimeter. At one end of the park there are a few cement benches and large cement pipes laid horizontally. Though Mutt Mitts are available, the somewhat cat-box-like appearance of the park has apparently inspired some dog owners to be less than diligent about using them.

The only dogs there when we arrived were Gidget, an affable Chow mix, and Wylie, a German shepherd of Czech lineage. Czech German shepherds are often high drive; they were used as border patrol dogs in Eastern Bloc countries during the Soviet years. Wylie, apparently suspecting Freyda to be an enemy of the revolution, was mostly kept on leash.

A few more dogs filtered in while we were there, including a black Lab who came to play some fetch. Like her masters, Freyda doesn’t really dig sports, and she doesn’t understand games like fetch. But she will chase other dogs, so she cluelessly intruded herself on the action. When the Lab slowed down to grab his tennis ball, Freyda would slam into his hindquarters, emit a couple of high, victory barks and strut back toward her masters, proud at having won a game of tag in which she was the only participant.

Later, a brief confrontation occurred between the Lab and another ball-playing dog. Wylie intervened and quickly had the defector—er, Labrador—prone. Freyda stayed on the sidelines barking encouragement.

It seemed like a good time to move on.

The dog park at the Sparks Marina has the advantage of opening onto the lake. Dogs that are more outdoorsy than my own can swim and retrieve sticks from the water. Dogs like mine can avoid the shoreline like the plague while anxiously worrying that it’s bath time.

After all the afternoon’s excitement, Freyda came home to sleep for four hours straight and nurse a paw pad she’d cut at one of the parks.

I really should get that dog some shoes.

Doggy style

Having now visited all four of the dog parks in the area, my dog Freyda’s favorite park is still the one at Rancho San Rafael, easily the largest off-leash space in the Reno/Sparks area. But, not being one to exercise much, the room to run isn’t the reason Freyda favors this park. No, she prefers it because it was there she made a very special friendship with a shar pei I’ll refer to as “Yogi.”

Yogi was burly and wore a spiked collar. Freyda was ladylike and fluffy from a recent grooming. They ran. They sniffed. They fell in love. But at the end of the day, he left her with only a broken heart and a disturbing damp spot on her haunch.

Yogi, if you’re out there, Freyda is usually at Rancho San Rafael on Thursdays.