Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Culture: Tough to be an Urban Dog

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Not far from where I live, there is a hydro corridor (that's a power line right-of-way for those south of the border) that serves as an unofficial off-leash area for dogs. It's a great place for this, as it is well-fenced except at a narrow entrance, and there is really no reason that anyone without a dog needs to use the corridor as there are parallel streets with sidewalks. The only reason I have ventured back there is that the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks run parallel to the hydro corridor, and there's a decent photo location near the middle of the stretch.

In the morning, from about 8 to 9 am, a significant group of people gathers with their dogs for a play session that can be pretty incredible to watch; I've rarely seen so many canines expending so much energy so quickly. The dogs pay so much attention to each other that everything else around, including electrical towers and people, are little more than obstacles.

After that groups disperses, though, there are rarely more than three dogs in the vast expanse of the hydro corridor, even on the weekend. The situation is very different than during the morning session. Rather than enjoying a play session with members of their own species, the dogs at mid-day seem to be desperate for attention. They'll bark, run right past you, run in circles in front of you, anything to get your attention. From Miniature Poodles to Retrievers to Great Danes, the behavior is basically the same.

The pet guardians (that's what we're told to call owners now), some of whom drive their pets to this location, may be trying to give their pets some exercise, but what the dogs really want to do is play with someone, human or canine. They are crying out for attention and social interaction. I hate to ignore them when I'm waiting for a photographic opportunity, but I'm not there to play with dogs, and when I ignore them, they soon start to ignore me.

I am far from a dog expert. I've never been in a residence that owned a dog, or had to care for one for any length of time, so maybe I'm completely mis-interpreting what I see in their eyes at the hydro corridor. But, based on the contrast between the morning play session and the rest of the day, it's hard not to reach that conclusion--and it sure looks like disappointment in their eyes when I won't pay any attention to them.

It must be tough to be an urban dog. There's no yard to play in at their guardian's residence, and when they get taken to the unofficial off-leash area at the hydro corridor, they can't even get strangers like me to play with them. I suspect there are a lot of Toronto dogs that wish they had been born on a farm.

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