For almost as long as I can remember the humans and I have gone to the park every morning. It’s this place not far from our house where my pals and I can run around, chase and chew on each other, hunt for squirrels and generally have a good time for maybe an hour before breakfast. It’s great. The humans seem to enjoy it, too. Then one day, all of a sudden, we stopped going.
I was confused. Instead of driving to the park, or walking sometimes when someone, not me, decided he needed some exercise, we started taking actual walks. Every day. On a leash! Sometimes around the Canyon where we live, sometimes up to this other park that overlooks the ocean, where there are about a million squirrels that I can’t chase because of the stupid leash, sometimes, well, you get the picture. But never to the park.
At first I thought this was some kind of fitness thing. The humans are getting kind of old, (it just takes a sniff to give you some idea—talk about smelling bad…), and maybe they thought they needed the work-out. Fine. No way that’s going to last long. I figured I’d be back at the park in no time. But no. It’s been months and we’re still going on the walks.
I miss the action. I mean, I was kind of the queen of the park. I made the rules, kept the rest of my pals in line, made sure any new dogs understood how things worked. It was an important job and I can modestly say I did it well. So what happened?
Well, it turns out a couple of things happened.
One day we were on our afternoon walk, heading right for the park. “Finally,” I thought, “the nonsense is over.” But when we got there and I made my move to go down onto the field, I got this yank on my neck.
“Uh uh. We’re not going down there.”
“What are you talking about?” I stared back. “And watch it with the yanking, OK?”
“We can’t go to the park. You’ve been banned. We’re going to Aiden’s for a play date.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. There were a few things that needed to be straightened out before I was going anywhere.
“First,” I asked, “what does ‘banned’ mean?” I’ve been a lot of things over the years but being ‘banned’ was a new one. And from what I could tell, it wasn’t good.
“Next, what’s a “play date’? If it has anything to do with being ‘banned’ what makes you think I’m going to want any part of it?”
I’m fairly articulate. The humans have said as much on a number of occasions. Bragged to their friends about how ‘talkative’ and ‘expressive’ I am. All of a sudden, though, it’s like I’m speaking Chinese. They’re staring at me, blank expressions on their faces. I repeat myself, and stay rooted to the ground. I’m good at that, too. I’m pretty strong, even though I don’t look that big, and if I don’t want to go somewhere I can make that clear, even to them.
“Kaya, knock it off! We’re going to Aiden’s. It’s going to be fun.” This was accompanied by another not-so-aggressive yank on the leash. “C’mon, you’ll see.”
Hmm. It was the ‘you’ll see’ that got my attention. Aiden’s a friend of mine, maybe my best friend. He gets a little crazy sometimes and on more than a few occasions I’ve had to jump in and break up a scuffle he managed to get himself into. But like I said, he’s my friend so it’s my job. The humans don’t seem to understand because whenever something like this happens they all start yelling and grabbing at us and turning it into a much bigger deal than it really is. We don’t get involved in their arguments, and there are plenty of them. Believe me. I don’t know why they feel compelled to get in the middle of ours. Oh, well.
Anyway, so I thought maybe Aiden would know something about this ‘banned’ business. It was a long shot since friend or no friend I have to admit that ‘understanding’ and ‘explaining’ are not what he’s best at. Still, it seemed like my best option at the time.
“OK,” I said, and started walking.
Past the park, (I looked down and didn’t see any of my old friends…hmm), down this narrow, quiet street, to this big house with lots of windows. Aiden must have smelled me coming because right away he’s behind the door barking. We go inside, through the house, and out to the back yard. There’s a swimming pool right in the middle. I’ve seen those things before. I’m not a big fan. Less space to run around in as far as I’m concerned.
Anyway, behind the pool is this steep hill and that’s where I go. All the way to the top. Aiden whines for a second, then follows me. Good. Now we can talk. He starts chewing on my leg like he always does and it takes me a minute to get him to focus. Finally he calms down enough to have a rational conversation, or at least as rational a conversation as someone with his limited language skills can be expected to have.
So I come right out and ask him what he knows, what this being ‘banned’ thing is all about, and why me? He said he’s not positive about anything, big surprise there, but from what he’s been able to figure out the humans are blaming me for starting fights. They said I was too aggressive, a troublemaker, and that I couldn’t be trusted around their dogs.
“That’s what I heard,” he said, turning his eyes away from me, looking down the hill like he wanted get out of there, maybe go for a swim or something.
“Hold on, pal! You mean all those times you ran around like a wild animal, got some other dog all worked up, and found yourself in a fight which I then had to finish is being blamed on ME?”
“Uh, yeah. You want a drink of water or something?”
“Don’t try changing the subject.”
“I was just thinking…”
“Don’t. You’ll give yourself a headache. So, what else are they saying about me?”
“I don’t know.”
I stared at him for a second. I was getting angry. I must have growled a little, maybe curled my lips just enough to show a few teeth, because he crouched down and put his tail between his legs. I’m only a little bigger than Aiden, but I’m a lot tougher. He’s not so dumb that he doesn’t understand that.
I put my teeth away, but I kept my ears back to let him know I meant business.
“Look, I don’t know because I haven’t been to the park either!”
I squinted my eyes and tilted my head just barely enough for him to know I wanted to hear more.
“Yeah, it’s crazy! About three weeks after you got banned, they got banned!”
“Huh?” My ears were back up and my fur was back down. This was getting weird. Too weird for Aiden to be making it up. He doesn’t have that good an imagination.
“Yeah! It turns out the humans have rules about dogs running around in parks. Letting us off leash is against the rules!”
I had to do a little more thinking. Humans have a lot of rules, way too many if you ask me, so it wouldn’t be out of the question that they’d have some rule about letting me and my pals run around in the park.
“So you mean to tell me that all this time they’ve been breaking their own rules?”
“Yep, seems so.”
“So what happened, exactly?”
“OK, so there we were one morning, just like usual, except without you, when all of a sudden about ten cops showed up and surrounded the place. Real cops. With guns. Not the usual park guys who try to run us out every once in a while.”
(So that’s why we got chased away. We were breaking the rules! I didn’t say this. I didn’t want Aiden to lose his train of thought.)
“The humans started scrambling, trying to put leashes on us—like that was going to work. The cops herded them into a tight group, pretty good job, too, I don’t think Milo could have done it any better if they were sheep, and said this was only a warning, but if they ever came to the park and let us off our leashes again they would start handing out ‘tickets’. I have no idea what a ‘ticket’ is, but whatever it is the idea of getting one got them scared.
“A day or so later I was walking, on the leash, toward the park. When I got there I saw the cops handing out these pieces of paper to people with dogs. I guess those were the ‘tickets’ because the people who got them were not happy at all. Either they didn’t get the warning or they figured the cops were bluffing. Since then I haven’t been back. I walk by the place all the time and every once in a while I see a dog running free but it’s no one I know.”
“Wow. So that’s it? It’s over? No more park for any of us?”
“That’s what it seems like to me.”
“So what are we going to do?”
Aiden had already decided what he was going to do and was busy chewing on my back leg.
OK. I get it, I thought. We’re going to have a ‘play date’. I got loose, turned around and chased him back down the hill, around the swimming pool and onto the grass where we wrestled until we were too tired to wrestle any more. Maybe it wasn’t the park but it was fun. And I didn’t have to worry about breaking up any fights.