“And there’s a dog park right around the corner,” the previous owner told us in 2009 when we scraped things together and bought a house in Oakhurst. At the time, our misanthropic elderly Dalmatian was adamantly anti-social, so we didn’t have much reason to visit the Oakhurst dog park. And in any case, I’d grown up in a pretty rural area in the ’70s, where cows outnumbered people, and apple trees had the cows beat hands down. Dogs roamed wherever they felt like it, and came home for meals. I’d gradually gotten used to living in one city and another, over the years, and even the idea of living with a dog in an urban setting – but even so, I’d never really gotten the idea of a dog park. What did all the dogs do together there? What if you met someone you didn’t like? Wasn’t there lots of poop?
When we got our next dog, Wilbur, I thought I might as well try out the whole concept, although I still had misgivings that, in retrospect, sound pretty silly. The joke, of course, is that I was just channeling universal misgivings: I have not met those people. I have not met this situation. They are not familiar to me. I am uncomfortable. But I took a deep breath, and plunged into a new community.
Of course the people there turned out to be marvelous people, each in their interesting ways. That’s hardly a surprise, but it’s worth saying. It’s also worth saying, and true, that I met wonderful people there who turned out to be important friends in my life – that I’ve seen a bewildering range of interpersonal connections, from weddings to funerals, miscarriages and divorces to births and anniversaries, jobs lost and found, children in trouble and triumph, business partnerships formed, softball teams established, and genuine love and concern transcending any of the supposed boundaries of race, of religion, of sexuality, of income, of political bent that are trumpeted in the media as threatening the fabric of American communities. I’ve also seen all of those disparate individuals working together for the common goal of making a public space to share the public good.
It’s actually a little hard to communicate all that happens there without sounding hyperbolic. When friends from long ago ask me about living in Decatur, in Georgia, and our lives and what we do there, they inevitably ask – “and do you have a lot of friends there?” Yes, I say. “From where? From work, right? From your kids’ school?” Yes and yes, I say. “But mostly from the dog park.” I don’t think anyone really understands, but the dog park is really, as my friend Charles likes to say, “the new town square.” The dog park is where we go for humor and comfort and companionship. And beyond just to spend time with friends with dogs, the dog park is a space for us to celebrate together our shared dedication to community and to each other. In a way, just being at the dog park – whether I’m sitting and chatting, or throwing sticks, or cutting invasive plants or spreading mulch –helps remind me of being part of something bigger and better, something that helps Oakhurst remember and recreate everything that we value about being in this community together.
Denis Gainty, January 2, 2015