We live in an old brownstone in Boston’s Back Bay. There are 60,000 people living in the Back Bay. Geographically the Back Bay isn’t big, it runs from the Charles River to the South End, from Arlington Street to Massachusetts Avenue. The neighborhood is, if you like city living and we do, one of the country’s best places to live. It has everything you need and you can walk to get it when you need it. It's a good way to live.
The Back Bay is not only a good place for people, dogs like it too. 16,000 licensed dogs live here. There are two fenced dog parks, one on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall a block from Mass Ave, another one, the newest, is on a piece of land alongside and just below the Mass Ave bridge. But most of the dog people, from early spring to late fall prefer to take their dogs to the Charles River Esplanade. There the dogs can run off leash, play, fight and fuck (or at least try to) to their doggy heart’s desire.
We are dog people and over time you get to know the other dog people. You see them every day. You say hello, some of them become friends, good enough friends to have drinks with after work, sometimes even dinner. I’ve seen dog people meet over their dogs, begin to date, fall in love and get married and create a 2 dog household. I’ve also seen dog people get divorced and fight over custody of the poor, confused dog.
Dog people wear dog clothing, old, versatile, weather appropriate clothing with big pockets for treats, brushes, extra leashes, collars and plenty of plastic poop bags. Dog clothing is, fashion wise, only one small step above homeless clothing styles. I used to see a woman and her Huskie every day, month after month. One day I was eating lunch on the sidewalk of a café on Newbury Street. I heard my name and felt a hand on my shoulder. There was a beautiful, sophisticated, sparkling woman, great clothes, great shoes, perfect makeup and hair. I stared and finally she said, “I’m Igloo’s Mom.” Christ, I was stunned at her transformation. I was speechless.
Back Bay Dog people always pick up after their dogs, if they don’t pick up the shit. They get plenty of shit from the other Dog People. After a couple of vicious tongue lashings, they always fall in line and do the right thing.
One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning, while she sleeps in, in good weather of course. Is to walk our dog from Mass Ave to Charles Street along the river. On Charles Street, I pick up a fresh loaf of bread from a small bakery along with a cup of coffee and a donut, usually a plain, sometimes I get chocolate covered or if I’m in the mood a croissant. I buy a Globe from the old mick selling the papers on the corner of Charles and Beacon, walk through the Public Garden, across Arlington and find a nice bench in the sun on Comm Ave. I wrap the dogs leash around my thigh, he sits next to the bench, I drink my coffee and read the paper. Since she loves to sleep in on Sunday and I get up early no matter what day it is, she gets her undisturbed sleep and the dog and I get our walk and fresh air, it’s a perfect trade. One Sunday morning, a dog person I knew only by sight came by my bench, she said hello and asked, “Are you going to see your mother today?” It was Mother’s Day. I said, “No, my Mom is in the Midwest.” She asked me where in the Midwest, I told her the town. The Dog lady laughed, “That’s my mother in law’s home town.” She told me her mother in law’s name. Her mother in law was my Mother’s best friend when they were kids. Sometimes the world is very small.
On the corner of Hereford Street and Comm Ave, there’s an old, 4 story mansion converted to a very expensive assisted living home. The old Brahmins who live there love the dogs, they watch them from their mansion windows while they play in the dog park. Some of them, the healthy and spry ones (even the ones in walkers and wheelchairs) come out of the old mansion, sit on the benches and pet and love up the dogs. Almost all of them are retired dog people and our dogs make them smile and make their eyes light up. For their effort, they get doggie kisses and the dogs get treats. Everybody has a good time.
Our dog is a German Shepherd. His best friend is another German Shepherd named Phoenix. I’ve become a good friend of Phoenix’ “Dad”. We meet most mornings on the Charles. We talk and throw balls for our boys. Phoenix’ Dad is a civil engineer, he’s the lead engineer on the new Portland, Oregon water system. He had to leave Boston for Portland for a couple of months when construction was getting underway. His baby sister, a student at Boston University, moved into his condo and doggysat Phoenix while he was gone. The baby sister is a varsity lacrosse player at BU and rather than throw a ball for the dogs, she brought her Lacrosse racquet and flung the ball for the boys. One morning Phoenix got to the ball first and the dogs raced back for more. Phoenix was about 30 feet from me and he keeled over. The sister and I ran up, the dog was out cold. I could see the Lacrosse ball stuck in his throat and he wasn’t breathing. I lifted him up between my legs and gave him the Heimlich maneuver. The ball popped out. Phoenix took a deep breath, shook his head and was ready for more. I handed the sister a tennis ball to replace the smaller Lacrosse ball and the dogs were back in action.
Most of the Back Bay dogs get along as well as their owners do, but our dog has one mortal enemy. The dog is a big, black New Foundland named Teddy. They’ve never had a fight, but if our boy spots or smells Teddy from a block away he goes crazy, Teddy the Newfie responds in kind. The two of them make more noise than an entire pack of dogs. On the other hand, in addition to Phoenix, his other doggie best friend is little, fluffy, black and white Molly. Molly is blind and he treats her with great gentleness, kindness and love. Molly likes to snuggle up next to him. I wouldn’t suggest anyone try to harm Molly when our boy is around, you’d get your ass whipped or at minimum a nasty bite. And you’d deserve it.