"So do they just jump in there? Is that the--do they just jump in?" A bookish man in a lavender shirt held a leash gingerly while his dog, a mutt of some sort, sniffed at the passing crowd, wrapping the leash around the man's pale legs.
He had asked me, the only person in sight not gripping a leash, or pulling at a collar, or chasing a dog, or watching one pursue a tennis ball in the swimming pool. For the final two days of the season, Bryan Park Pool was closed to taxpaying city residents but open to dogs. The annual "Drool in the Pool" attracted some of Bloomington's most cheerful dog owners, people who didn't seem to mind sweating on shade-less concrete, stumbling over leashes, or brushing against the wet fur of dozens of strange dogs.
I nodded to the man, who unfastened the leash and watched his mutt bolt through a landscaping hedge toward the shallow children's pool, where a few dogs swam willingly and others clawed at the ground as their owners dragged them into the water. Like most involuntary attendees here, the mutt had no apparent interest in the main Olympic-size pool, where a scattering of tennis balls bobbed forlornly. A German shepherd leapt after one and I stepped out of the way of its loudly cheering owner.
Earlier I had asked at one of the dog food display tables if I might take a couple of the sample treats for help making friends. The woman at the table noted my lack of a companion, nodded without warmth and said, "You can take one." I snapped it into smaller pieces to make it last longer.
It's not that I don't like dogs, or that they don't like me. Though I do find wholesomeness allergic in concentrated amounts, especially in this highly eco-conscious college town. I am sometimes forced to flee the farmer's market or Sunday evening folk concerts in the park before my skin breaks out. I don't go near fun runs. This afternoon there was a determination to have healthy family fun that hung thick in the muggy air, and the dogs had no choice but to play along.
The "best trick" contest was about to begin, so I walked away from the judging area and the announcer with the bullhorn. A woman carrying an infant in a sling called after a three-year-old to come back, chasing him in short, hurried steps. A bulldog snarled and lunged at a dog of some meeker breed, which dove beneath the legs of its owner. The man busily tried to convince the bulldog's owner that he wasn't upset, he was having a fabulous time. It was the most violent encounter of the day; most of the dogs seemed subdued by the heat, excited enough to sniff and explore, but lacking the enthusiasm of their owners.
I watched one woman try to coax her Labrador toward a tennis ball in the pool. Mercifully, she was not wearing an "Isn't this a great community event?" expression; she was too focused on her dog. The Lab leaned toward the water and pawed at the ball with a leg about four feet too short to reach it. Its hind legs were splayed and its rear end quivering. After studying the situation from a number of vantage points, it finally jumped. It reached the ball easily and paddled to the ledge, but it found climbing out difficult. It heaved itself upward several times, clawing clumsily at the ledge, and crashing back into the water each time.
A teenage pool worker came over with a white pole, about five feet long, meant for rescuing dogs. He offered it to the Lab, which ignored it. I asked later if a dog could be pulled out if it bit the pole firmly enough. The boy said no, the best way was to lead the dogs to the ramps set up for the occasion to help them out of the pool. "It didn't really work," he conceded. He saw only five or so dogs use the ramps all night; the rest muscled their way over the ledge.
The struggling Lab, surprisingly, managed to do just that. He emerged from the pool panting, water streaming down his coal black sides and puddling beneath him.
"Good boy, Jack," his owner said. She turned to her friend: "Lamest dive ever."
Jack shook some of the water from his fur, avoided the woman's petting and trotted over to where I was sitting. He sniffed my lap, shook off again, and sat on my outstretched leg, his wagging tail slapping me in the neck. I petted his wet back while the woman, a research chemist named Hayley, massaged his ear.
"You got water in your ears," she told him.
Hayley and I talked as Jack got up to mingle with his kind, but she left when he began digging at the landscaping along the fence. A saleswoman nearby hawked a new line of dog food. "It's got free-range chicken," she told a woman who avoided eye contact with her. "All of the fruits and vegetables are organic except the blueberries. We couldn't find organic blueberries. The great thing about it--it's kind of like Breyers ice cream--you recognize everything you're eating. You know what I mean?"
I got up to wander and Jack found me three more times, shaking himself off at my feet each time. Hayley told me he was "sulking" and avoiding her because she threw him in the pool twice. She was confident it was good for him. She'd make a good parent.
At the children's pool, another black Lab, Samantha, lunged at a vertical fountain rising out of the water. The fluid column consumed her attention: she would pounce at it, but naturally pounce right through it so that it sprayed her in the face and belly. She would leap away to regroup, then attack again. This went on for some time. A few times she managed to squash the water's source for a split second. Mostly she jawed through it, confused and deeply happy. Her owner, Mike, introduced himself, but neither of us felt a need to talk as we watched.
When Mike and his girlfriend went home, I knew I was unlikely to find something as fun to watch as Samantha, so I left too. In the parking lot I reached for my keys and found the broken bits of dog treat in my pocket. A man soaked to the waist passed by, cradling a bath towel. Over his shoulder I could see that he was carrying a shivering Chihuahua. A Dachshund climbed eagerly into a minivan. Hoping at least one of these creatures might find a reward for its patience, I tossed the bits of treat to the ground.
Jonathan Hiskes can be reached at .