In Praise Of Beach Dogs
A version of this column appeared in The Virginian-Pilot in December, 2013. It seems timely because after several recent dog attacks some folks are asking if dogs should continue to be allowed unleashed on the beach. I vote yes.
Everyone's heard of hunting dogs, show dogs, therapy dogs and service dogs.
But no one ever talks about beach dogs. The very best kind of canine.
A good beach dog possesses qualities that simply cannot be taught. They're dogs that can be unleashed on the beach and not ruin anyone's good time.
That's because they understand the three unwritten rules of good beach behavior: Never jump on children or strangers, don't steal another dog's tennis ball, and stay close to your human.
Oh, and a fourth: Don't do your business in the ocean.
I lost my beach buddy a few years ago when my 15-year-old miniature poodle, Taffy, had to be put to sleep. In truth, she'd lost the energy for a sandy romp two years earlier.
Ever since, there's been something missing from my walks on the beach. I watch with envy as people throw balls for their wet Labs and Frisbees for their terriers or who just sit and enjoy the waves with a German shepherd's head in their laps.
My backups, two toy poodles, are pampered house dogs. They're yappy, skittish, and the only pleasure they derive from a trip to the beach involves sniffing the city garbage cans where other dogs have tinkled.
After a few minutes in the sand, they look at me mournfully and beg to be carried. Home.
They're cute, yet pathetic.
But yesterday morning, I found myself in the company of a natural-born beach dog. An energetic, odd-looking, little tan mutt with crazy sprouts of hair on each ear - part Jack Russell, part Pomeranian perhaps - named Maeby. Pronounced "maybe."
Even though she lives in Mississippi and is just visiting Virginia Beach, she instinctively knew what was expected when we reached the sand.
She knew that the best way to travel along the ocean is to skirt the edge of the surf and dodge waves. She deduced that 40 feet was about the limit of how far she should wander from me. She twirled happily in sandy circles, chased seagulls and sniffed fragrant balls of seaweed as if she'd been doing it her whole life.
Then she sat by my feet, tail wagging in the sand, when I stopped to watch a pod of about a dozen dolphins leaping in the surf near the Wyndham Hotel at 57th Street.
When we came upon kids digging in the sand, she left them unmolested. When we saw sunbathers sleeping on their blankets, she gave them a wide berth. When we passed two surf fishermen around 67th Street, she followed me behind their poles and resisted the urge to stick her muzzle in their pungent bait box.
Best of all, she checked in with me every minute or so, making sure we were traveling in the same direction at about the same speed.
I may kidnap her.
With temperatures in the 70s and the sun shining, Saturday was the kind of day that makes up for all those raw, wintry ones we know are coming. It was a little lagniappe from Mother Nature, intended to make you happy that you call Hampton Roads home.
Sharing it with a beach dog? Simply superb.