Pet pleasures: A walk in the park
From "Marley and Me" to "Hotel for Dogs," canines are the stars of Hollywood this season. But you do not need to go to the movies to see a feature attraction of dogs at play. Each morning between 7:30 and 9 am at Trade Wind Fields Preserve in Oak Bluffs, a Martha's Vineyard Land Bank property, a consortium of all varieties of canines converge. Accompanied by their owners, they sniff, chase, slide, somersault, head-butt, and roll in dead skunk, rotting leaves, or scudded snow. No filmed display compares with the early-morning antics and revelry of the fraternity of dogs who regularly play together on the windy plain of an Island airport for small privately owned aircraft.
Brought by their pets, Trade Winds is where humans come to tag along while their dogs engage in serious play. Once the pets are turned loose, the paths and woods take on the appearance of an everyday heaven for the cavorting dogs. Accompanied by owners who arrive swaddled in layers of winter gear with their faces wrapped inside scarves as protection against the wind, the dogs seem smugly warm enough in their own fur coats - only their ears blowing back against their heads to indicate any effect of the weather.
Photo by Peg Regan
Digging in the buried leaves, skidding on the frozen puddles, the dogs play like seventh-graders on a playground at recess. A stray tennis ball is amusement for some; a stick becomes 20-minute game of keep-away. Jewel, Lily, and Ruby take on Otto, Buster, Truman, and Sprout with gusto. Size and gender mean nothing. The Wheaten terrier Stella can bring down a 90-pound Labrador. A gaggle of tail-wagging clowns trip over one another's paws, catapult over bushes, and fall into a gently nipping frenzy while heedless, Rufus, the Papillion, walks delicately around the mayhem.
The myth that some breeds are more intelligent than others is dispelled at Trade Winds. No doggy intelligence test would suffice here. While alone at home, their individual abilities may seem keen, but grouped together in playful abandon, they all score brilliantly in fun. (The real brilliance of these canines is their forbearance for their owners.)
Their human escorts simply follow them around the perimeter, some carrying treats in their pockets to entice their errant dogs back onto leashes. There is a chorus of whistling and calling out mixed with the barking and howling of happy dogs. Somehow the pack all goes home with the same human with whom each arrived. And as the sun climbs high in the morning sky, the pack reluctantly departs - although some patient dogs have to wait by their car for a lost owner to find them.
Dog love is a wondrous thing. "I hope to be the person my dog thinks I am," is a truism most owners know. If faith in human relationships expires all too soon, fealty from a dog does not. To be loved by a dog is to be ennobled. Humans are elevated to a goodness that cannot be achieved without one. What we have done as a species to deserve such loyalty is hard to say, but medical studies show that humans are made healthier by their pets. Blood pressure decreases, and hearts heal faster. Perhaps our need for canine companionship is a reminder that we still have a lot to learn, and where better to receive lessons than in the audience at Trade Winds?
Peg Regan of Oak Bluffs was principal of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School from 1999 to 2008.