The Power of the Dog Park

A few weeks ago, Maya and I took Ginger the pittie to the dog park. There were two revelations in that experience. Maybe 3.

  1. The dog park smells like shit.

Hot feces and urine from concentrate.

In spite of the foliage and park benches and dirt-gravel pathways, the pavilions and ponds, the dog park is no more than a public restroom.

I don’t know how dogs (whose sense of smell is so much keener than ours) can stand it. Perhaps, to them, it’s like walking through the perfume department at Macy’s on Black Friday, the air thick with a heady cocktail of eau de toilette. Toilet water.

2. Michelle and her mother are not okay.

After an hour-long butt-sniffing (Ginger), watch-your-step (Maya) adventure in Danny Jackson Family Bark Park, the 3 of us make our way out the two-stop gates. With my hands tangled in leash and water bottles, I notice a young man shrug in escape of a conversation with an elderly woman leaning out of the driver’s side window of a blue sedan. This should have been my cue to keep my head down and steer us away, but I missed it.

“Excuse me. Could you help me?”

This is a weird place to panhandle, I thought. Most people only have their phones, poop bags, and dog toys on them. Reading my pause as permission to continue, the woman shifts uncomfortably, ready to engage.

“I dropped my daughter and her dog off and went to run some errands. I said I’d be back in 30 minutes and it was maybe 10 minutes longer than that…not that long, but I’ve been waiting out here and she hasn’t come out.”

This is both too much and not enough information.

“Have you seen a woman with dark hair, kinda heavyset with a black and white boxer-lab mix? I don’t know why she wouldn’t just wait for me! She’s got problems. Is she still there? Did you see her? I can’t go walking around. I had knee surgery , and I just can’t get around like that. She knows that. Can you help?”

I look back at the dog park. It’s long and narrow, stretching across 2 acres, and there are quite a few people, and a whole other section beyond the pond that I hadn’t even bothered to walk to before. Ugh.

“I can go back and ask around. See if she’s there. What’s her name?”

“Michelle and Rosie. She’s wearing a t-shirt and black shorts I think.”

I picture a dog in a t-shirt.

“Is it Michelle or Rosie?”

“The dog is Rosie.”

“Umm…okay, I’ll walk back.”

“My goodness. Thank you. I just can’t with this knee.”

Maya, Ginger, and I make our way back into the dog park. Maya, lugging her folding Buc-ee’s chair, says nothing. Ginger strains at her leash. I take Maya’s chair and stuff it under my arm.

I scan the crowd. A young couple here. Another there. A group of guys. One Black woman with a brown dog. Nobody who fits the description of a heavyset Michelle with problems, wearing (maybe) black shorts. I consider asking the folks perched on picnic tables at the pavilion if anyone is named Michelle, but realize that this would require follow-up conversation and more awkwardness with strangers and I’ve already had enough of that and it smells like shit in here.

I turn back. A lot of fruitless extra walking. I’m not a step counter.

The old lady is still leaning out her window. She is rather short, so this requires some effort on her part. I shake my head as I approach.

“I didn’t see her. Can you call her?” This, having only recently occurred to me as a step-saving solution.

“My phone is at home. It was out of power. I thought it was charging last night, but I guess it wasn’t, so I plugged it up and left it there. Why would she leave?”

“Maybe she’s not far.”

We are in a part of town that is particularly walkable. Not much of Houston is.

“This is all too much. My brother died last week. He had been sick for a while.”

I’m not sure what to do with this, or whether the brother’s death is somehow related to Michelle’s untimely disappearance. So I nod in feigned understanding and sincere sympathy.

“Do you have a phone? Could you call her?”

I dig my phone out of my back pocket. “What’s her number?”

I don’t want to hand this woman my phone so she can drive off with it. She tells me the number. Someone picks up on the 2nd ring.


“Is this Michelle? This is… I’m at the dog park. Your mother is here looking for you.”

She groans.

“What? I’m on the Metro now.”

I move my phone away from my ear.

“She says she’s on the Metro.”

I put the phone on speaker and hold it towards the window.

“Michelle, why did you do that? Where are you going? You could have just waited! You know I can’t walk around here. My phone is at the apartment.” I hand her the phone, reasonably assured that she won’t steal it.

“This nice lady was kind enough to walk back and look for you. I can’t do this. You…”

“What? I’m on the Metro! You always…”

“I’m going back to the apartment. I’ve waited out here for a half hour…an hour! This is ridiculous.”

Michelle hangs up.

“Hello? I’m going back to the apartment.”

She hands me the phone.

“She’s always doing this. Selfish girl. Thank you anyway. It was nice of you to help me. She shouldn’t be like this. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. She had a drinking problem. I’m sorry.”

“No worries.” I use my cheery voice. Clearly there are some worries. “Good luck!”

I load Maya and the dog into the car.

I think I know why Michelle drinks.

3. Ginger is not interested in swimming.

Earlier, I had dragged her towards the pond where a handful of retrievers and other dogs were frolicking. I’ve never seen her swim but she does frolic, on occasion, so I thought I’d give it a try. She was having none of it. She dug her front paws in, flattened her ears, and looked up with pleading eyes. She’s just not a dog who swims.

Michelle is not a daughter who waits.

We think we know what our loved ones want, the pet kind and the human kind. That’s why we take our dogs to the dog park. Because we want them to be happy. For dogs, it’s simple: space to run, butts to smell, balls to fetch, pools to splash in. People are more complex. Perhaps what we want is simple, but not easy. I imagine that, like most mothers, the lady in the sedan wants her daughter to be safe, and happy, and free. But that requires trust. Trust in the kindness of strangers, trust that the universe will align as it should, trust in how you have raised and loved someone. That level of trust is freeing.

I hope that Michelle, and her mom, and the dogs, and you, and I find freedom and happiness in a world peppered with shit.


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