Bark Park, Mouth Foam, and Lovers

Plain Old Dog, OK?

Plain Old Dog, OK?

My dachshund was pulling at the leash, trying with all his might to will himself over to a particularly large turd lying coiled near a creosote bush at the local park, and I was pulling back to keep him AWAY from this, when a lady’s voice interrupted:

“Who’s YOUR lover?”

Startled, I peered up from the tug o’turd to see a lady in her late 50′s looking at me appraisingly. She was wearing a red sweater with  glitter and rhinestones on it, and her glasses swung gently from a rhinestone-studded chain. Her voice was raspy and low and she had on thick red lipstick.

She tilted her head, awaiting my response.

“Uh, my?” I was lost. My husband wasn’t even WITH me at the park – although, who would look at a couple and ask “Who’s YOUR lover?”

She couldn’t possibly be reading my mind and divining my secret fantasies about –

“This is MY little LOVER!” she exclaimed eagerly, lifting up a small dog who was vibrating near her shoes, a small dog with lots of fluffy fur and lots of rapid paw movement, and put the dog to her red lips. The dog pawed at her enthusiastically and got its tail tangled up in her glasses chain.

“Oh, WHO’S a good little LOVER, then? Who’s a good little LOVER? Who’s my best little lover in all the world?  My Loooooooover. My sweet little looooooovvvveeeeerrrrrrrrr!” She crooned, and kissed the dog on its mouth. It licked at her red lipstick and wagged its tail companionably.

“YOUR little lover is adorable, too!” she added generously, and when her dog began again to lap at her cheek, “My LOOOOOVEEEEERRRR! Oh, you are SO better than a man, you are! SO better than a man! My better-than-a-man LOVER!”  The dog licked her lips and she threw her head back and laughed, HAR HAR HAR!

Pablo wanted to meet the Lover. He whimpered and pulled over to her legs.

“My dog, my PET, is named Pablo.” I stated.  I did not lift Pablo to my face or even blow a kiss in his general direction.  I patted him briskly on the head. “He’s a good DOG. We like him.”

The lady pulled the Lover to her bosom and rocked it like a baby. She rolled the words around on her mouth like a person sucking a piece of candy; like a person savoring the most delicious umami meal possible.  “This little Precious Biscuit is my LOOOOOOVER!”

“That’s great, that you, have such a powerful relationship with your dog,” I said with a completely straight face, although inside me, laughter was bubbling up dangerously.

“Is your name Catherine?” I asked. (“The Great?,” I murmured to myself so quietly that it sounded like a small throat clearing noise.)

“What? No. It’s not Catherine. I’m —–” she answered, and to be honest, I’m sort of preserving her privacy here, but also I completely forgot her name the minute she answered.

“But I once met a wonderful woman named Catherine at the Bark Park!” she enthused. “You DO meet the most EXCELLENT people at the bark park, I believe! Why, HER lover was a beautiful little miniature pinscher that looked just like a little doll.”

“Yes!” I said. “That does sound lovely. Well, it was great meeting you. Have a nice afternoon!”

As Pablo and I walked away (frankly, the turd was looking pretty promising at this point), I could hear her:  “My ootle wiggly LOVER smells just like a little breadbox!  You little LOVER! Oh, kiss me, you little LOVER!”

And that is why I don’t go to bark parks, I reminded myself. It’s because even though I OWN a dog, and I LIKE my dog — even LOVE my dog, my dog is not my “lover”, and I don’t let my dog lick my mouth on purpose, and I don’t look at my dog like I want to date him, and my dog is NOT better than a man.  And it’s THAT kind of person who seems to be magnetically drawn to me at bark parks, for whatever reason.

And here is another example of the people I meet at bark parks – Burt.

A few years ago, I took Pablo to a bark park. There was one other dog when we arrived at the Bark Park, some kind of cute cocker spaniel mix. I sat down at the picnic table with the spaniel's owner, a guy in his 70’s who was wearing a blue baseball cap and a frayed blue polo shirt with a pack of Marlboros in the pocket.  He was a homey chatty sort and he spoke just a bit too loudly, as if going deaf or used to talking to someone who was deaf.

"I'm BURT!" he told me.  "Burt with a U, not an E.  Short for BURTON.   I had a cousin called Bert, but that was from Bertram, and he was kind of a sissy boy. So I always associated Bert-with-e with sissy boys. Now me, I'm from Burton. Like a manly Burt, har, har, har."

I couldn't help but notice that while Burt-with-a-U talked, a frothy white spittle foam gathered at the corners of his mouth, sort of like the foam that cleans your car at the carwash.  It was pliable and plastic and moved as he spoke, and retracted into his mouth when he finished a sentence. 

 I was  fascinated with this spit.

Burt with a U talked about many things.  "Now, me," he told me, the spit foam busily forming and retreating, "me and the wife, we got this here dog down at the Humane Society.  You ever been there?"

No, I hadn't, I told him.

As we talked, a poodle urinated.  It was a male, but it squatted.  Burt was confused.  "Can they DO that?" he asked.  "I mean, if it's a boy dog and all.  Inn't kind of strange, a boy dog squatting?  I mean, I don't know much nothin' about dogs, though.  In fact, I admit I'm a little scared 'o the big ones."

"They can be intimidating," I said.

"OH, are you scared of dogs too?" asked Burt knowingly.

"Well, not really," I said.

"But you said they intimidate you," Burt said.

"Well, some of the big ones CAN be intimidating," I said.

"Because it sounded like you meant that you're scared of them," said Burt.

"Well, not really," I said again.

"Oh," said Burt.  Then he said, "Funny thing the other day.  Little old dog in here, couldn't a been much bigger than that poodle.  And some huge dog, the big ones, you know, the black ones with the big sharp teeth, you know that kind."

"Yes," I said, "the big black ones with the teeth.  Those."

"Yes," said Burt.  "A big black one with teeth. And the poodle started getting on the back of the big black dog, you know, getting on, you know what I mean," and he did a sort of motion with his hands that was apparently supposed to mimic a small dog humping a big one.

"Yes," I said, "I think I know what you mean, " hoping to forestall further explanation.

"I mean, it was getting with it," Burt explained.

"Yes, I see," I said.

"It was getting right on there, you know, trying to have sex with it and all."

"Yes," I said.

"Funniest thing I ever did see in here!!" Burt said, chuckling at the memory.  "I guess the black dog's owner didn't think it was too funny, though. But me, I thought that was funny.  But it was only 4 months old, that small dog.  Isn't that too young, don't you think, for a dog to be wanting sex?"

"It seems a bit young, yes," I said.

"But oh man, it was really getting up on there!" said Burt.  "Funniest thing."

Burt's spittle was thick and frothy now, from all the talking. I kept expecting pieces to break off and fly away, or to hang loose at his mouth, but the foam stayed intact.

"I mean, they get the operation at 6 months, I think," said Burt.  "Yeeeyyyccchhh, operations, I don't like to think about THAT."

"It can be sort of gross," I said.

"I don't mean that," said Burt, "although I have passed out before at the sight of needles."

He proceeded to tell me some army stories about passing out when getting shots for smallpox (?), and then he started a chain reaction: when the guy behind him saw Burt pass out, HE passed out, and then a whole LINE of guys in the medical tent passed out.

Burt then told me all about his previous dogs, one of whom had to be put "down" because  it was sick.  "Strangest thing," Burt recollected.  "Dog had this white foamy stuff at the mouth, and we just thought it was sick or something. But the doctor said the SPINE was breaking down, and we couldn't save her. So we had to put her down."

White foam?   I wanted to ask, "Foam like YOURS?  Is YOUR spine breaking down??"  --- but didn't.

Actually,  meeting people like Catherine and Burt are the BEST part of bark parks, now that I think about it.  What’s not to like about meeting someone so fascinating?  It’s much better than making ridiculous small talk about the weather or the traffic on the 202 or some nonsense like that.  The truth is, I enjoyed meeting Burt, and almost-enjoyed meeting Catherine (she was a little bit, ah, strange).

What I really don’t like about the BP? All the not-cleaned-up dog shit, and the way the whole place smells of it. I just honestly don’t like sitting in a big poop field for an hour while my dog, who is not the most adventurous of his species, huddles at my feet and hides from small poodles who want to hump him.

It’s too bad that Burt and Catherine were not at the park on the same day, though. I bet they would have got along just fine.



Dog Analysis For Beginners

pablo with borders 2 web

People are curious about their dogs.  Sure, dogs exhibit some pretty serious curiosity themselves, especially when they become magnetically attracted to someone’s crotch or emotionally invested in a pile of dessicated poop in the park; when they enthusiastically knock over the trash can to get to a tampon or a rotten chicken bone; when they treat the kitty litter as their own personal buffet.  We people outdo them, though, because OUR curiosity goes beyond simple instinct.

Here’s an example. My sister was curious about the genetic mix of the dog she adopted from the shelter.  And who wouldn’t be?  Is there maybe 2% of Sheltie in her paws?  Does her nose look 4% Lab?  It was keeping Maria up at night, probably, and so she decided to get a genetic test to find out exactly WHAT her dog was made up of.  Here’s what she found out, and keep in mind that you can do this for your dog, too, and amaze all of your Facebook friends with the results.  I’m planning to do this for my dachshund, because I suspiciously suspect that he’s not 100% PURE dachshund, no matter what the teenager at the run-down pet shop told me!  It’s not like it matters, but — I’m curious. And the technology exists!

So, here is Foxy:foxy

And here is what Maria reported on Facebook a while back:

“The results for Foxy are in!

According to the Wisdom Panel 2.0 DNA test, she is a true mutt. She is a Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, Cocker Spaniel (lol!) mix with lots of of other mixed breeds that could not be detected with accuracy. One of her parents was Cocker Spaniel and Labrador Retriever mixed with other breeds. The other was a Rottweiler mix. We totally guessed the Rotweiler part, mostly because of her coloring.

This was really fun! If you have a mutt, I recommend it. Not sure about the accuracy of it all, but the entertainment value is up there.”

Maybe you think that is too much to learn about your dog. You’d be wrong, though, because there is a LOT more you can glean from careful, scientific observation of your dog’s behavior.  For example, what is your dog’s favorite food?  Maybe you THINK it would be steak, or chicken, or pizza. But how can you be SURE?  This was keeping me and Amado up at night, so we — with Isabel’s help — devised the following very unscientifically accurate experiment to determine it more precisely.

We had ordered pizza last week and Pablo was whining and begging frantically, as he always does when pizza comes, and suddenly one of us asked, “So, is pizza his favorite food? Or does he like steak better?”

Isabel said, “I think pizza is his favorite!”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “He really loves steak, and chicken, too.  And sausage. And salami.”

“But he must have ONE total favorite,” Isabel insisted.  “I wish we could ask him.”

“Maybe…we can!” I suggested.  “Let’s do a Food Line-Up to see.”

“What’s a food line-up, Mama?”  Isabel was intrigued.

“Well, let’s see! How about we put all of these things down on the floor and see what he goes to first.  Pizza, salami, chicken wing meat, stuff like that.”

Amado said, “Yes, but we’ll have to let him see them all first, so he doesn’t just go to the first thing he sees. That way he’ll KNOW what’s there, and he can choose his favorite first.”

I agreed. “Yes, they’ll all have to be equidistant from him, and about the same size, so he doesn’t go to the biggest one just because it’s larger.”

We thought.  “Well, to be statistically significant, we’d have to repeat the experiment many times, ” I said.  “And we’d have to control for food location by varying which food was in which spot.  And we’d have to do it at different times of day.  Amado, how many times would we have to do it for 5 foods?”

Amado thought.  “Let’s just do it once,” he said.  (Our curiosity knows SOME bounds, even if it means sacrificing statistical accuracy.)

“It will be like the Olympics!” I said eagerly.  “One time, one winner. No statistics.”

Amado put Pablo on his leash while Isabel and I arranged small piles of food onto squares  of white paper. Our selections were:  BBQ chicken wing meat, pizza, salami, unsalted almonds, and his dog biscuits.

pablo experiment 2 To keep it interesting (as if it wasn’t thrilling already), we decided to rank the foods in the order we thought he’d choose.  Here’s how it looked:

pablo meat lineup2It was getting intense, because we each thought he’d choose a different food first!  After Isabel carefully lined up the foods on the floor, Amado lead Pablo over on his leash and let him sniff at the offerings.

pablo experiment 1pablo experiment 3Pablo strained mightily against his leash, whining in anticipation, his tail wagging so fast it was just a blur of energy. And finally the big moment came. The leash was released, and Pablo ran!  And the winner is:

The Pizza!

Yes, Pablo snatched the pizza and took it away to eat it in private. He wolfed it down in a few seconds, and we were eager to see what he’d choose next, but then he surprised us all.  Instead of actually choosing, he just ran to the closest one after the pizza, ate it, and worked his way down the line one by one.

pablo experiment 6

We were intrigued and disappointed, but you see, we’d also LEARNED SOMETHING ABOUT OUR DOG, something we had not heretofore understood:  After he satisfied his cravings with the completely irresistible pizza, he reverted to a “as much as possible in shortest time” mentality and just gobbled things down as quickly as possible with minimal movement. Fascinating!  Yes! What a great experiment!

Maybe you think that is too much good human food to sacrifice to a dog’s belly just to learn about his eating behavior. Once again you’d be wrong, because sometimes you need to donate an ENTIRE PIZZA to the cause. And here’s an example of how it works:

My parents had a dog named Baby (full name was Ice Ice Baby Stutson Bread, compliments of my sister Erica), and Baby loved pizza.  Like, she really REALLY loved it – so much, that one time, after my parents walked a friend to the door after a lovely shared meal of pizza, they came back 45 seconds later to find the dining table completely devoid of left-overs, and Baby guiltily licking her mouth in the corner in a very satisfied way. This dog had somehow gotten onto the dining table, eaten the equivalent of a large pizza, and had then gotten back down — all in complete silence, and all in under a minute.

This was a perplexing mystery!  How did she do it!?  Did she get onto a chair and from there put her paws onto the table, or did she just sort of launch her body up and grab the pizza cardboard?  Did she eat the sausage side first, or the pepperoni?  Did she look around before grabbing it, or did she just eat?

These were serious questions that we needed answered, and so – to satisfy our curiosity – Mom and I set up an experiment in the kitchen with her Camcorder and an entire Tombstone Pizza, fresh from the oven.  We were giddy with excitement. We were laughing and dancing around and I couldn’t stop giggling.

“Let’s put the whole pizza here,” Mom suggested.  “Then we’ll start the recorder and leave the room. We’ll give her plenty of private time to eat the pizza, and then we’ll watch to see what she did.”

“Baby!” we called. She was suspicious, sort of. She came in and gave us a LOOK. “Hi, Girl!” I said happily, and petted her.  “Ok, we’ll see you later!”

We snuck out of the kitchen, leaving Baby in there with the ENTIRE pizza, and easy access. We even closed the door to give her MORE privacy and time. We waited, hardly able to control our curiosity.

“I want to peek!” I whispered to Mom.

“No, don’t!” she said. “Give her time. Let her feel comfortable in there.”

We waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, unable to wait another minute, we peeked in. Baby was sitting calmly on the floor. The pizza was untouched. Baby gave us a look.

We were dumbfounded. What was going on? Why did she not eat the pizza? We were so confused. We left the room to give her more time.

After another few minutes, we rechecked. Baby was now scratching lazily, and the pizza was still pristine. She trotted past us to the living room without a second glance.

“Did she….KNOW we were recording her? And she didn’t want that?” I asked incredulously.

This dog — who once stole an ENTIRE TURKEY from this same kitchen table and took it into the backyard when Papa turned his back for one second to get the salt — this same dog had ignored our pizza experiment!  She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t full. She just….apparently….didn’t want to play our game.

And so we never got to learn how Baby stole pizza. That was her secret, and her secret it stayed.  And from this experiment we learned something new about the dog — she was very clever, and she was not oblivious to silly human antics. She had her pride. And possibly, she was a pizza snob (after all, it was Tombstone.)

Anyway, as you can clearly see, any experiment with your dog is guaranteed to deliver unexpected and eye-opening results. And it’s a fun way to have quality Family Time too!   I highly recommend that you indulge your own curiosity and analyze something about your own dog, starting today.

P.S. – Because of a certain old aphorism, I can’t guarantee that such curiosity-satisfying experimentation is safe for felines, so proceed on that path at your own risk.