Other memorials at Dog Park are more traditional. When a first-generation Dog Parker died suddenly a few years ago, people got permission to plant a tree on the grounds of the company where we walk. They planted a mountain laurel close to the buildings and near a hose so walkers could water it. As a sign of how much the woman was missed, the tree was nearly overwatered its first year. Later, a short wire fence was added to protect it from mowers and dog piss. This year, it has deep purple blooms that smell like fruit-flavored candy--Sweetarts or Smartees.
Closer to the creek is a small clump of trees where dogs' ashes are often spread. Two Dog Park favorites, a Basset and a Bisenji, both named for precious jewels, were memorialized there. Services were held, words were said. The Basset's owner also placed a small white cross at the foot of the trees, a move that puzzled and, to be honest, offended me a little. Since when do dogs go to church? We don't stamp religious affiliations on their tags as we do on soldiers', right? And it bothered me, too, on a visceral level—although it has been many moons since I have darkened the door of a church—that the cross would get a regular dosing of pee. It also seemed an imposition of sorts of someone else's values in a spot where they ought not be. The outdoors are supposed to be a neutral zone. The law of the jungle, the rule of dog, I thought, are really all that we needed. Dogs live in the moment, so why shouldn't we? Why litter our Park landscape with human symbols of loss?
Except the thing that I keep forgetting is that Dog Park is also a human community. We put our mark on it literally and symbolically. Our feet, as much as the dogs' paws, have worn the paths permanently into the limestone and clay. We yack about politics and the state of world affairs while the dogs tussle over sticks. We watch the dogs sniffing around the cross and wonder aloud what they think of the smell, if any remains, of the ashes. What sense do they make of it? Do they realize that their time, too, will come--as I had when I glimpsed that cane hanging in the trees? Ridiculous, really. Dogs care about what dogs care about--food, water, treats, pats, tennis balls, a good poop, space on the bed. What I eventually realized was that, as always, funerals and memorials are for the living, not those who have passed. The Basset's owner was doing what good people do when they lose someone dear--they plant symbols, shed tears, share stories, and keep walking. A year later, she still checks on that cross, straightens it up, brushes the leaves away, and tells her girl she loves her. And when Roma, my Old One, goes (13 and still cranking; my friend Sarah says Roma will outlive us all, like some post- apocalyptic mythical beast), I will probably do the same. --zia