I didn’t know most of my Fullerton neighbors— beyond salutations—until Bow entered my life.
Once my labradoodle was medically cleared to mix and mingle, I started walking her the two minutes to Fern Elementary School. Plenty of fields, plenty of shade trees, open to the public evenings and weekends. It was there that I ran into a neighbor with her labradoodle. Bow and Bunny, who was 7 at the time, got along, so when the field was clear, we unleashed them.
Soon, Bow and Bunny started meeting at Fern on Saturday mornings, which led to an idea: I was meeting more and more dogs on walks, so why not invite them and their humans to our Saturday soirees?
Within a week, Winston and Ryu, both puppies, joined us, and we decided to do Sundays, as well. It was still hit-and-miss, but we were off to a good start. Group members agreed that, moving forward, the more the merrier.
The elementary schools in Fullerton— and most throughout Orange County— are gated for the safety of students, which means fields are enclosed. Ideal for off-leashing, socializing, exercise. Most everyone in Southern California lives within a mile or two of a school, so a weekend club is quite doable.
We didn’t want to lose our privileges, so we made sure to steer clear of students and other people—even on weekends—and to leave the school grounds clean (we even pick up poop that doesn’t come from our cast of characters).
We were working with different schedules, so the next step was creating a text thread with fellow dog lovers and setting up specific meeting times (eventually, we settled on 7:30 a.m. on both days). Earlier is better because, most likely, the fields will be unpopulated and the sun won’t bear down for a couple of hours.
The text thread we started has developed into a support system that goes beyond our dog club. We share information on dog care, there’s well-wishing on special occasions, and we’ve picked up the slack for each other during emergencies. We’ve also set up playdates for weekdays. A neighborhood network of pooch lovers is an invaluable tool.
We didn’t formalize field rules, and in that way we’ve been lucky. We all knew to introduce our dogs slowly, on leash, before we freed them. As non-experts, we learned—by observation and by consulting professionals—that there’s a fine line between canines setting boundaries and canines trying to harm one another. It’s important, as our dog club grows and new pups are introduced, to remind ourselves that we’re not pros, and to err on the safe side. That might mean keeping your dog on-leash or removing him or her from the scene.
Regulars are Bow, Bunny, Winston, Walker, Marley, Flynn, Cota, Zeus and Gracie, all different ages, sizes and breeds.
Here are three final suggestions for your dog club.
1 Bring water and a traveling bowl. It seems obvious, but we forget these details. Moreover, when one human runs out of water, others can fill the void. In our club, all water is shared; the dogs drink a ton because they’re running the equivalent of several miles over a 60- to 90-minute period.
2 Watch your knees. Most of the humans in our club have been toppled at high speeds. The slapstick has provided laughs (once we realized the humans weren’t injured), but it really is dangerous. As a result, some crouch, some sit on playground swings and others lean against tree trunks. We all keep our heads on a swivel.
3 Remember that you’re there for the dogs. The human conversations and relationships are a bonus, and if you don’t connect, it’s OK. You have your dogs in common.
Bow Rhoades is PCM’s four-on-the-floor Orange County area correspondent. Bow, a 2-year-old labradoodle, makes her home in Fullerton with her fur parents, Brady and Tonia. Look on petcompanionmag.com for her adventures at parks, businesses, beaches, hiking trails and other spots.