Politics of the Dog Park

shelton dog park.jpg

We had a string of beautiful days over  New Year’s weekend. Not wanting to waste the sunny day, Ruby and I took Dakota to the dog park yesterday. Shelton has one dog park attached to a neighborhood park. It’s fenced off from the swings and climbing equipment, tucked into a shady corner. Dakota could use some time out of the yard, we thought. Plus, Ruby loves all the dogs.

We bundled up and loaded up in the car and drove the 2 miles. I should mention Dakota is not leash trained, despite all the other training others before us have put into her. She runs ahead, then stops, doubles back. Eventually, on main roads, she freaks out and turns for home. You wouldn’t think a 60-lb. dog could pull a human of more than 100 pounds off her feet. You’d be wrong.

When we entered the park, Dakota had it to herself. The park never completely dries out except in deep summer. Muddy patches abound. A chill hung in the damp air. We loaded up the ball in the chucker and tossed it, one ball in reserve per protocol. Dakota chased it.

But New Year’s Day had surprises in store. A mom and her 3 kids showed up, an English bulldog in tow. Tank, as he was called, had a white body with a brown back. He ran up to Dakota to sniff her. Dakota, ever polite, stood still and submitted to the nasal inspection. Tank ran after the ball, sort of half-heartedly. It was a friendly gesture only, as his heavily muscled body could not keep up with Dakota’s swiftness.

“She’s a shelter dog,” I tried to explain to Tank’s owner. “She not really friendly. She has some baggage.”

I didn’t like having to explain her, but I didn’t want to be rude. What’s the etiquette here? I wondered. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. Do dogs need excuses?

Soon after, more dogs joined us. A young couple entered with 3 dogs – a small golden dog, a medium-sized golden lab mix, and another dog.

“Mom, look! It’s another black German Shepherd!” Ruby called.

I looked at the newcomer. A tall, slender black and white dog, tail curled like Dakota’s. But its legs tapered lean, almost like a greyhound. Indeed, he had great speed as he rushed to Dakota. Again, the sniff test. Dakota sniffed him, too. I could see he had a pointier face, too, with white on his chest and in his tail. Beautiful dog, and so graceful, I thought. But not German Shepherd only, if at all.

So now there were 5 dogs in the park. Ruby threw the ball, and they all chased it. A sort of canine tide went after the fuzzy sphere. Cole, the black dog, got it. Dakota looked lost. Where did the ball go? Cole dropped it. It wasn’t his thing. Dakota picked it up and returned to Ruby. Ruby made her drop it, and the game started again. This time, the small golden dog named Athena nabbed it. Dakota didn’t mind it much as long as she eventually got a ball back in her mouth.

This is how I had hoped it would go:  fun and easy. I’ve made some observations over the past several months as a new dog owner. Dog people, as a general rule, tend to be more easygoing. It’s a great way to meet people. You can talk about dogs and funny things they do. Conversely, nobody has to talk. There’s a dograderie there, a quiet bonding over a shared love of a canine. It’s peaceful and relaxed. It morphs into a dog party. As a formerly cat-only person, it’s been an adjustment, and mostly a good one. Cat people tend to be more intellectual and introspective. Cats get away with so much bad behavior, and nobody explains for them. They get a sort of carte blanche. You shrug. “Cats will be cats!”  You kind of have to be more extroverted with a dog because, well, they are. They greet strangers and look them over. They run to people instead of away, for the most part.

Strictly my opinions and observations, mind you.

The other dogs moved on to exploring the park, sometimes joining in the chase for the fun of it. Cole kept circling back to Dakota. He stopped to smell her again. He jumped over her. Sometimes, he got to the ball first. He let her have it. She kept on running, grabbing and bringing the ball back. Other dogs would stop and sniff her. She remained aloof and uninterested. The more I watched her, the more I realized she must have had horrible interactions with other dogs. No one, no matter how patient, could befriend her. She kept up a wall of indifference.

Finally, Cole decided he wanted more. When she stopped to retrieve the 9,000th ball, he tried to mount her. She bucked him off and ran. He chased her. Dakota turned around. She gave him an icy glare. She bared her teeth. He kept coming. Then she growled at him. My blood ran cold.

“Ruby, it’s time to go,” I said. Chasing and playing is one thing. Sexual harassment is another. Yes, I know they’re only dogs. They’re not people. But Dakota was out of patience. I would be, too, in her shoes, er, paws.

“Cole, you deserved that,” Cole’s female owner chided him.

I realized Cole hadn’t gotten the chop on his male parts. I forget sometimes that Dakota’s breed train as police dogs. They can take a man – or dog – down. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness, I thought. All in all, though, I count it a victory. Dakota can learn to trust other dogs again. It will take time. Good thing she doesn’t hold grudges. 



Sudden Snow

I haven’t posted in a while. The combination of illness, lack of Wi-Fi when blogging opportunities arose, and then the whirl of Christmas festivities made it difficult to find the time.

Something unusual happened on Christmas Eve. In the early morning when the light appeared, Mt. Rainier’s top was cut off by a cloud-blind. It looked like an enormous Bob Ross had blotted it out. My phone blew up with winter weather advisories. As the day progressed, the white sky cover rolled all the way down. The mountain disappeared from view.

Ruby and I were outside, playing fetch with Dakota when the flakes started. At first it looked like ashes drifting down, remnants of a bonfire.

“It’s snowing!” I cried. Ruby lit up with delight.

We tried catching them on our tongues, despite Lucy of Peanuts’ fame’s admonition that December snowflakes aren’t ripe yet.

The snow fell gently at first. It stopped and started. The temperature hovered at just above freezing. Nothing stuck. Then, the sun slipped below the horizon. The snow started coming down harder. The ground accumulated white. Traffic slowed outside, muffled by the drifts.

Ruby and Dakota clowned around outside, guided by the Christmas lights . Ruby made snowballs and threw them to Dakota, who caught them in her mouth. They broke around her muzzle in an icy white wave. The friends ran up and down the yard. They jumped and slid.

I watched the white curtain from the warm indoors.

We don’t get white Christmases here very often. When they do occur, it feels like a celebration.

The snowfall felt like hope. This seemed like God reaching down and saying, “I remember you. I know you wonder which end is up sometimes, but I know. I’ll guide you if you let me.”

The snowfall felt like peace, causing a moment of slow motion as Christmas arrived and we all sang “Silent Night”.

The snowfall felt like joy. A baby boy born in the most unlikely place to the most unlikely people, God transported into history. Joy to the World!

God can work in a “suddenly” way. And when He does, it’s wonderful.

Sea of Forgetfulness


Last night, Ruby and I spent some time figuring out her uniform for her band concert. I should mention it’s tonight. She had the black bottoms, but she needed a white top. Finding out 2 days before an event isn’t really enough time to account for one’s personal style. Shelton is a small town. And by small, I mean Walmart and Goodwill sell clothes. Anything they don’t carry, you’ll have to drive to Olympia for.

Jonathon took Ruby to Walmart and purchased a long-sleeved white T-shirt. It’s fine. Too big and a bit casual with a side of sloppy. Dakota followed us upstairs as Ruby put her outfit together. Dakota’s not usually allowed upstairs because of her tendency to pee on our bedroom carpet, but she seemed fine. She was over that phase, right? She trotted into Ruby’s room as she closed the door. I went to hunt up some jewelry for Ruby’s ensemble. I found a sparkly star necklace and some earrings to match.

Some time between when I left to check out Ruby’s getup and going back to my room, someone of a canine persuasion left several aromatic droppings on the floor in our bedroom.

“Ruby! Dakota pooped in our room!”

Dakota had made herself scarce. She knew she’d done wrong.

Ruby put Dakota outside awhile. Dakota felt it keenly. Ruby brought Dakota back upstairs before I finished cleaning. I showed her the poop tattoo and told her, “Bad dog, Dakota! No. Don’t do this again.” I wasn’t angry anymore. I mean, after you’ve had a huge handful of turds, then carried them out to the garbage can by the curb and finally brought said can back to the house, you probably burned off some frustration.

The poop created a crescent shape, almost like an island archipelago. I know this because after I cleaned up the excrement, the remaining stains wouldn’t quite come up. I blotted. I bleached. I used Simple Green. You can still see the pale brown residue on the creamy carpet. At least the smell evaporated.

Yes, I forgave Dakota. Even dogs need that. I remembered the scripture that mentions the “sea of forgetfulness”. What must that sea look like? Is it littered with bottles and cans? Does it have a sludgy cast to it, murky depths roiling with rage? Maybe it has hot coals of anger floating on top like a burning skim coat. Once I started looking, I could find no scripture reference containing this poetic phrase. It appears to be based on Micah 7:19:

Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!

Can I have compassion? How much more do people need us to forgive them, and we to forgive ourselves? Can I ever forget? I have to believe the sea where God casts our sins is calm and quiet, peaceful and cerulean blue. It’s vast. You can’t see where it ends. Nothing surfaces from its depths. Sunlight sparkles on its undulating waves. It covers, and the sin is no more.



Neighbor Dog

Pastor Adam preached on the Good Samaritan yesterday, a parable from Luke 10:30-37. The question always becomes: who is my neighbor? To whom do I owe loyalty, kindness, love and friendship? The Jews he spoke to believed it was to the chosen people only. And the parable made it sound like only if the person in question didn’t require too much time and effort on their part. Can’t be dead, either, because…unclean.

This past Saturday, as I finished running, I saw a black dog walking down Olympic Highway North. It was raining, and getting heavier. Thinking it was Dakota, I called her.

“Dakota! Come here!”

The dog turned its shaggy head, woebegone and bedraggled. It wasn’t Dakota. But it was going to get hit on the busy road if it didn’t move. I stopped and called it. It started forward tentatively, then stopped. By this time, cars had halted. I walked out into the road and took the dog’s collar. I hoped it wouldn’t bite me. I thought about rabies, too. Amenable to some human leadership, the dog – all 100 lbs. of him – trotted alongside me. Well, I figured, let’s get him out of the rain. I’ve got dog food and a dry place.

I opened the gate and Mr. Dog and I entered the yard. He seemed right at home, until Dakota bolted out of nowhere, barking her head off. Her fur stood on end as she gave the intruder what for. I stood still so Dakota and the newcomer could sniff each other. The interloper stopped as Dakota checked him out. Only his eyes betrayed his anxiety. She nipped at him, but he didn’t bite back. We proceeded into the house. I left the dog outside for a moment while I got him some food and water. I put Dakota in the basement where she could bark to her heart’s content. After all, it wasn’t even 8:00 a.m. yet. No one else stirred.

The dog, whom I temporarily named Bo, walked into the house as if he owned it. He wolfed down the kibble and slurped up the water. I got a towel and dried him off. By this time, Ruby was awake. She fell in love with him on sight.

“Ooh! He’s so cute! What happened?”

I relayed the story and went to get a shower. As I mounted the stairs, I had a momentary qualm about leaving Ruby alone with a strange dog. But he was tame, with a grizzled muzzle and a calm demeanor. The cats might not like him, but he had no beef with anyone. He was Zen.

He laid his bulk down on the floor in the dining room, content to be warm and dry. His back left leg hurt him and he had a tough time getting comfortable. I got a few photos and posted them on Facebook in order to try and locate his owners. Then, he promptly fell asleep.

Around 9:00, I woke Jonathon up. He heard the story, too.

“So there’s another dog downstairs?” he asked, blinking.


He ambled downstairs and took a look at the dog that Ruby named Bear.

“He’s very mellow,” he noted. “What’s his name?”

I shrugged. He had no tag. He was very old, and I hoped no one had simply dumped him.

We talked about next steps. I emailed the animal shelter…in Shelton, Connecticut. Friends shared Bo/Bear’s photo on different websites. A friend texted me, alerting me to the possibility that it might be her neighbor’s dog. It wasn’t.

Meanwhile, we kept rotating the dogs around. If Bo-Bear didn’t find his way home, we would gladly keep him. Both Ruby and Jonathon were all for him. They liked his mellowness and thought it might rub off on hyper-vigilant Dakota. We put Bo in the basement, and Dakota stormed through the house, smelling all the places he’d been. When it was his turn to be in the house, he wandered and sought out Dakota’s scent. Hey, it’s what I read to do on the Internet, in order for dogs to get acquainted. A “let’s be friends” type of gesture.

Yeah. I know the cats appreciated it. Chloe marked a pile of Ruby’s dirty clothes to show her appreciation.

By around 12:20 p.m., we got a hit. Somebody knew the dog’s owner. The owner messaged me, and told me about some specifics. He’s 16 and his name is Spencer. He likes to get out and wander. In fact, he’d moseyed over from my parents’ neighborhood on the other side of town. He’d been out all night and probably got disoriented. No slam on them. Pets do crazy stuff. Look at my dog, who thinks anyone in a hoodie and baseball cap is an enemy. And the garbage man? Don’t even get me started.

The couple came and picked him up, grateful someone had taken their old gentleman in. It’s the least I could do. The least we could do, frankly. We’re no heroes. We saw a need and we offered the help we had. Isn’t that what being a neighbor is all about? I’d want someone to take Dakota in, though they’d probably pay a bit for it, at least at first. Because: who is my neighbor? It’s whomever is in my life, right here and now.

Got Boyfriend?

We were having lunch out at a restaurant on Sunday afternoon, celebrating Zac’s 18th birthday. We’d ordered our food, all four of us, and were making small talk until our entrees arrived.

“I wish you were around,” I said to Zac, sitting across from me. “You could beat back the coming horde of boys.”

I referred, of course, to Ruby, and how she’s becoming more beautiful each day.

Ruby spoke up.

“Actually, two boys have already asked me on dates,” she said, coloring slightly.

What?! She just turned 12 last month. Zac looked shocked.

“Were these boys any of your friends?” Most of Ruby’s good friends are boys. They grew up together, attending school at Evergreen Elementary.

She shook her head.

“No,” she confirmed.


She took a sip of her Sprite.

“All of my friends have boyfriends. I’m the only one who doesn’t.”

What? All over again. I sat back, incredulous.

I sputtered something about all the kids involved being too young to even consider pairing up. I probably sounded like a geezer. What can you do when you’re 12? Sit together at lunch? Hold hands in the hallway? Stare at each other in advisory? You can’t drive and you have limited – if any – funds. Hard to date, methinks. Okay, so maybe Bobby can carry Jenny’s books. I’d allow.

Ruby looked at me.

“I don’t want to date until I’m 16. Then I can drive away if I need to.”

All of us laughed at that. At least she’s practical, our girl.

“I’m fine with being single,” she finished.

I’m disturbed that “single” is what she considers her “status” at this age. At 12, I had a crush on a boy in 7th grade intermediate band, a blonde alto saxophone player. I sported thick glasses and overalls. I collected rocks and shells. I felt like a kid because I *was* a kid. Dating was far off, high school or later. Sure, some classmates dated, as much as you can at 12 or 13. But my good friends were like me: growing up in our own sweet time. We still sometimes built forts in the woods. We rode bikes. We walked to the store and flagged down the snow cone man.

We want Ruby to get to be a child for as long as possible. Dating is part of growing up, or courtship, if that floats your boat. Adulthood lasts, well, until you die. No rush to get there. It will wait for you. In fact, I think it lurks in the future. Like it or not, we all run into it. Expectations and responsibilities overtake us all. Don’t get me wrong. The trade-offs of adulthood are good – driving to San Francisco on a whim, discretionary funds, staying up late, eating Red Vines or chicken noodle soup at 2:00 a.m., making decisions on your own. Also, let’s not forget the process of discovering your destiny. Learning where you excel and how to make it work for you is exciting.

But no sense getting there too early. It’s a process, and worthy of enjoying the journey. We moved the conversation on to more neutral topics. Ruby loves being a kid. She’s fine holding on until the time is right, whether it’s 16 or 60. And so are we.

Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, not to awaken love until the time is right. – Song of Solomon 8:4





Last night, we took Ruby trick or treating. Since she’s 12 now, I’m not sure how many more times we will do this. We closed up the house and left Dakota in the yard for good measure. Our home sits on a short road off a main thoroughfare. It’s hard to get to, and not much payoff for the detour, as only 3 houses sit on it.

Two thirds of a moon shone down. A chill wind shoved a scrim of scraggly clouds across the sky. Wind picked up fallen leaves and swirled them around. Trees shook and cast moving shadows on the ground.

Ruby dressed as a pumpkin. She painted her face orange and put glittery orange goo on her eyelids. She had no orange shirt so substituted a green one instead. She donned orange tights and a tutu with her brown boots. I don’t know if anyone asked her what she was. I thought she sort of resembled a festive oompa loompa. But don’t tell her that.

We drove down the hill to our old neighborhood behind the library. We scoped out the old haunts, hoping to spot friends. Nope. We parked and started scavenging, by knocking politely. We managed to hit most of the houses in the block, though several had their lights off. The wind made me pull my hat down and snuggle into my fleece coat. It’s still fall, despite the day’s high in the low 60s.

We walked around the creek loop. We passed a house with porch lights on, but nobody inside. A wave of marijuana smoke crested over us. We kept moving, figuring they’d already eaten what candy they had anyway.

We left our old house for last. We stepped up the concrete walk to the front door. As we waited for the door to open, I spotted a black cat lurking in the terraced garden. I had a deja-vu moment. Was that Chloe? A sweet flood of memories came back.

A young clean-shaven man answered the door with a large metal bowl filled with candy. Behind him, a chubby baby waited in a high chair. We told him we used to own the house.

“Oh, we love it,” he said with a smile.

Jonathon mentioned he liked the window boxes installed on the second floor. He also noticed the new porch lights. They looked great. We chatted for a moment, then left. Don’t want to be a stalker family or anything.

Ruby felt she had enough candy. For Ruby, it’s always been about dreaming up a costume – nothing scary – and putting it together. The candy is a nice bonus. We returned home and watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” while sampling candy.

It felt good to know our old house had a young family in it. A new generation gets to enjoy it, create  memories and live their own stories. We stood at the juncture of two rivers – the past and the future – last night. Life goes on, despite us wanting to press pause and linger in a season. Our new season might turn out to be the best one yet.

Greasy Grace

Yesterday afternoon, I sat in one of our (many) local coffee joints. I nursed a badly-needed double shot mocha and waited for my friend to arrive. A thought popped into my head. It’s not a new one, by any means. What if grace is greasier than we ever thought? When I say grace, I don’t mean her.

grace kelly(If you don’t know who this is, see me after class). The lady in the picture probably never got greasy. Ever.

We spent a good chunk of time on Saturday at BoomShaka. Ruby’s birthday shenanigans got delayed due to her illness last weekend. Still can’t believe she’s 12 now! BoomShaka involves jumping, climbing, and generally catapulting yourself into pits of foam.

boomshaka foam pitThat rectangle filled with multi-colored items is rather amazing. The blocks are about 5″x 5″ and look like this:

foam cubes.jpgAs we stood in line to sign waivers for the kiddos, I read the instructions posted on the wall. Only one jumper per trampoline at a time. No running. You must wear regulation socks, ones you brought with grippie suction on the bottom, or bought at the front desk. Yikes! Last but not least, do NOT bite the blocks.

Um. Okay. Sidenote: A lot of the blocks *did* have nibble-marks on them. Wasn’t me.

What does this have to do with greasy grace? I’m getting to that.

Ruby and her two cousins walked to the trampolines. I had an hour to play with them. I trailed behind, taking it all in. Being a smidge older than 12, I had no plans to hurt myself. I stepped gingerly onto the trampoline.

“C’mon, Mom!” Ruby urged, face one huge smile. She bounced next to me on her own black square.

I jumped up and down. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face, either. We visited nearly every station. One of Ruby’s cousins, the fearless one, swung off the trapeze straight into the enormous pile of foam waiting below. Not me. I struggled with the idea of jumping into the foam. Was it really for adults, too? Would it be enough padding?

Finally, after watching the girls jump in, I tried it. I bounced off a trampoline and cannonballed into the chunky abyss. It was…soft. I didn’t hurt anything. I tried to wrestle myself free of the foamy pieces. It was hard to break the surface of the moving pile. I pulled up and grabbed the lip of the hole. I managed to scramble to a standing position.

That was graceful.

After that, I didn’t care. I kept jumping into unsuspecting towers of squishiness, making sure no small children lurked in their midst. I swung out on filmy curtains over yet another chunky pool. But what I noticed about the little kids – toddlers – is they fell on their faces in the blocks. They didn’t care. They didn’t worry about getting hurt or maintaining their dignity. What dignity? In fact, they almost floated on the top. Their slight mass didn’t depress the foam like the rest of us did. Our greater mass sent us sinking quicker and harder. Gravity is a cruel mistress.

The thing is, all of us could get out. The foam, acting as a sort of grace agent, allowed us to get back on our feet and jump again. And again, and again. You know what? It was fun. I watched Ruby regain her inner tigress as she scaled the rigging over a pit. She clambered across a string of swings to get to the other side. She bounced up and down the line of trampolines, confident, joyful and at peace. All the girls could flip and skip and know they would come out fine.

Isn’t that the point? Yes, I’m a great advocate of having fun. We’re so serious as Christians, and especially as adults. We don’t try new things. We fear making mistakes. We don’t want to look bad, or worse yet, sin and miss the mark.

But grace. Perhaps it should have a capital G: Grace.

Grace allows us to fall down and get back up again. We can try something new, something that scares and excites us, all at once. Grace means we have freedom to fail. We can shrug, stand up, and dust ourselves off if it doesn’t work out. We can forgive ourselves and others and move on, when situations cause pain. We don’t  have to stay down, stuck in the pit like some dinosaur glommed to a La Brea tar pit. The pit is temporary, and it’s cushioned with multifaceted grace.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. – Ephesians 2:8