Dogs have a way of smelling the promise of affection in the air.
On a recent walk in the woods of Stony Brook Reservation in Hyde Park, my highly amiable dog suddenly sprinted toward a young man 50 yards away who, rather than panic, got down on his knees, opened his arms wide, and with a big smile exchanged kisses with my dog. Kindred spirits. Yet this less-than-svelte yellow Lab sometimes overestimates his popularity. He approaches strangers expecting to be best friends, tail wagging wildly, but his obvious charm and high spirits are summarily ignored or rejected.
And there you have why it’s a divided nation: There are dog lovers — I am one — and then there’s everybody else.
COVID-19 promises to widen the divide, as confinement has led to mass puppy acquisition. The dog economy is booming. In Boston, the increase in puppy ownership hasn’t shown up yet in the city’s dog registration system. Compared with the previous year, the number of dog licenses issued by the city actually went down about 7 percent in 2020, when there were roughly 10,100 licenses. (One explanation for the slight decline might be, ironically, the pandemic, which limited in-person services at City Hall. Then there are the rogue dogs: It’s been estimated that only 1 in 5 dogs in Boston is licensed.)
So, if the national “pandemic puppy” trend holds up in Boston, soon-to-be mature dogs will be matriculating in public spaces and will insist that their voices are heard. And the dog-owning bloc in Boston naturally keeps sniffing for opportunity and will not take rejection lightly. How does a dog park in every Boston neighborhood sound? That’s the city’s goal, Boston officials confirmed. But the issue became contentious in a recent meeting about Millennium Park in West Roxbury, according to Adam Gaffin’s Universal Hub report.
One park-goer said that Millennium Park, a summit built atop an old landfill, needs a dog park to keep the unleashed dogs of “entitled” owners who disobey leash laws away from those without dogs. The undercurrent of resentment toward the dog class is palpable in Boston. Just take a peek at the comments on Universal Hub: Someone wonders, “What about my giraffe park? . . . You want a dog, pay up for a private dog park.”
Dog parks could succeed in at least reducing the number of unwanted and sometimes dangerous human-dog interactions, but, despite the city’s stated goal, there seems to be little political will to build them. A long-sought-after dog park in Hyde Park never materialized, scuttled by the area’s former state representative. Another in Jamaica Plain was planned and then abandoned. Jamaica Plain, by the way, is the zip code in the city with the single highest number of dog licenses — just over 1,000 last year, according to city data; following closely is West Roxbury, with nearly 900 dogs registered.
Dogs want their due. And they should get it. Of course, parks dedicated to them aren’t a panacea, since a concentration of dogs sometimes doesn’t work out well, despite my colleague Matthew Gilbert’s book about how fulfilling dog parks can be for a community. Consider an incident that a parks official described to me: Two large dogs inside the South End’s Blackstone Square fenced-in dog park chased a smaller dog into the street, and the little one was struck by a car and killed. Random dog violence is common in dog parks, as when a boxer unceremoniously attacked my dog at a Brookline dog field during off-leash hours — twice.
But it needs to be said: There are no bad dogs, only bad owners. One doesn’t have to create an Instagram account for one’s dog to be a good owner (oh, but I have) or celebrate dog birthdays with special birthday cakes (guilty) or prefer the Puppy Bowl to the Super Bowl (is there even a choice?). But there is a level of responsibility and etiquette that comes with ownership. That includes licensing your animal, 100 percent poop pickup — no excuses — and following leash laws except when one is sure no harm or hassle will ensue.
The dogs are here. Perhaps they don’t have rights, but they just wanna run free. Let’s build them a few more places while also respecting the dog-less, who have rights too.