I have of late been going to the Forest Park Dog Park quite a bit. Not for my own entertainment, exactly, but with a close friend. My friend loves the dog park, and so do I. It’s impossible not to love the dog park. Just driving by is happy. 

There are way more rules at the dog park than you’d expect. Considering the amount of humping and horseplay that goes on, it seems, at first glance, a fairly lawless place. Every other place I’ve hung out with that much humping and horseplay going on was pretty loose about protocol. Summer camp, high school, Vegas, the Washington Hilton during a particularly raucous conference … it’s a reliable pattern. Though I suppose if the conference attendees harbored as much potential for biting rivals and pooping on the floor, the Hilton might have buckled down too.

The list is hilarious in another way. Check this out: You must be registered. You must prove residency. You must prove you’ve had shots. (Not me. My friend.) You must pay a surprisingly large fee for a municipal service. My brother had this exact experience signing children up for school, and we have not yet even gotten to “Clean up your own mess.”

There are unwritten rules, too. We all appear to have reciprocal playing rights and disciplinary responsibilities — I can throw a ball for anyone, and I can also yell at anyone to settle down or be quiet or whatever. (Try that with kids sometime. Even odds you’ll wind up in the newspaper.)  

It’s easy to yell at the doggos, too, ’cause I know all their names. I don’t know the names of anyone else I’ve met there, though we’ve been introduced; I only know them by description. This is a weird reversal of how I’d have expected this would go. I mean, six months ago I would have expected to have described some of my fellow park-goers like “Judy at the park — her dog is the brown and white spaniel mix with the beautiful eyes, remember? — said the park is open all winter,” but in reality that sentence would absolutely come out “Barkley’s mom — you know, the pretty Latina who always looks like she just came from a job interview? — said the park is open all winter.”  

I think we all know all the dog names because every sentence starts and ends with them. Think “Sir, yes sir!”: “Daisy, put that down. Daisy!” “Brandy! Come here, brandy!” You memorize names fast that way. Next time I meet a bunch of new people, I’m going to propose we try this while everybody gets the names down: “Harold! What time is the breakout session on zero-day vulnerabilities, Harold?” “Rachel, pass the ketchup, Rachel!” “Mom! We have to go! Mom! MOM!”

(It probably also helps that dog names are memorable and interesting, whereas people names are people names. If the folks at the dog park were named Elvis and Cupcake and Buttons and the dogs were named Steve and Alex and Alicia, I might remember the people better.)

The dog park makes people outside the park happy too. Folks come and lean on the fence and talk to the dogs and smile. The dogs bounce around and woof and sniff and bark. People wave and dogs wag. Every so often, everyone on the inside runs a lap at top speed, I think just because they can. It’s really nice. Everybody’s happy. Pretty sure it’s because dogs are made of joy.