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Don't bother watching the dogs. Yes, they're frolicking and fighting, and occasionally fucking (doggy-style, naturally). This ain't Westminster, but the off-leash dog park on the shores of Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis has its share of budget-busting breeds. Your swaggering and snarling little Pomeranians, your shoulder-high Irish Wolfhounds, straight out of a 17th-century oil painting of the Fourth Earl of Dickwitch. It's a temporary colony the dogs form in this gated, two-acre patch of grass, wood chips, ice, and snow. A social club with a firm hierarchy of officers and royalty.
Though the dogs' owners—or their "people," if you insist—like to believe that their dogs love them, homo sapiens have no place in this society. Rather, they occupy a park of their own, the dog owners' park, and they have their own barking and ass-sniffing to do among their own kind.
If the dog park is an enchanted idyll from A Midsummer Night's Dream, the flat-footed, newspaper-bag-toting owner is a rude mechanical. To wit, the players in this crass comedy:
The "Dog Whisperer" Groupie: Has TiVoed every episode of The Dog Whisperer. Owns every periodical that mentions hero and spiritual guiding light Cesar Millan. Parrots Millan's gospel to everyone within earshot, whether or not they want to hear it. Has been known to force Millan iPod podcasts on unsuspecting park-goers. Notorious for retelling tale of night he "one-upped" trainer by walking out on dog obedience class and shouting, "Hail Cesar."
The Poop Master: White male. Beard. Tall. "Jesus Is The Answer" sticker on pickup truck. Makes Taylor from The Gilmore Girls look like an unconcerned citizen, Joan Rivers a wallflower. Dreams a dream of Minnesota as next great polygamous republic. Definitely emasculated: by society, family, workplace. Takes out frustrations of powerless white male existence by standing sentry over just-pooped dog poop. Helicopters righteously with plastic ball-thrower pointed at poop until offender's owner scampers over to shuck and jive and pick up and thank.
Assumes dog owners will not pick up poop, follow rules. Distrust of humanity to do right thing on small scale unsettling and telling. Reportedly in cahoots with philanthropist who keeps dog park grounds flush in wood-chip bedding, connection to whom gives Poop Master license to judge, deliberate, execute. When challenged, will merely say, "trying to help," then yell and threaten, like playground bully he remembers pushing him around.
The Cat Yeller: Often seen in corner of park, hollering at various bored felines with threats to give its owner "the love" or be fed to the hounds. Technique harsh, but effective. Franchise imminent; NBC pilot and Mad TV skit in works.
The Animal Control Lady: Woman after Poop Master's own heart. Descends on park at all hours of day in Animal Control truck, wielding terrible swift sword. Blocks gate entrance to park so potential criminals can't escape. Strictly enforces all sorts of dippy regulations about having dog off-leash just outside the gate, and being up to code on multitude of tags. Takes names, occasionally threatens to take prisoners, gives out tickets to senior citizens from Kenwood.
Kindred cousin to tax auditor in It's a Wonderful Life. Total buzzkill, especially on beautiful summer Sundays. "Just doing my job," but hates job, as job hates her. Doesn't know what else to do. Thinking about going back to school. Probably hates animals. And control.
The Purist of Linden Hills: Constantly gives evil eye to cell-phone users at hallowed dog park grounds. When not kvetching about hell-in-handbasket results of technology and mass communication, will yammer on about pitfalls of yuppified Lake of Isles dog park. Trumpets virtues of more organic, less crowded, Narnia vibe of Mississippi River dog park and wide-open airport dog park. Famous for responding to "It's a beautiful day" with "I've seen better."
The Blue Chipper: Also known as the Reluctant Dog Parker. Looks askance at anything other than pure breeds. Can barely bring self to utter word "mutt." When not talking about capital gains tax cuts and job promotions and bathroom renovations, talks about own dog with an Objectivist's self-satisfaction and a eugenicist's pride. Often stands outside gate, clad in $400 arctic performance shell, Lexus engine running. Actual dog park appearances rare, so as not to be forced to rub paws with "those kinds of dogs."
The Town Crier: Knows everything that has ever happened in dog park since time began. Wouldn't know score of last Sunday's Vikings game if gun pointed at temple, but can inform all of when next wood chip load will be delivered. Can recount in great detail the time six randy males gang-raped an unspayed female.
The "My Humps" Hoverer: Trails after own dog like parent after promiscuous preteen, or Uncle Buck after niece at make-out party. Disregards veterinarians who say humping is not sexual act for dogs but act of dominance. Is visibly mortified when dog humps other dogs. Takes great pains to show embarrassment and apologize to other owners for humpy's behavior. Often accompanied by human partner who shares mission to fastidiously break up humping sessions. Not a lot happening in bed for these two, especially with humpy sleeping between them.
The Princess: Only shows up on weekends, much to disdain of Poop Master, Dog Whisperer, other regulars. Senses out-of-place status, so often brings out-of-town guests and preaches about What Makes the Twin Cities Great—"the Walker, the Guthrie, the dog park." Spends most of time with other little-dog owners who similarly dress dogs in sweaters. Makes other owners feel bad because dog sweaters nicer than anything anyone else is wearing.
The Romeo: Extrovert. Fond of walking up to single women and asserting dog-lover repute. Constantly tries to prove that "dogs naturally trust me" (not-so-hidden message: Women, are you getting the hint?) Does the same thing with kids. The act must work. Year-round uniform consists of bulge-enhancing spandex shorts and "I Heart My Great Dane" fanny pack.
The Aristotelian: Has been known to come up with pseudo-deep inanities such as: "We're all like dogs—we just want to be chased, barked at, and have our ears chewed." "Ever notice how many dogs resemble their owners?" "We all want to live life off-leash, but we reign ourselves in. Imagine if we gave ourselves permission to live off-leash, even for just a little bit, each day."
The Misanthrope: Arrives at park alone, works hard to avoid eye contact—or any other kind, even with dogs. Accompanied by well-thumbed copy of Anneli Rufu's Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto and iPod filled with various versions of the Jam's "Away from the Numbers." Takes up stony residence on bench to be alone with little black cloud, camera, pen, notebook, and amusing-only-to-him scribblings about other dog-parkers. Potential school shooter, future poop master, or generic alt-weekly columnist.
Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or firstname.lastname@example.org