A Walk in the Park

With More Dogs Than Owners, I Had Joined the Exclusive club Of People Who Had Lost Their Pets in the Sea of Ears and Fur

On The Town | Cory Hodges | February 2008

On a warmer winter day, near the U6 station Floridsdorf, I peered out the living room window at the glaring sun and decided that it was just too nice to stay inside. My dog Batty was staring up at me. She had obviously read my thoughts and was ready to seize this opportunity to get herself some time in the sun. With a tilt of her head and the click of a leash, we were out the door to find the dog park in the neighborhood.

We went to Floridsdorf, and then continued down Schöpfleuthnergasse, we turned onto the one way street An der Oberen Donau, and walked with traffic until we came to the street that crosses the river by the name of Am Nordbahndamm. We walked along that street for a bit to see if we could find the park. Fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves in "Doggy Disneyland."

The park, shielded from the wind by the massive trees that seem to be piñatas of fun for the dogs, was lush with green, even in January. I wanted to lie down on my back in the grass and close my eyes, and just for a split second to escape the chaos of the city for the serenity of the wilderness.

I opened the gate. Almost immediately, Batty had disappeared into the distance, where I could hear a symphony of barking mixed with the roar of frustrated owners desperately trying to regain control of the situation. There were more dogs in the park than owners, and I had joined the all-but-exclusive club of people who had lost their dogs in the sea of ears and fur.

There was every type of dog, from the smaller, yippy dust mop, that barked at everything through his bangs that made it difficult to tell one end of him from another, to the husky, who was serene and quiet and just stared at the louder dogs with his piercing blue eyes every time they let out a yelp of excitement.

There were tables and worn stone pillars that looked as though they had been left there by the Romans and had since been used as make-shift benches by exhausted owners looking to have a spot of rest and recuperation before returning to canine battlefield, where it was not uncommon to wrestle with a dog, regardless of size, over a stick.

I finally located Batty down by the Danube, where the small waves were breaking quietly against the shores of the pebble beach that runs alongside the park’s border. The water seemed to have a calming effect on the animals, any dog that came within ten meters of it seemed to be put in a daze. They would drink, and then lie down in the grass that borders the beach.

I looked around for a stick, and as it was a snowless winter, the ground was littered with sticks and twigs of various shapes and sizes. The choosing was difficult, but I wanted to go above and beyond and give Batty the biggest stick in the park. I found a fallen branch and began breaking it into pieces.

When I stood up, I was staring into the eyes of at least six, maybe even seven curious dogs, heads tilted and eyes all filled with the same intense look of anticipation. My heart sank. How do you deal with such an exuberant pack of other peoples’ ‘children’?

I looked around. No owners in sight. The park had almost cleared out, the only other human being in sight a man on his cell phone. As soon as he realized what had happened, he too started walking in the opposite direction.

Two hours later, I was still throwing stick after stick for a pack of about twelve tireless dogs – some smaller than a handbag – who were unable to keep up with the rest of the pack on their small legs. The others, larger than calves, sometimes took pity on the smaller dogs who had to take four steps for their every one. They even seemed to sit out for a few throws to give the smaller dogs a chance to get the sticks.

By the end, I was exhausted. I fell down on one of the conveniently located benches and my pack of dogs fell where they stood, all at once letting out a big sigh of satisfaction. So again, with a tilt of my head and a click of her leash, Batty and I walked home across the river. Back into the welcoming warmth of our living room.

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