After a lifetime in this city, I embarked upon a rite of passage last week that I had happily managed to avoid all these years: the Central Park dog run.
Mostly due to laziness, I never walked our previous dogs any farther than the corner. I always assuaged my guilt by telling myself that the pet was free to roam upstate on weekends—even if we were too isolated for her to make new canine friends.
But my wife decided that Wallie, the newest addition to our family, deserved a social life. So she started taking her to the park, and returning with stories about how well Wallie played with others, how Wallie was something of a star, and how both she and Wallie were making lots of acquaintances.
I was happy for both of them, but not tempted to join them.
For starters, I write this column first thing in the morning, prime off-leash dog walking time in Central Park, which ends at 9 a.m.
Next, I’m not terribly sociable, particularly early in the day. My idea of hell is staying at a bed-and-breakfast where you’re expected to be pleasant to your hosts or fellow boarders over pancakes.
If the dog-walking rules could be altered ever so slightly so your dog could roam free at cocktail hour, and the cops agreed to look the other way when you arrived at the dog run with a martini in hand, I’d be more than happy to exercise the beast.
Finally, there’s my fear of the dog bolting. One of my most terrifying moments—ever—occurred in Central Park when I was around 10 and our Boston terrier, Skippy, started running toward traffic at approximately 30 miles an hour. I saw not only the dog’s life, but my own, flash before my eyes as I returned home to tell my mother that her beloved and pampered pooch was roadkill.
Fortunately, Skippy came to his senses at the last moment and managed to live several more years. When he eventually died, I had nothing to do with it.
But Wallie is different from all our other dogs. A Bracco Italiano, or Italian pointer, she falls into the “sporting” breed category. Her biological destiny is to hunt, to flush fowl from fields and streams. It’s not to be sitting in an apartment systematically consuming the carpets and furniture, and our personal effects whenever she’s not sleeping.
In other words, she needs exercise. Lots of it. Indeed, our only hope of salvaging our décor seems to be to keep the pooch in a state of perennial exhaustion.
The last time I wrote about Wallie she was a cute 22-pound puppy. At five months, she’s still cute by double the size and weight. Even though I’ve never owned a lion, I suspect the experience isn’t dissimilar from being dragged down the street by Wallie.
The circumstances that found me contemplating a visit on Thursday to Central Park arose because my wife was out of town, inconsiderately having left Wallie behind.
I couldn’t employ my boilerplate column-writing excuse because I don’t write a column on Thursday.
Hence, I faced my fears, leashed Wallie and headed out the door.
When we reached the park, it wasn’t even 8 a.m. However, people and their dogs were already leaving. They all seemed to know Wallie, though. One woman reported that she’d owned a Spinone, a longhair version of a Bracco. She described the breed as high maintenance, but confided that they calm down by the time they reach 3.
By the time Wallie is 3, we won’t have any furniture left. All our computer power cords will be gnawed through. Our leather shoes will have been reduced to beef jerky.
We made our way to where my wife told me Wallie meets his friends, but the space was occupied by a lone Dalmatian who showed no interest in anything but his ball and owner.
I was starting to feel lost—I called my wife who guessed that maybe everybody was out of town already for the Labor Day weekend, but counseled determination—and we continued on to Cedar Hill, a second spot she recommended, just inside the park at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Bingo! It looked like Westminster, but with the dogs running the show. There were big ones, little ones, purebreds and mutts—all raising a ruckus. Wallie was befriended by Whiskey, a Bernese Mountain Dog/Poodle mix.
But she really bonded with Pele, a 3-year-old Border Terrier with boundless energy. For the next 45 minutes Wallie and Pele chased each other around like a circus act—running, banking and rolling; they even took a water break together, sipping from a sprinkler. Which just goes to show that dogs, like people, have better chemistry with some than others.
I’m looking forward to Wallie and Pele having a long, fruitful friendship and many more play dates that end in almost crippling exhaustion. There are few things in nature more delightful than a sleeping dog.