There is an old fable about the country mouse and the city mouse. In it, the country mouse chooses to forgo the conveniences of city life (and the noise, traffic and crowds) and live in the country with its dirt roads, single gas station and dark-night skies.
I have mostly been a country mouse. I have lived in downtowns in big cities (dogless). I once lived next to a newspaper plant. Each morning at 4:30 a.m., the trucks managed to back into our apartment building, shaking my apartment, terrifying me out of deep sleep and making sleep impossible as the drivers yelled at each other in various languages. It was Canada, so the languages were English, French and Ukrainian.
Anyway, the point is, I do not have much experience being with dogs in cities. I do recall living in a first-floor apartment in Minneapolis with our first German shepherd for a few months. We got lots of complaints about her vigilant barking, but I have successfully managed to block out a lot of those memories.
So, I was curious. How do longtime city folk — city mice — raise and keep dogs in the urban landscape?
To find out, I talked to a work friend who lives in the heart of San Francisco, Angela Washington. She is a journalist, meeting planner and professional dog walker. (People, she embodies the future of work, multiple careers and lots of gigs.)
The conversation began with me asking her, simply, “What’s it like to walk dogs in the city?”
Right off the bat, she said that you deal with dog poop in the city. She opined that some dog owners must believe in the poop fairy, that mysterious being who cleans it up each night. She doesn’t exist, Washington said, and people need to do a much better job in San Francisco about cleaning up after their dogs.
Washington moved the conversation to the magic that happened in her neighborhood during the pandemic. First, she said there were a lot of pandemic dogs, dogs adopted for companionship during the lockdowns. (We both worried what would happen to those puppies once we go back to normal — time will tell.)
Second, a group of dog owners, strangers as city neighbors often are, began bringing their dogs to the same park, Huntington Park, each day at the same time. Soon, a community emerged. It became the Huntington Park dog pack. The dogs all got to know each other, they played and their people got the relief of actual human, masked, face-to-face contact rather than sitting at home watching reruns of Friends.
The center of the community was one of Washington’s client’s dogs, named Luka. Luka was an older golden retriever mix. She played with every dog in the park. For the people, a day wasn’t complete without visiting Luka on her favorite park bench.
When Luka died, the community sent cards to Luka’s owners, and Washington, her walker, signed by the other dogs.
Remember the junior high school dance when everyone would stand by the wall until one brave soul would pull another shy and recalcitrant teenager out to the dance floor? And it would start a movement? Because everybody wanted to dance, but they just needed a push.
The Huntington Dog pack dogs pulled and pushed their people into the community in the days when that was what we needed more than anything.
It’s important to remember that dogs are not the only species that evolved as pack animals, so are people. We evolved to be in tribes, family groups and communities. Even the country mice need to find connections and community to thrive. (Remember, the lone ranger is a myth.)
Finally, Washington mentioned that she can feel herself relax and her blood pressure dropping on her walks with dogs and the hours spent with the Huntington dog pack. It’s the best part of her day.
We live in crazy and stressful times. Who knows what the future will bring?
But I do know that spending time with dogs and dog people, in a park, watching dogs play sounds like a pretty good way to lower the temperature of our lives, if only for a few hours. Even a country mouse could be convinced to give it a go.
The next time your dog sits, with her leash in her mouth, waiting to walk, maybe a trip to the local dog park is the ticket for her and you.