"Live girls. No cover."
Oh good, the strip joint. I was getting close. Now I just had to watch for the other landmarks: the junkyard, a burger joint, a gun club. Hmmmm. Interesting neighborhood.
Creeping in the back way, as I was told to by my source, I parked the car and walked as far away as I could from the handful of other people in the park. I looked around furtively. Did I see uniforms? Could I be caught? I took a deep breath and decided it was worth the chance.
I let the retrievers go off their leashes and watched as they ran gleefully for the lake.
Yes, it's true. When it comes to running my dogs, I'm a lawbreaker. And I'm not alone. In veterinary waiting rooms, in pet stores, at dog shows and on the Internet, a massive underground of determined dog lovers trade information on places to run our dogs.
We hate being criminals; we'd rather be legit: Give us some dog parks.
Most times I drive out of my city to a place where my dogs are welcomed off-leash. I've driven an hour, sometimes two, for the privilege of letting them swim legally. Although my community is slow to embrace the concept of dog parks, others in the region are not. The dog parks I visit are full of responsible pet lovers who play by the rules and govern by peer pressure. Leave a pet mess behind? Prepare to be yelled at. Dog untrained? Prepare to be lectured. Dog parks are too new, their existence too tenuous and altogether too precious. And those of us who use them aren't about to lose them because of the occasional chowderhead.
I'd choose a dedicated dog park to run my dogs in anytime. But I can't always drive out of town, so I also drive to local places where I let my dogs go off-leash illegally. I go at odd hours, when I know a park will be empty, and never on weekends. My dogs are friendly and well-socialized, they are under voice control, and yes, I clean up after them.
Why should dog lovers have to play this game? In terms of sheer numbers, we are a larger population than either tennis, soccer or softball players, all groups whose needs are recognized and addressed by those who plan public facilities. Our dogs are our chosen form of recreation, and we deserve facilities as much as any other group.
What worries me even more is not the people who run their dogs illegally, but those who never run their dogs at all. Exercise is one of the most important -- and least-recognized -- components of dog care, especially for large dogs. Destructive and anti-social behaviors find their roots in boredom and unspent nervous energy. How many dogs would be spared a trip to the shelter if only they had a place to be socialized and exercised on a regular basis? Considering that behavior problems are a top reason for abandonment, the numbers could be considerable.
Dog parks work, and they're just as good for dog haters as dog lovers. If the recreational needs of dog lovers are covered, it's perfectly fair to crack down on them elsewhere. Steep fines for off-leash dogs are justified in areas of high human use, just as long as there are alternatives elsewhere for off-leash play. And dog parks encourage responsible ownership, with the result being healthier, happier, better-socialized dogs. Such dogs are good citizens.
I don't like being a criminal, and I wouldn't be if my legitimate needs as a dog lover were recognized. If you feel the same way, let your elected officials know about it. Every community is capable of putting aside some space for dogs. Don't feel like writing a letter? Clip this column and send it to the decision-makers in your community. Your dogs will thank you, and so will mine.
PETS ON THE WEB
Felice Rood is a dynamo, a one-woman army fighting for the good of turtles and tortoises everywhere. Felice's World of Turtles (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/felicerood) finally lets more people in on the commonsense care tips and lively sense of humor she previously shared only with members of the Sacramento Turtle and Tortoise Club. Best bets: excerpts from the club's newsletters, especially Rood's stories of her pets. The care sheets for various species are lifesavers. The site would be helped out a great deal, though, by links to other sites devoted to these charming beings, such as the extremely comprehensive site of the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society (www.nytts.org).
Hooded cat-boxes can be helpful in keeping odors down and snack-seeking dogs out of the litter, but there's more to the story. If you choose this kind of pan, don't forget that you must be stay current on your scooping duties -- even if you can't smell the mess, your cat can. Don't blame your cat for mistakes if you aren't diligent about cleanup. Another thing to remember: Hooded boxes should not be used if your cat has asthma because such cats need the increased ventilation of an open-air box.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I was a little upset about your answer to the person asking about border collies. A lot of what you said was correct, but you gave a false impression on some things.
I'm the president of the Border Collie Club of Northern California, and I live with seven BCs. No, I do not own land or sheep. Many of us don't, yet we and the dogs do just fine.
All dogs need interaction with their people. Left to his own devices, any dog will become a pain. BCs love toys and love to retrieve. And even a middle-aged, overweight person such as myself can throw a ball or Frisbee to give them exercise. I like it that they are so smart -- it makes life more fun. Most are sensitive, can be protective, and usually love to play with children.
If someone is looking for a particular breed, read all you can about that breed, talk to anyone and everyone who has that breed, meet as many breeders as possible, go to breed shows, ask questions, contact the AKC, and don't be quick to take the first dog you see. As with all breeds, some lines differ, and some are calmer than others. I too do not want them in the wrong hands. There are too many in rescue now! Also, sometimes an older BC would be just the ticket for someone.
I have had many other breeds, but none compare to the BC. -- Janice Gillman, Ione, Calif.
Q: Thank you for telling people how it is with border collies. I have been owned by border collies my entire life, most of it on a farm. We now live in a small town, and even with our 10 to 20K runs every day, they need more! I have rescued (adopted from owners who were going insane) six BCs. Without constant stimulation, they will give themselves a task, usually destructive one that's hard to break. I love the breed and could not do without my collies, but I hate to see the confusion and loss when they are abandoned. -- Mary Cafik, via e-mail
A: There is no breed quite like the border collie in terms of brains, drive and athleticism. And there's no doubt a border collie will be quite miserable in the hands of someone who can't or won't work to fulfill the needs of this breed. You can do without the sheep, but not without time and dedication.
Janice Gillman's advice is on the money. You simply must know what you're getting into, no matter what kind of pet you're thinking of adding to your household. All pets require a measure of time and responsibility, and some require a great deal of both. Be prepared in advance, and be prepared to follow through. You owe it to your pet.
Q: I was reading your "what to do if you find a lost pet" column, and you said to check for a microchip. What is the microchip? How does it work, and how is it put in an animal? -- C.D., via e-mail
A: The microchip is permanent identification about the size of a grain of rice, injected using a large needle. For dogs and cats, the chips are imbedded in the loose skin over the shoulder blades; for birds, the chips go in the breast.
Each microchip carries a unique number, which is read when a scanner is waved over it. That number is then matched up with information that will reunite the pet with his family.
Microchips were once of dubious value for returning lost pets because one company's chips couldn't be read by another company's scanner, and shelters couldn't and wouldn't cope with competing systems. That's changed, with moves by manufacturers toward one industry standard. It'll cost anything from $20 to $50 to have your pet "chipped" by your veterinarian, but it's a good investment in your pet's safety.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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