The minute we walked into Bark in the Park, I could see we weren’t going to fit in. Dutchess seemed to be the only canine at the Dodgers’ bring-your-dog-to-the-game promotion wearing just the fur she was born with.
Outside the stadium where 537 pets gathered for a pregame “Pup Rally,” there were dogs in batting helmets, tutus, mirrored sunglasses and hot dog suits. Dogs with dyed blue mohawks and one with a blue and white rhinestone heart pasted on his shaved side.
A Chihuahua had a tiny mitt and ball attached to one paw and a blue pennant in the other. And if you’re thinking they were all dressed by wacky cat ladies, banish the thought. Plenty of tough guys had Duke or Chuy tricked out in ears-to-tail Dodgers regalia.
I don’t do dog costumes — well, maybe once or twice, on holidays. But I had begun to worry I was growing way too attached to my dog. I found myself reluctant to go out of town unless Dutchess came too. If she was in the back seat, I’d have to stop myself from steering into the carpool lane.
The moment of truth came when I burst into the house with my usual dog greeting, “Where’s my beautiful daughter?” and my real daughter responded acidly, “She’s right here.”
But my daughter is off on a year abroad, and I could not resist the chance to bring my Akita mix to the ballpark last Sunday. Nobody would nominate Dutchess for Miss Congeniality. She’s the President Obama of the dog world, cool on the outside and well .... cool on the outside. So I had some reservations.
But I seemed to be the only one. The handful of people I talked to were all sure their charges were having a riotously good time.
“Of course he loves Dodger blue. He’s a blue-nose,” Candice Beltran, a security dispatcher from Santa Fe Springs, said of her 10-month-old, 67-pound pit bull Molokai.
Roger Castle, a Venice fundraiser, strapped a miniature sports cam on top of his 45-pound pit’s head so he could record the dog’s-eye view of the event. “I think he knew we were coming today. When we got in the car, he was so happy,” Castle said.
And certainly most of the dogs seemed content. I didn’t spot a single dogfight, and there was scarcely any barking.
Dutchess, however, kept her head down and looked confused. After the costume contests were over, she showed some interest in climbing onto the stage but was pushed aside by someone trying to photograph a heavily adorned poodle.
Inside the gate, the maintenance staff was more appreciative of Dutchess’ natural beauty. “Oh, she’s so cute,” several said, leaning against their brooms. Once the snacks appeared, Dutchess perked up. Two-and-a-half Dodger Dogs later, we took our seats. Or rather I took my seat. Although I had bought Dutchess her own ticket, the bleacher bench was too crowded for a 60-pound dog, so she was relegated to sitting under my feet.
Behind us, Dee Dee (as in Ramone) lay under the feet of owners Abe and Anne-Marie Kinney. Abe Kinney, a Web developer, said Dee Dee was having fun. But when it comes to their dog, they are often driven by guilt, he added. When they visited the Sequoias, Dee Dee waited in the car while they raced down to see the big trees, then ran back again.
“She gives you those eyes when you leave, like ‘You know you can take me,’” Kinney said.
I knew exactly what he meant. I often slip out of the house in the morning to avoid Dutchess’ reproachful glare.
But when did we start feeling so guilty about our pets? The idea of putting off a vacation, or, for that matter, a single cocktail for our dogs would have struck my parents as pure insanity.
Our family loved our pets. But they were just there, like the furniture. We petted them, fed them the food we saw on the TV commercials but seldom walked them or took them for a drive. They had a yard to romp in, but so do my dogs. Yet I feel positively Cruella De Vil-ish if I don’t take Dutchess not just around the block but to Elysian or Griffith Park every day, and on weekends, to the beach or the mountains.
Concepts of humane pet treatment have evolved since my childhood, and hiking is fun and healthy for both of us. That’s fine. But a line is crossed when we convince ourselves our dogs want to be part of purely human activities. Or when we circumscribe our lives because of some misguided notion the dog will feel left out.
By the bottom of the fourth inning, the dogs whose owners had the good sense to book seats along the center aisle were sprawled out on the ground like so many battlefield casualties awaiting the medics. Dutchess periodically stood and seemed to gaze adoringly at Dodger star Andre Ethier. Or was that me? But for the most part, she simply lay there.
When the final out was called — the Dodgers won! — she yanked me full-tilt down the metal steps. The next day, she spent an inordinate amount of time licking the muck from the bleacher floor off her fur.
Far be it from me to question the other dogs’ enjoyment. But I am forced to conclude that Dutchess, good soldier that she is, merely endured the ballgame.
I’m taking a vacation without her this month. Let the dog be a dog.