Nobody likes a dog-poisoner. it's a Grimm's fairy tale kind of thing to be. But that didn't stop whoever spread insecticide around the leash-free area of Withrow Park, poisoning 16 dogs. My sympathies fall on both sides of the controversy. There's the dog freedom side of it: Must these beasts always live on a leash? Can't they ever run and frolic? On the other hand, good friends of mine have been bitten and have ever since made sure to stay a sensible distance away from canines - something you can't always do in Withrow Park, especially if you've come to toboggan.
Still, dog walkers make the park a much safer place. Almost any hour of the night someone's out there under the moonlight throwing some kind of glowing red laser ball for the darting shadow of a dog. It's kind of like a volunteer canine corps. And, really, the walkers are quite good about the feces situation.
It's in no one's interest to turn the park into a squirming gauntlet of dog shit. In fact, the self-policing on the leash-free site can be exacting. Should you have your back turned at the moment your dog has chosen to circle and squat, you could easily have up to three people alert you to the fact. God help you if you don't have a plastic bag to pick up the still warm defecation and deposit it in the garbage can.
I've even seen people scale the small Everest of snow heaped up by the Zamboni at the back of the ice rink in order to retrieve a turd on the peak. Because it's there. Sure, there are exceptions. But the responsible citizens of Riverdale also organize a volunteer work group who comb the park every spring picking up thawed, freeze-dried and fossilized feces of all kinds.
And there are lyrical moments, too - like the man and woman who kept meeting over the side-by-side droppings of their dogs. Those two fell in love and have since set up house in double-doggery. Sadly, one of their dogs caught the poisoner's wrath. Happily, it lived.
I spent many years trying not to like dogs, but they are so hard to resist. For one, they can be very useful. For instance, when you don't want to lie around on the couch with your spouse watching TV, you can always get the dog to do it for you. And in my own grimmest moments, the sight of the dog on its back wriggling joyously in the snow makes me smile.
Whatever else, they do have heart. Their ability to bring out a deep sense of loyalty and care in humans has made them useful in prison programs for the rehabilitation of hardened criminals. And you have to respect an animal that will tug on a chain about its neck, like an ox with a plough trying to uproot a huge boulder, all just to sniff a flower. Or an asshole.
Yes, the aromatic dog anus is the canine mecca. There is no Edwards Garden like this buffet of assholes running around in the park. Each one an olfactory rainbow of dog funk. Surely, they're up to magic with their arcane manoeuvres, their weird circlings.
Sometimes I fantasize we dog walkers are all amnesiac witches and wizards, and the dogs, our unconscious familiars, are trying to reawaken us, to tug us down through a nexus of tangled leashes and, as they all dash away in opposite directions, we on the other ends are dragged toward each other, knocking heads, reconnecting.
Surprising numbers of writers, media people and rock stars walk their dogs in Withrow Park. Nobody says their names. People are known by their dogs' names. Marley's owner. Romeo's owner.
Eventually, there's the prospect of babes, too. Babes with dogs. In a city of beautiful women this is bound to happen. Ancillary benefit - women who run with dogs. Interesting grey-headed gals full of pointed opinions and lush bosoms. I don't even pretend to talk about sports. Or breeds. Or why the dogs eat dirt in the spring. Or how dog walking is such great exercise.
I've started to miss them now. A week and a half after the poisonings, the yellow police tape, like some kind of territorial pissing, still circumscribes the park preventing entry.
Meanwhile, I run into various elements of the dog walking diaspora all over the neighbourhood, and the poisonings are the first thing discussed.
My neighbour, folksinger Danny Bakan, is one of the organizers of the Furry Folk Festival. He and I discuss what might happen when the park reopens. We agree that it will probably only feel safe again when the perpetrator is caught.
He suspects there will be some changes, too. He thinks the oft lax off-leash law may be enforced more. Perhaps the dog area will even be fenced in. We both acknowledge that such changes might be necessary, but then we say it almost as one. "The thing is - then it's like the terrorists win."