Walking the Dogs: Pride Fest weekend

A picture of Pride at The Forks, shamelessly stolen from www.pridewinnipeg.com. The attribution is Cynthia Bettencourt (at the bottom right).

A picture of Pride at The Forks, shamelessly stolen from http://www.pridewinnipeg.com. The attribution is Cynthia Bettencourt (at the bottom right).

I was planning on a quiet couple of days, but there was so much going on in Winnipeg last weekend! Bike Week, Jazz Fest, Pride, FIFA, farmer’s markets, parades and art openings and films and picnics and concerts, oh my! Plus in my own life, my dear friend got a new dog, and one of my French cousins whom I haven’t seen in ages was stopping by on his way across Canada to go pick cherries in the Okanagan. So much for a quiet weekend! Suddenly there was so much choice! New dog! Interesting cousin! House music at the Pyramid! Pride Fest and market and music at the Forks! Thunderstorms and BBQs!

On Saturday, I took the Fluffy Dog on a long walk to The Forks to check out Pride. He loved it! A few too many bicycles, rollerblades, and skateboards for his taste, but he adored all the people, commotion, and dropped food (most of a smokie! Score!). It was hotter than I had anticipated because the promised thunderstorm didn’t roll in, but I had a small water bowl with me, and the food vendors were (almost) all gracious about filling it so my shaggy boy could rehydrate. We met a big white angry dog sitting with a happy group of people on a little rise. That dog had his face wrinkled up so hard I thought his skin might crawl backward over his skull. He was on a leash, though, so when he lunged toward the Fluffy Dog, I wasn’t concerned—until I saw that nobody was actually holding his leash! The group on the grass realised that at the same time and several of them jumped up and started racing toward their dog—but it was obvious that he would reach the Fluffy  Dog before they could catch him.

Every other time in my dog-owning life that something like this has happened, I have yanked my dog behind me and interposed my own soft furless and clawless body between the dogs. Yes, I’ve been bitten, but it’s my job to protect my dogs. But this time, I decided to keep the Fluffy Dog’s leash loose and relaxed, and to trust that he could handle it.

See, the thing about the Fluffy Dog is that he is special. He is not the best-behaved or most well-trained or pedigreed dog, but his social skills are impeccable and actually verging on magical. At the dog park, if he sees a group of dogs bulling an outsider, he rushes in there wagging and happy, playbowing at the bullies and shoring up the victim, going back and forth like some kind of  Intermediary Mediator Ambassador, until the whole group of dogs is playing together as if there’d never been a problem. Old dogs, young dogs, big dogs (of which he’s one), little dogs, sick or post-surgical dogs, rambunctious dogs, grumpy dogs, bring them on! The Fluffy Dog has a beautiful, uncanny way of knowing how each dog wants to be treated, and giving them what they want. Of course he wants to play with every other dog he sees, but more importantly, he seems to want them to feel safe and happy and welcome. He will tone himself down around anxious dogs, and encourage wound-up dogs to behave more politely, and bring shy dogs out of their shell. It is so wonderful to see, and I can assure you that he did not learn these fantastic social skills from me and also not from the Brindle Dog (whose only use for other dogs is as tasty snacks).

But meanwhile, back at The Forks, that angry white shepherd cross came darting down the hill with a snarl that could be heard even over the music and hubbub of the Pride crowd at the Forks. And I made a split second decision to trust the Fluffy Dog to handle it his own way. I moved so I was beside him instead of behind him, so if worse came to worst I could intervene, but I did not shout the dog away or pull on the Fluffy Dog’s leash or otherwise interfere.

That white dog came at the Fluffy Dog with his angry grimace, his hard round-eyed stare, and his ears forward. He came nose-to-nose with the Fluffy Dog, who politely turned his head slightly aside to avoid a direct stare, and allowed the white dog to sniff his snout (“How rude!” I could just hear him thinking. “But perhaps he doesn’t know any better.”). The white dog moved his head in little jerks, poking at the Fluffy Dog as he sniffed, while the Fluffster wagged his tail a little bit and started sneaking gentle glances at the white dog’s face. The white dog’s body got a little less stiff and his ears moved up a bit and his snout got a little less wrinkly, and then his leash was grabbed and he was pulled away by people calling “Sorry, sorry!” The Fluffy Dog watched calmly, tail wagging gently, mouth slightly open in his little doggy smile, with loose ears and curious eyes, wondering if he’d get to say hi to that dog again. And all I had to do is say “let’s go, buddy,” and he turned to look at me, then pointed his good and happy body in the same direction I was facing, so we could head further into the crowd. What a good dog!

The day was too hot, so we headed home soon afterward. But we went back on Sunday, since H. was volunteering at the WRENCH booth under the pavilion. And what did we discover? The little half-circle fountain by the Johnston Terminal is shallow enough for a big dog to jump into (not like the four deep ones around the pavilion), and doesn’t have the dangerous slippery stones found in the water features up by the end of the Provencher Bridge. So I gave Mr. Fluff some clean water to drink and then let him jump into that fountain and do a “down” in the water. When he hopped out dripping and happy, there was an awkward half-minute before he shook, while I warily glanced around to make sure nobody was getting too close to the spray zone. His “shake” had impressive range, and was highly entertaining for some nearby children.

The Sunday walk through the Pride crowd was not as fun for the Fluffy Dog (he didn’t find any smokies, for one), although I enjoyed it as much. Eventually we found a sparse patch of shade to rest in, shared by as many people as could crowd into it. I took some pictures of the Fluffy Dog with the Pride Fest in the background, and inwardly lamented the fact that my dog was getting far more admiration than I was. On the way back home, he wanted to hit up that water fountain again, and I let him but with some trepidation because there was a busker standing right there, and the last thing that person probably wanted was a massive shaggy mutt shaking water onto his guitar. My clever plan was that as soon as my dog jumped out, we would race away from the busker before the Fluffmeister could shake. (I’m not really very good with clever plans.)

Fortunately, the busker was amused to see the Fluffy Dog head into the water, and actually approached us to chat, shielding his guitar with his body. And I managed to get that wet dog halfway up the stairs to Johnston Terminal before the massive shake occurred.

All in all, a nice couple of visits to Pride at The Forks. Next year, the parade!

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