Folks take their dogs to Baldwin Park, a few acres of land on the shores of Lake Baldwin in Winter Park, Florida. Many let their dogs off leash so they can mingle with canine compatriots. Impromptu packs form, but few pecking order conflicts erupt. They seem to believe that they are on holiday from the dictates of their masters and want to revel in their freedom. Why waste time establishing orders of dominance when they can chase around and sniff butts to their hearts’ content?
Some owners remain engaged and throw frisbees to their dogs. Some let their pets go wading in the water, and a few fools throw tennis balls out into the lake for their pups to fetch. I’ve never seen a gator cruising near shore in Lake Baldwin, but there’s got to be a few lurking in the weeds somewhere.
Folks who go to the park without a dog sometimes meet resistance from dogs patrolling their territory. Terriers seem especially able to sort out pet from non-pet people and treat the latter with suspicion. They bark and growl at leash-free strollers as if doubting the good intentions of those who choose to live in a flea, dog hair, and drool-free environment.
Our rat terrier, Sammi, died back in 2003. We haven’t visited Baldwin Park in 20 years, but memories linger. I’m working on a painting that began with clouds of random marks. Dogs and the figure of a woman emerged out of the chaos. I couldn’t identify the subconscious source of the imagery until I decided to add a strip of water near the top. I knew then that memories of Baldwin Park had returned for a visit.
Our dog Sammi died in the fall of 2003. As a black, white and tan rat terrier she was eight pounds of guile, cunning and nervous agitation. When she ran down the street her legs moved so fast they blurred. The neighborhood kids called her “The Hover Dog”.
At times her terrier level of anxious energy was too much for me, and I swore a few days after I buried her in our back yard that I’d never get another dog. But my daughter and her fiance’ visited over Christmas with their two pups, and my wife Judy and I found ourselves talking about the possibility of getting one. Our house seems large and empty after our visitors leave, and we feel an urge to fill up the open spaces with an active presence. And Judy and I are somewhat tied to staying close at home. We have spells when direct contact with friends and family is limited, and we feel a need for extra companionship.
My sister had an Australian Shepherd the last few years of her life when she suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and Charlie was an intelligent, very loyal mid sized dog. He was a consistently hopeful and cheerful presence. However he was extremely protective of Carla and would butt anyone with his nose who came too near to her. Once he got me in the side of the neck when I attempted to arrange Carla’s feet on the foot rests of her motorized chair. And my Dad had bruises up and down his forearms from similarly misguided interventions. Judy has vertigo and sometimes walks with difficulty, and while I liked Charlie a lot I don’t want to get a dog who protects her from me.
Our search is complicated by our allergies to dog dander, so Judy is looking up hypoallergenic breeds. We’re discovering that most of these are expensive. And we want a more mellow dog, but one not too large and dull witted like a Lab. We may have to find a mixed breed mutt to suit our needs. And we’ll probably have to wait until after our daughter gets married in May to get serious about finding a dog. We don’t want to deal with new routines and dog training while planning a wedding.
On Sunday we went to Central Park in downtown Winter Park. Judy wanted to see something beside the insides of our house and our yard. We sat in the shade and watched a squirrel digging up nuts, toddlers chased by parents, a guy making balloon animals for children, and two lovers kissing and caressing on a blanket. And we saw dogs, dogs, dogs. We commented on the size, shape and personalities of the ones we saw, and I turned to Judy and said, “It really does sound like we’re getting a dog.” And I thought about all the happy possibilities.