I’ve been a pet professional in Michigan for over 20 years. I’m also a pet parent to Mozi, a year old mutt rescued from a shelter, and Hazel, a 9 year old Malmaute rescued from a disturbing situation. In the mitten state, “dog friendly” is a term that is just emerging. Dogs are not welcome in most professional settings, unless the dog is a service dog or therapy dog. Dogs are not welcome in shopping centers, restaurants, malls and most hotels. Despite the efforts of many members of the community in which I lived, a dog park isn’t even available for dogs and their parents to visit. Living on the shores of Lake Huron, one would assume dogs would be more than welcome to romp in the water, especially on public beaches. That is not the case; beaches are closed to dogs. As a pet professional, I battled hard for dogs to have adventures with their parents and be welcomed on patios at local restaurants. My pet service would sponsor local “dog walks” so like minded dog lovers could come together and enjoy the company of their dogs and others. It was an uphill battle the entire time.
When my family and I decided to move to Seattle, I was excited about the prospect of dog friendly living. I saw the story about the black lab who takes the bus to the dog park when the mood strikes. I was in awe that no one on the bus was bothered that they were sharing a bus with a dog. I felt that I was on my way to Oz. The drive to Seattle took us 5 days and I used those 5 days to daydream about life in the city with my dogs. I had visions of walking my dogs along the sidewalks of downtown Seattle, with a Starbucks coffee in one hand, poop bags in the other. I assumed there would be dogs parks placed in strategic places in the city, restaurants with patios where the dogs and I could sit and relax; me drinking some tea, them drinking from a shared dog water bowl, while a barista gave the dogs some treats. I assumed my visions were farfetched (pardon the pun) and I had to work hard to reign in my enthusiasm.
We arrived during the heat wave that has hit the west coast so hard. Seattle heat can’t compare to Michigan heat. Combined with high humidity and no breeze, Michigan heat is suffocating and can easily make one very sick. Seattle heat is just hot and uncomfortable. Due to the heat and temperature of asphalt, I couldn’t take the dogs downtown, so we decided to take our first adventures without Mozi and Hazel and explore our new hometown. Google maps became my new best friend and I discovered and visited so many dog parks just within miles of my new home. My head was spinning as I spoke to many pet parents who shared my enthusiasm about dog friendly living. We went downtown to explore and saw so many dogs trotting happily alongside their parents, unaware that in other areas of the country, this is unusual. We saw dogs dining with their parents, dogs exploring Pike’s Market, dogs sitting patiently while their parents played instruments or sang songs loudly on the sidewalks for spare change, dogs accompanying their parents while shopping. I thought I was prepared for a dog friendly life style, but once I started to take it all in, I was near tears, overwhelmed by the acceptance of this lifestyle and consumed with grief for all those dogs who will never experience this kind of kinship with their parents. As we wandered the streets of downtown Seattle, I found that I stopped and took a picture of every community dog water bowl that I saw; posting the pictures on my Facebook page sharing my enthusiasm for Seattle’s dog friendly lifestyle. Some of my Facebook friends thought I had finally lost it, while some of them celebrated with me. Even though my day dreams from my 5 day drive across the country were coming true; I was actually finding that dog friendly living was more than I had expected. One would think that I’d be happy; overjoyed even. However, I was overwhelmed. So many opportunities to enjoy a happy dog and I couldn’t decide where to start. I decided to slow down, make a list of the places I wanted to visit and take it one step at a time.
Acclimating to a new city is hard enough, but I was trying to acclimate to a new lifestyle; a lifestyle I had dreamed about, yearned for and anticipated for a long time. It’s hard to find the words to describe the difference between how dogs are viewed and treated in Michigan and how dogs are accepted and loved in Seattle. It’s as if I truly have gone to Oz.
As if that weren’t enough, I found out about a dog beach in Edmonds. A dog beach where the dogs were allowed to play in the water…off leash! Of course, I had to go. My first visit was astounding. My husband and I were speechless as we wandered through the gate and onto the beach. We found an old, washed up log to sit on and tried to take it all in. This must be what dog heaven is like; dogs running in the sand, swimming in the water, fetching balls that don’t even belong to them, people petting each other’s dog and dogs just being dogs with such enthusiasm it warmed my heart. No one was yelling or scolding the dogs for jumping or being messy. No one was telling the dogs to stop barking. No one was even phased that the dogs were digging holes in the sand. It was amazing. We sat there for over an hour just watching the dogs and their parents. I felt like a student in a new school; unsure if I would fit in, hesitant to approach new people, wondering if others automatically assumed that I didn’t belong there. I need not have worried. An elderly husky wandered over to where we were sitting. She nudged my hand with her nose, asking for some pets. Not knowing if it was bad form or not, I obliged the old girl’s request and she closed her eyes and sighed a little. She then turned away from me, dug a hole in the sand, which was nice and cool, then settled in for a nice nap, just a few feet away from where I sat.
The rules of engagement at a dog park/beach are new to me. I don’t know if it’s ok to correct another person’s dog; if it’s ok to snuggle with a dog I don’t know; if it’s ok to throw a ball for a beckoning dog. What I discovered is that the dogs make the rules at the dog beach. Their parents are not judgmental and as long as the dog initiates the contact, I was welcome to play and love and pet as many dogs as I possibly could; and I totally took advantage of the opportunities I was given. The dogs ruled and I finally found a little bit of peace. While I have so many more places to visit, so many more things to discover about this dog friendly life style I now live in, when it overwhelms me, I go to Edmonds and visit the dogs who are romping on the beach. Even if they ignore me, it’s a grounding experience to just watch the dogs be dogs; happy dogs who are loved and respected.