Springtime at the dog park


“This is ‘Karma,’” says a woman at the Lake of the Isles dog park, by way of introducing her pug to me. “She’s a female dog so, you know, `Karma’s a bitch.’”

On cue, Karma the pug bounces up from her sitting squat and into the air, levitating for a second to lick my face. Karma is a sweetie! After a couple more so-happy-to-be-her-and-here bursts, Karma tips her head to the wind, cocks her ear, and bolts away to join a pack of wild beasts who’ve taken up residence in the middle of the park and formed a ferocious multi-breed mosh pit.

Happiness and joy reigns.

Sniffs, snorts, barks.

Peels of human laughter.

One super exuberant mutt stops chasing his and others’ tails long enough to let go of a hilariously long howl at the downtown Minneapolis skyline, freezing his fellow mutts in their tracks and inspiring all concerned to stop and smell what all the fuss is about.

Big dogs, little dogs, medium-sized dogs. Buds on the trees and smiles and something like peace and love and kindness at every turn.

A stranger picks up another stranger’s dog’s poop. The two women clasp hands and chat for a bit, then mosey along their and their hounds’ respective ways. Two black labs sit on a picnic table bench, making like referees. A huge dalmation enters the gate with a young family in tow, and the pack of frothing canines welcomes the big fella to the party by chasing him down, surrounding him, and forcing him to the ground.

Lick, lick, lick that jugular vein.

Big fella’s in no hurry to escape. His tongue pants so hard it looks like a wet red flag flapping in the wind.

Winter at the dog park is a tough, if hardy, slough. Fall is beautiful and reinvigorating. Summer is hot and humid and the definition of “dog days.” But springtime at the dog park is swing time, with the city-living animals reacting viscerally and vigorously to the new energy, life, smells, sights, and sounds with so much enthusiasm that even one visit can be life changing, providing as it does the perfect message of carpe diem to the humans who love them.

As the sun goes down on the railroad tracks, bike trail, and Lake Street outside the urban oasis’s walls, a group of about a dozen dogs gather, happy to be free of their owners and off their leashes. At one point they break off into three smaller packs, nipping, biting, wrestling, humping, and jumping all the way. A cartoonishly fast poodle breaks free from the pack and leads most of the crew on a romp around the outskirts of the park.

It’s “Wild Kingdom” come to life, and while Minneapolis has routinely made the “best city for dogs and dog lovers” lists, I’m especially loving her many dog parks and walking trails these strange days and nights — and given the world we’re living in, this spring I’m determined not to take its peace-keeping health benefits for granted.

Enter the dog park and close the gates and you close it to a world fast being divided by politics, race, gender, opinion, technology, sports scores, entertainment news and the sum of humanity’s shrill stupidity. Enter the dog park and close the gates and you’ll come to realize what 1800s-circa French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine meant when he said, “The more I see of the depressing stature of people and representatives of the people, the more I admire my dogs.” And Charles de Gaulle: “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” And Emily Dickinson: “Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.” And George Carlin: “Dogs lead a nice life. You never see a dog with a wristwatch.”

Most days, the dog parks by Lake of the Isles and the Mississippi River feel like the happiest places on the planet, largely free of people and their problems, with an unwritten rule that conversation focus not on the latest human news, but dogs. Dog stories, dog gear, dog tips, dog everything. Cell phones are rare, as most folks are content in the knowledge that nothing can compete with a human’s best friend making friends.

Me, I get the most out of it when I have an hour to kill and can watch my buddy get giddy with his one-night-only pals. Later, I love to see him worn out and woofing in his sleep at memories of all that action. I often ruminate on the idea that the mere sight alone of dogs running free and wild and living like they know that their time is short and that happiness is all about staying present and roaming free for as long as they possibly can is good for their souls, and ours.

But don’t take it from me. I learned all of the above starting with a single kiss on the cheek from a dog named Karma the other day, and I’m going back for more.

Jim Wash lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at jimwalsh086@gmail.com