We had already lived in New York for a year when we discovered it. A year since my husband and I moved from New Jersey to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, a year since the most awfully timed disaster of the loss of a family member to brain cancer. That the family member was a dog, my best friend and companion of almost 10 years, mattered not at all. Or maybe it mattered entirely, but the fact was that Oso died two weeks after we moved to New York, and I had been holding a poisonous grudge against the city for the whole time I’d lived here.
None of us dealt well with the loss of Oso, including our other dog, Doxy, an agile shepherd mix of dubious lineage who was also having to adjust to city life: no yard, as she enjoyed back in Jersey; alone all day, as we had taken “real” jobs in the city to support our new lifestyle renting in Brownstone Brooklyn; and, suddenly, no big brother to protect her. She acted out on our walks, snarling at other dogs, then, when she was off-leash, cowering and drooling in the corner of our crappy neighborhood dog park by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Doxy and I were both at the end of our ropes, when our friends who lived in Park Slope mentioned the off-leash hours at Prospect Park. They had recently adopted a high-energy terrier mix who needed a lot of running, so they were in the park almost every morning. “You have to come,” my friend gushed. “It’s dogs – everywhere.” Dogs running…that rang a heavy bell in my memory of days back in North Carolina when Oso was a puppy, a wild, fiery red puppy that I raised to run the parks and trails with his friends. The chow in him made training him to come back to me a challenge, but his golden retriever genes evened that out with age.
I hesitated: Doxy hadn’t been enjoying the dog parks in Brooklyn, and she was a runner, but of a different ilk – the kind that didn’t always come back. What would our wild child, unmoored, do? We decided to risk it. She loved our friends’ dog, so hopefully she’d want to stay with the pack.
It was a cool spring Sunday morning the first time we went out. Doxy ran to her friend like she hadn’t seen him in weeks, and they immediately began doing the most beautiful thing, something I had not seen in a long time, nor quite understood the importance of missing: Running.
Free dogs running is a thing of such simplicity, such innocence, that those of us watching can’t help but feel their joy. Especially in a place like this, where sidewalk life has such strict rules, and good leash behavior is prized above all. Here, they get to be free; they get to be dogs. Forming and easily breaking packs, sniffing new friends, chasing old ones, meeting new people, barreling into the lake at the “dog beach,” these dogs must be as happy as it’s possible for a creature to be. I was running in my heart with Doxy, aware for the first time of how wonderful a place this was, how lucky we were to live in New York, in a place where dogs can do this every morning.
Off-leash hours at Prospect Park kept me in Brooklyn. They opened a little door in my heart for the city. If it could be that cruel to one of my dogs but that good to another, it couldn’t be all bad. And then I remembered: This was another circle closing. Oso and Doxy had both been to this place, long before, but not with us.
One weekend, years ago, we’d gone out of town and a friend who lived in Brooklyn kept the dogs. He took them to Prospect Park. But only Oso got to run; our friend knew he’d come back, but he wasn’t sure about Doxy. She was confined to the leash and had to watch Oso run into the lake and come out spraying water all over a group of children who laughed and ran. Oso laughed and ran, too. He was here, and now that his little sister was tasting the same city-freedom, the whole family was back together, for a moment at least, settled in Brooklyn at last.