The City Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting a proposed ordinance change that allows dogs to run free on Good Harbor Beach on even-numbered days. – The Gloucester Daily Times (Nov. 11, 2014)
It is high noon on Good Harbor Beach. The water shimmers in the mid-April sun, and Gloucester’s dogs are relishing their newfound freedom. Stubby schnauzers race alongside loping hounds. A curious Shih Tzu leisurely inspects the hindquarters of an unflappable St. Bernard. Mutts of every conceivable parentage leap and splash and dart, spurning the leashes that dangle pointlessly from the pockets of windbreakers. Everywhere their barks are clear and sharp—almost martial—as if saluting the city council for liberating the four-legged from their six-foot nylon shackles.
Yet somehow the joyful mood has bypassed one pair of dogs, who sulk and slouch against the dunes, passing a paw-rolled American Spirit cigarette between them. Both are AKC purebreds, but neither likes to talk about it. Listlessly, they watch two lab puppies tumble after a tennis ball.
“Christ, what a scene,” says Walter, a white Bichon with a bearded muzzle groomed to a state of artful dishevelment. In lieu of a collar, he sports an organic cotton keffiyeh.
“A travesty really,” says Simone, a standard poodle whose fluffy black pompons are purely ironic. “Good Harbor is officially over.”
“Gawd, is that Coco over there?” Walter indicates a perky spaniel flouncing past some pups of dubious ancestry.
“Ugh. What a literal bitch.”
For years Walter and Simone have frequented Good Harbor in the off-season. And they had been among the select few who flouted Gloucester’s leash ordinance, scoffing at their tethered peers, running circles around the skittish and pooch-averse. Now, on an even-numbered spring afternoon, they are just another pair of law-abiding family pets, as square as hamsters in a cage.
“If I wanted to frolic with the canine bourgeoisie,” says Walter, “I’d drag my owner to the Stage Fort Dog Park.”
Both shiver at the idea.
Once destined for the show ring, Walter got the boot from private training school at age 2. For a few weeks, he was technically a stray, a biographical footnote he always manages to drop into conversation. Simone too boasts a champion’s pedigree, and her mother’s Best in Class at Westminster furnished a sizeable trust fund. But this detail is strictly on the down low.
“It’s like that artisanal kibble stand over on Commercial Street,” says Walter, lighting another cigarette. “One favorable review in The Times, and suddenly the place looks like a puppy mill.”
Just then two human beachgoers—a middle-aged couple in pastels—park their blanket not more than ten yards away. They kick off their dock shoes and proceed to unpack a large wicker picnic hamper.
Simone surveys the contents: fruit salad, a rotisserie chicken, and what appears to be real china and cutlery. “Classy affair,” she says.
Walter avails himself of an extra long drag. “A year ago, I’d be making a beeline for the water,” he says. “Returning with a coat full of sand and saltwater. And shaking off all over that mofo.”
“Not so much.”
Simone permits herself a little snort. “I get it,” she says, snatching the cigarette. “If you’re going to drop a steaming turd on somebody’s quiche, you want it to mean something.”
“Exactly,” Walter says, practically growling. “Fucking with picnickers, nipping at little kids’ fingers—these used to be acts of courage, of resistance against the whole power structure. Now they’re just ‘accidents’ our owners can smooth over with half-assed apologies.” He gestures at a nearby pack and thumps his tail on the sand for emphasis. “These mutts risk nothing more than a waggled index finger.”
“What about animal control? They’re supposed to fine owners who can’t manage unleashed dogs.”
Walter shoots a look at Simone, who is trying to maintain a straight snout. But the notion is just too funny.
By now the picnickers have distributed fruit, slathered the chicken in mint yogurt, and commenced eating. Simone’s black nose twitches, and Walter whines a bit, attracting the attention of the woman.
“Oh, look at that darling little Bichon,” she says, tapping her husband’s shoulder. “He looks hungry.” She holds out a chicken wing and makes kissy noises at the pair.
Walter’s body is taut and quivering.
“Easy, boy,” Simone says. Then, at the couple she yips: “We’re vegan, you assholes.”
The woman recoils. “Goodness,” she says, glancing at her husband and dropping the wing. “Not as friendly as they look.”
Walter hears a familiar whistle from the direction of the wooden footbridge. “Guess that’s my cue,” he says, extinguishing a final cigarette and slowly getting to his paws.
Simone waves goodbye and watches as Walter trots past a host of doggie temptations: an unguarded bag of chips, an overfriendly toddler, and—as always—Coco’s shapely rump. Somehow, he manages to leave all this to the mainstream dogs. Somehow, he makes even obedience look cool.