Dogs on the Beach
Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: Dana Rose, Mine Studios
They run, they frolic, they’re beautiful, they poop. Plastic bag? Paper bag? Surgical gloves? Where do you put it? What do you say to the beautiful lady you just met on the beach with her well-behaved, rescued Greyhound, as your huge Lab fouls what seems like slightly over an acre of sand, possibly due to the entire rack of lamb she stole from the dining room table the night before?
I grew up in a dog-less home. For pets, I mostly had turtles. And mostly, the turtles died (two escaped). When the goldfish died, we all said a little prayer around the commode since we were a good, Midwestern Catholic family.
The parental explanation for our dog-less household was that we lived “in town” and pets, specifically dogs, needed a place to run and be free and there was no place “in town” for them to run and be free. “It wouldn’t be fair to the animal,” my parents would say each time I brought the subject up. Even though we had a huge yard and my friends had dogs “in town,” I somehow bought into my parents’ logic.
Then, one fateful day when I was eight, my friend Bobby got a miniature Schnauzer. My drumbeat for a dog rose to a new level. “DOG!” But parents get to be parents for a reason. Most of the time, they’re smarter than their eight-year-old kid. The reason given for us to remain dog-less was that Bobby lived in the suburbs (four blocks from our house) where dogs could roam free. But we still lived “in town,” freedom denied. Then they added one final argument: “Who will end up taking care of it?” I was a mature eight-year-old, so I knew the answer: “I WILL, I WILL,” I more or less screamed, to no avail.
It wasn’t until years later I came to the startling realization concerning my parents: They knew the chore of looking after “my” dog would fall to them and, more importantly, both had a deep-seated aversion to, well, the dejecta of dog ownership, i.e., waste, elimination, or—though I am sure it is politically incorrect but more descriptive—poop.
Fast forward several decades to Hilton Head Island. We live a few minutes from the beach. We have two dogs. (Why two?) I say “we,” my family: wife, two pretty much grown kids, and the dogs. Unlike my parents, the dogs are part of our family and everyone, excepting the two sources of the “waste,” is skilled in dog dejecta removal. Living on Hilton Head Island, that’s sort of a given. If you are ever caught not cleaning up after your dog—especially on the beach—not only will you be fined, one or more of the following will happen: you’ll be spurned at Rotary; you’ll be shunned for months at your Zonta meeting; hate letters will appear in the Island Packet and Bluffton Today linking you to a terrorist group, and/or you find you’re being pulled over on a regular basis for minor traffic violations (“Sir/Ma’am, your rear wiper blade is worn out. Assume the position.”)
I abandoned my parents’ “in town” pet distinction long ago, seeing it for the ruse it was. Our dogs have fun, they frolic, they run, they (and I) get exercise, they lay “waste” and it gets removed. However, when it came to my parents’ second admonition against dog ownership, i.e., “Who will end up taking care of it,” their rhetorical answer—“the parents”—was absolutely right.
When our 100-pound Labrador Retriever was more like 100 ounces, everyone doted on the cute little thing. Food, water, exercise, training, waste removal, all of these chores were happily handled. Same thing for the second dog several years later. A Chow-Shepherd mix, he was simply a ball of soft fur with legs. The sense of familial devotion to the little guy brought tears to my eyes. It was difficult enough to follow the big Lab out on the beach with my biodegradable “Pooch Pick-up” bags at the ready. With two of them, how was I going to…? Where was I going to…? My tears were real.
Somewhere along the road of life, I had been told that owning a dog helped you develop a sense of discipline and responsibility. I think my wife told me that just prior to our welcoming the first dog into our lives. At the time, I thought she was talking about the kids, not me.
I fondly remember that aphorism on those early morning walks on the beach when the wind chill factor is below freezing and shivering rain and gale force winds are coming in off the ocean. The Lab loves it then. The Chow wants to move to the Keys. At least that’s the direction he pulls me, while the Lab, pulling in the opposite direction, wants to frolic in the icy surf. And, of course, they both joyfully “eliminate” at the same time. It is then that I find the bag that my biodegradable “Pooch Pick-up” bags are in has filled with water, leaving something of a soggy mess…
I have learned that children abandon the care and feeding of dogs the first time the dogs leave a little “mistake” in their bedrooms. I can still hear the whispers behind cracked bedroom doors the following day. “Has dad walked the dogs yet? Has he fed and watered them? Is it safe to come out? It still smells in here. He’d better hurry or we’ll be late for school…”
As for the lady with the rescued Greyhound, she told me she would hold both leashes while I ran back to our house for a bucket and rake. That would be three dogs. My two outweighed her by about 40 pounds, but I had little choice. When I returned, the three dogs were lying at the lady’s feet. Even our “doesn’t play well with others” Chow was docile. No treats were on display. Unbelievable.
I raked up a bucket of sand and “waste,” the Boy Scout in me saying I was leaving the beach better than I found it.
“Sweet dogs,” the beautiful lady said as she handed me back the two leashes and went on her way, as graceful as her Greyhound.
With my heavy bucket and rake in one hand and the two leashes in the others, the three of us trotted back home. Both dogs heeled perfectly. I’d been trying to teach them that for years. I looked at the bucket of sand, the rake, the dogs and just started laughing. On the first page of the dog training manual I’d used to get the heeling business down pat, there was a quote from a popular 1920s writer, Corey Ford. It read, “Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.” That morning, I figured I was still in training.