A lady stands next to me in the dog park with her fingers on the water fountain while my dog drinks, as he always does, as if he hasn't had water in days. I say, "He'll go on all day," and gesture towards the button she's holding down. She shoos me away casually and says, "That's what fingers are for," and I don't bother taking the time to try and understand what she could mean by this because the sun is shining in that particular way that fuzzes the brain - makes you not question much. I took notice of her fur coat when she first walked into the park, but I just now recognize, after I compliment her on it, that a chunk of fur is missing from the sleeve and held together by a safety pin. She tells me, "Oh, this old thing. People always ask me why I wear it to the dog park, and I say, 'Why not?' It survived Katrina." I notice a set of keys around her dog's collar, and I imagine this woman to be one of those carefree, whimsical types who always have interesting solutions to bad habits - maybe like loosing your keys so often you decide to attach them to your loyal dog's collar. Her dog is a beautiful, blind, fluffy Cocker Spaniel. We wander over to the benches where she tells me about these drops that she ordered online for her dog's cataracts. The drops don't work on the cataracts, she tells me, but they do wonders on her cuts. "They work like a miracle!" she says while gesturing to a cut on her arm. As I'm leaving the park, my panting pug in tow, she yells, "Bye, honey! Don't get robbed with that handbag opened. Stick dat dog in there!" I yell back that he's too heavy to put in there, and zip up my bag as if I'm obeying some specific demand from a matriarch in my own family. (A while after that I ran into the same woman; I noticed her dog was covered in colorful confetti, and she told me that she did that to add a little something extra to her appearance.)
The dog park's a place where you engage in easy conversation with strangers who all have the same profound understanding of the joys their dogs bring into their lives. (Much of the time, you also end up with a wealth of knowledge--like the name of the best vitamin supplement to keep your dog healthy and, just in case your dog ends up with Patella Tendinitis, the name of a trusted and reasonably priced local vet to take your pet to.) The majority of people you meet at a dog park all shamelessly exhibit the happiness that comes with pet owning. This exhibition takes various forms. It could be seen, for example, in the way one couple coordinated all of their Chihuahuas in sequined vests, how one man and his wife have been allowing their obese pugs to sleep on their heads for years, or in the stunning portrait that one man painted of his one-eyed dog.
There's no need to explain the benefits of owning a dog to another dog-person. They are unique companions that add endless amusement and fun to their owners' lives--they never judge you, they're always happy to see you, they can conform with ease to your lifestyle, and the list goes on and on and it never quite ends. Of course, there are also health benefits that come with pet owning, such as decreased anxiety, lower blood pressure, and a push to be more active. Expounding on the specific daily and lifetime benefits would need another 1,200 words.
If you are looking to become a pet owner, there are many local resources. Of course, there is always the LASPCA. The Louisiana SPCA, a non-profit organization, has been providing services for community members and providing care for animals for more than a century. Another wonderful, local place to adopt dogs and cats is Zeus' Place, which is also a non-profit. Zeus' Place frequently posts pictures and helpful descriptions on their Facebook page of pets available for adoption or temporary fostering. Another local non-profit is Animal Rescue New Orleans, which has found homes for over 5,000 animals since August, 2009. If your mind is set on a particular breed, try searching the name of the breed with the word "rescue" behind it. A local example of this is NOLA Lab Rescue. You can even find pets for sale on Craigslist.
According to the LASPCA, here are things to consider before adopting a pet:
- the time commitment that it takes to own a pet and each pet's potential life span
- the fact that some animals are better with children (and other pets) than others
- the financial commitment (cost per-year can range from $1,000-$5,000)
LASPCA adoption prices (includes spay/neuter, microchip, rabies vaccination, de-worming, etc.):
- $150 dogs under 6 months
- $150 dogs under 3 years and less than 20 pounds
- $80 dogs more than 20 pounds
- $80 dogs over 3 years
- $80 cats all ages
- $40 second cat when adopted on the same day
- $10 rabbits, guinea pigs, rodents, pocket pets
The LASPCA is also offering the following special prices for Orleans Parish residents:
- $10 feral cat/kitten (includes ear-tipping and rabies vaccination)
- $20 spay/neuter for companion animals regardless of size
- $10 microchip with any other service
Here are a list of dog parks, where you're bound to run into some wonderful characters in both human and dog form:
The Levee (not a gated or official "park," but many people like to bring their dogs to the levee for them to interact with others and run)
NOLA City Bark 30 Zachary Taylor Dr. (located in City Park and costs $43 a year or $38 if you're a City Park member)
Wisner Dog Park 4876 Laurel St. (not much grass)
Lafreniere Bark 3000 Downs Blvd., Metairie (located in Lafreniere Park and has designated gated areas for small and large dogs)
BarkPark at Bonnabel Boat Launch, 1599 Bonnabel Blvd.
Here is a list of a few dog friendly restaurants and bars in New Orleans:
5030 Freret St. & 3336 Magazine St.
Hot dogs aren't the only dogs around Dat Dog. When the weather is nice, nothing really beats their colorful, casual patio with some friendly dogs around. Order a beer and a delicious hot dog and bring along your dog to share a few fries with. (Dat Dog even hosts a Canine Costume Contest in October).
Lucy's Retired Surfer's Bar & Restaurant
701 Tchoupitoulas St.
Head over to Lucy's with your furry friend while sipping on a delicious drink. Even treat your dog to a meal out--Lucy's has a Surf Dog Canine Cuisine menu complete with a 30z burger patty, grilled boneless skinless chicken breast, a hot dog sans bun, and, on Saturday and Sunday during brunch, they serve scrambled eggs. All options for your pup are $2 and under.
3236 Magazine St. & 5135 Canal Blvd.
As the name suggests, this bar, which has 50 beers on draft, is definitely dog-friendly. Another great thing about The Bulldog is that they support local animal charities; head over on the third Thursday of each month from 5-7pm because they donate 20% of all their sales to a designated animal charity.
The Rusty Nail
1100 Constance St.
One of the best things about The Rusty Nail, other than the fact that they are dog-friendly, is that there is usually a local food truck outside. The Rusty Nail has a spacious outdoor patio where you can sip on a Pimm's cup with your pooch and some friends.
7329 Freret St.
If you're in the mood for brunch and a lazy day, bring your pooch over to Café Freret. Your pup will be provided with a bowl of ice water, and their A La Collar Menu features fresh baked dog biscuits, bones, and treats. The best part is, all the treats are approved by Dr. Bryan of the Audubon Veterinary Hospital.