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Life & The Manayunk Dog Park

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By Shannon Frost GreensteinGreat Dane.jpg

Having gone to college and discovered the joys of binge drinking, the influx of drunken college students stumbling down Main Street every weekend hardly has an impact upon the life I've built in Manayunk with my husband and our Great Dane, Sequoia.  While the omnipresent beer bottles and empty red cups scattered over the streets come Sunday morning are an eyesore, the neighborhood has enough perks to outweigh the inconvenience of some guy peeing in the corner of your parking space every year during the Bike Race.  In addition to a coffee shop, wine bar, and train station within spitting distance of our apartment, we can also walk to the most convenient of locations for those of us of the canine bent - the dog park.

We didn't know there was a dog park in Manayunk until after we moved here, and you can imagine the joy of discovering an enclosure big enough for our 138-pound behemoth.  Dog owners can be as neurotic over the care of their pets as a set of new parents agonizing over the contents of their newborn's diaper, and we immediately began to extol the health benefits of a conveniently placed dog park:  Regular exercise, the release of pent-up energy, and, perhaps most importantly, socialization.  Just like the home-schooled, the poorly socialized dog can be forever tainted by its asocial roots.  Well, not a problem here, we thought, and promptly delivered our dog into her nest of potential friends.

What did we learn?  For one, we learned that Sequoia takes after her mother - that is to say, me.  To understand requires a jaunt into the past, during the four years of hell that were my high school career.  I used to be painfully, awkwardly shy. It once got to the point where I avoided as much contact with other human beings as possible.  Friendless and isolated, I turned to books, elaborate daydreams, and solitary activities to plug the void typically filled by normal human interaction.  I was unpopular with a capital "U", and, in the world of the upper middle class to which I'll never belong but in which my public school was situated, that's equivalent to the worst thing that can possibly happen - ever.

Why is this pertinent?  Because Sequoia seems to have inherited those same traits.  She, too, is shy to a fault, hiding behind my back when any four-legged creature comes over to introduce itself.  Despite how badly she might want to join in the other dogs' reindeer games, she ultimately abandons any attempt to seek out canine playmates as they tear past her through the park, ignoring her tentative gestures of friendship.  Sequoia is bashful around children, self-conscious with adults, and likely to turn tail and run if anyone approaches her too quickly with too enthusiastic a greeting.  She wanders around alone, sniffing useless objects and getting startled by loud noises, avoiding interaction in much the same way I gracelessly evaded contact with anyone who would make me uncomfortable - that is to say, everyone.  Plainly put, my dog suffers from the same social ailments that once plagued me and it breaks my heart to imagine her doggie angst over being excluded by the canine equivalent of the Mean Girls.

The dog park itself is a social hierarchy that couldn't mimic the popularity contest of public school any more closely.  Instead of familial wealth, proper clothing, or physical attractiveness, however, the haves and have-nots are determined by the dog each individual proudly displays as he or she walks through the gate with all eyes upon the furry determination of their status.  The pretty girls gather together, cooing over the toy breeds they bought as fashion accessories; the trendy boys, all wearing the same costume of khaki shorts, collared shirts, and baseball caps, lean against the wall, gabbing on cell phones and neglecting to notice as their untrained Dobermans antagonize the other dogs and then poop in the corner.  Be it yuppie or townie, all have their place in the dog park pecking order.

All hope is not lost, however.

Just as I did, I have high hopes that my dog will grow into her introverted personality, emerging unscathed from the social trials of late puppyhood.  Just as I did, I think she'll turn out okay.  As for the dog park politics, my husband and I walk proudly through that gate, tattooed, wearing black, dragging along a dog who is more comfortable walking in circles outside the park than playing inside it, bound and determined to give her a better childhood than either of us experienced. 

 

 

 

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