Tossed off after a series of annoying incidents at various off-leash areas in the hood, it was bound to spark some comment. But geez. Check out what's happening over at the Star's page where my column is. It's as if I wrote about Israel's bombing of Gaza or traffic-tangling Tamil protests or something.
Here's the column in, heheh, toto. (Get it? Toto? I'll be here all weekend.) Some links have been added.
Dog parks in Toronto have long been a bone of contention.
As a member of the Withrow Park Dog Owners Association, run by the stalwart Casey Conklin, I have witnessed the many battles.
Parents complaining about dogs let loose near their terrified kids.
Canines "SUVed" in – often by professional dog "walkers'' with herds of charges – and unleashed at the edges of the park where they're allowed to go nuts after being cooped up in condos.
Owners who don't stoop and scoop.
People who allow their kids to toboggan right into the off-leash area, risking doggie limbs and bites.
Those who whine that, even if you wipe every blade of grass clean with anti-bacterial cloths, you will never get rid of the fecal matter.
Things got so bad in Withrow Park that, tragically in 2004, the dogs of responsible owners paid the ultimate price when somebody – still not caught – planted poisoned hot dogs, killing one pet and sickening many others.
But, for all the focus on the conflicts between canine lovers and haters, little attention is paid to the flying fur between dog owners, right there in the not-so-happy-tales off-leash areas.
Now this I say as the slave to Jericho, the formerly unsocialized American Eskimo I adopted 16 months ago.
Hell on paws, he was both people and dog-aggressive. To say that reforming him was not only one of the biggest challenges of my life, it's also one of the proudest accomplishments. (Shout-out to Christine Holman (pictured here), Toronto's best people trainer and dog wrangler. She saved both Jericho's life and what was left of my sanity.)
Is he perfect?
Is any dog?
But I have learned never to unleash him before "introducing'' him to the other doggie denizens in the park, reassuring myself that he won't have a beef with any of them.
He sniffs their bums.
I sniff the air.
Which is why I tend to avoid Withrow during the Starbucks Hours. These are what many of us call the periods, after work on weekdays and late weekend mornings, when owners converge into little cliques, obliviously leaving their pets to run around or, in some cases, run amok.
Fights inevitably break out.
And I refer to the humans.
Sunday at Withrow, one woman brought in her rambunctious sheepdog puppy. Well, as any expert will tell you, puppies often upset the balance in a pack. When this pooch got into adult dogs' faces, the inevitable putting-puppy-in-its-place started. The young 'un had to learn doggie manners. But the woman snatched up her pup, screeching at everybody else, even though no harm was done.
Tuesday in another dog park, I was just leashing Jericho when in walked a couple with a huge muzzled mastiff-cross, pulling at the leash and dangerously out of control. As the other gambolling dogs approached, tails wagging, for the obligatory butt inspection, the monster dog reared up, snarling and growling, while its owners yelled at us to keep our dogs away.
My friend and colleague Susan Delacourt was playing with her little wiener dog Rosie in an Ottawa park when another dog snatched their squeaky toy. The owner then berated the speechless Susan because the purloined toy could have choked the bigger dog.
The list of owner offences is endless. Ignorance of doggie pack behaviour is a factor. But the worst sins are committed by those who don't give their pets, as Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan prescribes, adequate (and the right kind of) exercise as well as discipline, in that order. Instead, they lavish them with affection and, like indulgent parents, insist the other dog is at fault.
The thing is, most dogs quickly work out their differences.
It's owners who don't get it.
So many people think they deserve to be the leader of the pack.
But why give the rest of us a ruff ride?
A couple of things I would like to add/emphasize.
People who are anti-dog don't get their value in a city. Withrow is a huge park in the urban core. It would be a magnet for drug dealers and street prostitution if it weren't for us dog people coming through day and night.
Also, dogs keep people safe in other ways. My neighbours would really not have ever known me (and vice versa) if it weren't for all the dogs I have had over the years. Imagine their value to lonely older people, say. If you don't see them out with their dogs at their regular walk times, you'd check in on them right?
But there are responsibilities with dog ownership.
Dogs must be exercised. A lot. A tired dog is a good dog. Jericho and I cover at least six klicks a day, sometimes more. I often take him down to Cherry Beach, a wonderful off-leash area, where I can't keep him out of the water, even in March.
Just about the only time I let him off leash at Withrow is in the morning when the professional dog walkers I most respect are there with their charges. They make no excuses for bad doggie behaviour. They are alert and can read a dog's body language like you can read this blog post. They see trouble ahead before it begins. They are not there to socialize but to work.
More to the point, the trainer has to be good with YOU more than your dog. Just about any experienced handler can bring a dog to heel with a choke chain and a stern manner. But what happens when that trainer goes home? Do you feel you have the confidence and the knowledge to reinforce that training?
I hired two people before Christine.
One is an excellent trainer, experienced with police dogs and well-loved in the pitbull community for his work with rescues. However, this trainer was not good with me. He made me feel incompetent. As a result, both Jericho and I suffered. I should never have paid him upfront for a series of lessons. That should have been my first clue.
The second guy I hired I have nothing but utter contempt for. I was desperate, anxious and on the verge of having Jericho put down when I paid $600 to this supposed expert animal behaviourist who came recommended to me by a well-known doggie daycare facility in downtown Toronto. Had I been less of a nervous wreck, I would have figured out that this guy was full of dog poop with his advice to stuff Jericho full of treats every time we saw a person or dog on the street. Had I followed his very expensive but worthless counsel, I would have ended up with a fat and vicious dog.
Christine miraculously appeared on my doorstep just as I had completely exhausted all my emotional reserves.We still see her almost daily on our walks as she works with other clients.
Thanks to her, I now have a doggie who know accepts hugs from perfect strangers, and whom I am beginning to trust (but carefully) with children. As for other dogs, he'll never really join in the reindeer games -- he's really not interested in that running and jumping -- but he gets along with 99% of the dogs we meet.
Last month, at Easter, I took him home to Montreal with me and, on the big day of roasting the lamb on a spit, with some 60 people at my cousin's house, everybody remarked on how well-behaved he is, and how he is the ''most obedient'' dog they'd ever seen. My cousin has two huge hounds who were all over Jericho, one quite aggressively. He managed to conduct himself like a gentleman, and won altogether too many people food treats from the guests.
Anyway, last month we added to the family.
Coming home from dinner late one Saturday night, my date and I startled a kitty sitting in my driveway. I know all the cats in the area but I did not recognize this dirty, scabby, matted, skinny little mess. Long story short, she is not sitting two feet away from me.
Which is why I named her Tuna, short for Fortuna, because she is extremely lucky to have landed here.
Yes, she and Jericho get along fine. Except when she gets between him and his food. She eats like a lion and has put on two pounds plus since joining us. That's Jericho doing his best Dick Cheney impression after she got into his chicken.
Which brings me to the point of this post.
The pictures.This is all about these too cute pictures.
Yup. I have become a kitteh and doggeh blogger.
Even I am rolling my eyes.