It probably goes without saying that one of the themes of this blog is alienation. Hell, the title of the thing is Lost in Montgomery, so it makes sense that it would constantly touch upon the idea of being adrift in a bewildering world not of our making.
Yet, despite being optimists committed to relentless world improvement, we sometimes slip into the trap of low expectations. Worse, those low expectations are sometimes still not met by a universe staffed by the chronically inept and lazy.
Such was the case when we got a radical idea in our heads: We wanted to take the dog to a dog park other than the one single tiny dog park in our city (which, actually, isn’t technically a dog park).
A little Internet poking around convinced us that there was a good dog park in our neighboring city just to the north, Prattville. Since the dog loves road trips, this seemed ideal. Off we went to Cooter’s Pond.
And while expectations were low, what we discovered was just pathetic. First of all, the place isn’t exactly easy to find. Sure, there’s a sign at the turn off that directs you to Cooter’s Pond, but there are no follow up signs that tell you to keep right and go past the water treatment plant. Consider yourself thus warned.
Bear to the right and you’ll see the entrance sign for the Cooter’s Pond park, but nothing distinguishes for you the difference between, say, the parking area amid the pickup trucks and professionally sponsored fishing boats seeking to use the boat ramp, and the, well, dog park. The boat ramp is easy to spot, but you don’t find the dog park until you loop around, turn right up a side road, pass some areas that appear to be impressive scientific exhibits on out-of-control kudzu overgrowth, and continue on past some pavilions where people are having birthday parties. Then, just past the playground equipment that evokes pity for the children touching the sun-scorched metal, beyond the tipped over trash cans, there lies a rectangle of fencing.
You park, glancing around in hopes that some other rubes have also decided to take their canine friend to this Godforsaken patch of barren land. There’s no shade. There’s no bench. It’s just a rectangle of fence, filled with dying grass that crunches underfoot like some kind of breakfast cereal that has been left out in the 95 degree Alabama June heat.
The dog looks up at us as if we are crazy.
“You took me out of the air conditioned car, with the window that I can stick my head out of … for this?”
We poured her a bowl of water and threw a few tennis balls, cringing at the sun that was pounding us relentlessly. Why did we come here in the daytime? Why can’t that kudzu creep a bit faster towards us and cover us with its leafy shade?
Evidently, this dog park is relatively new, some sort of city project. There’s a sign donated by Leadership Autauga, which almost certainly has no idea how desolate their dog park has become. Someone donated some trees, which are humorously anchored to the ground with enormous straps, ensuring that they will grow straight and true, providing shade to some humans and dogs in the year 2040. Sadly, we missed the hilariously named “See Pick Eat Nut Grove.”
It is possible that the dog park is more enjoyable in less apocalyptic heat. It is possible that other humans and canines go to the dog park at times, creating the desired effect of dogs playing with one another, exercising, as their owners make awkward small talk. It is possible that we simply went at the wrong time and it’s possible that what seems out of the way and bewildering to us is, in fact, quite convenient to the people that live in Cooter’s Pond, the rental pavilions, or the water treatment plant.
At some point Montgomery will have a dog park. Because that’s what real cities have. Not a quarter acre fenced off somewhere for weirdos to roam shiftily after their poor (and poorly shaved) dogs, but a real dog park. Because the city’s trying to get all New Urbanism on us, and those people have dogs, and dogs like to hang out (in general) with other dogs.
So the real question is: what should it look like? It should be big, first of all, with enough room to walk a little trail or otherwise have a fun experience for the human. What keeps people coming back to dog parks is their enjoyment, not just their dogs’ interest in chasing and sniffing a few butts. It’s not going to kill the city to make a nice big park and designate it off-leash. They can even pave the trails with shredded Christmas tree leavings like they do in Seattle. There should be shade and benches. There do not need to be a bunch of “dog fountains” and other tricked out dog niceties that dogs will ignore.
And it should be somewhere where people are actually likely to go. Often. Not some weird place up in the sun out in the middle of nowhere.