How I Found Gratitude at the Dog Park

I woke up last Saturday with my innards protesting after what we might call a “dehydrating” bachelorette party the night before. After I had guzzled some water and washed my face, my friend, whose Ann Arbor home I was staying at, asked if I would be joining her at the dog park.

My gut instinct was to say no. I was eager to get back to Lansing to do some writing, reading, and maybe just some puking in the comfort of my own home. But my friend was looking at me with puppydog eyes that matched her Australian Shepherd’s, and I thought of how infrequently I saw her even though I only lived an hour’s drive away. And I thought of how I might be leaving for graduate school soon, where it would be an hour’s drive to get to the airport to get me to her. And, given the state of the hangover sloshing around my bowels, I couldn’t really trust my gut anyway.

So, after filling up my water bottle and completing an obligatory drive through Starbucks, we met some more friends at the dog park.

Swift Run Dog Park is one of those bougie parks that you have to pay to use. I tend to find these kinds of pay-to-play public spaces classist and pretentious, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with this one. (I mean, it’s only $35 a year anyway…)

It’s one of those places you can tell someone put a lot of thought into designing. The space is large, with a long sand track running around its perimeter for walkers. There are several benches spaced throughout and a “waste” disposal area by the door. There’s even a separate fenced area reserved for teensy dogs that weigh less than 30 lbs. It’s clean and well maintained, and all the dogs are immunized and polite(ish).

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Not pictured: chubby, elf-eared, guinea-pig-sized chihuahua named Gracie in the small dog area

The park’s terrain was waved with hills. The grass was a healthy green, but not suburban-lawn manicured green. The effect was a micro-wilderness. Despite the dogs wearing fluorescent harnesses, watching them frolic felt distinctly like observing fauna in their natural habitat. The Newfoundland roaming the grass looked more like a buffalo in Grand Teton National Park than a domesticated doggo at Swift Run Dog Park.

That said, the experience wasn’t all about nature’s bounty. Perhaps more importantly, it was about the pet owners who put on voices to express their dogs’ supposed thoughts. It was about laughing at the tiny Shih Tzu attempting to mount my friend’s Australian Shepherd, or the asshole beagle who made it his mission to pee in every single bowl of drinking water.

img_9279I was able to enjoy all of these sights from the shade of a large tree, surrounded by friends I’ve known since high school, all while my hangover evaporated into the fresh summer air.

It dawned on me then, how badly I hadn’t wanted to come out to the dog park. If I’m being perfectly honest, I hadn’t even wanted to drive out for the bachelorette party the night before, despite loving the company and the nightlife. But there I was, glad I’d donned the tight dress and drunkenly traipsed through Ann Arbor, glad I’d chased an Aleve with an iced latte this morning and stood around watching strangers’ dogs play fetch.

This could be a story about the irrationality of social anxiety. That story goes: twice in less than 24 hours, I believed I couldn’t and wouldn’t enjoy spending time with people I knew I got along well with, doing things I knew I enjoyed. Twice again, I proved myself wrong by overcoming the desire to stay home and having a wonderful time.

But today, this isn’t that story. Because in past months I’ve forced myself to be out with people and hated every moment of it, even though I loved the people I was with. I’ve struggled through what should’ve been enjoyable experiences in a depressive fog. My depression blocked all emotion, leaving only that empty ache.

So the real story is, I simply felt grateful. I felt so lucky to be so moved by something as commonplace as watching dogs play. In one epiphanic instant, I realized how miserable I would’ve been in this same situation only a few months earlier. So I smiled to myself, the way we crazy people do, savoring the surprising flavor of gratitude behind my teeth.

And maybe that’s how epiphanies happen: in small, insignificant moments with slobber on your shoes and an unexpected smile on your face.

Images courtesy of my dear friend Lydia and her wide-angle lens iPhone attachment. Find her on Instagram!

xoxo Sydney

P.S. I’d love to hear how you practice gratitude in the comments below ↓

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Midwest writer hailing from the Mitten State. Not nearly as clever as I pretend to be.

15 thoughts on “How I Found Gratitude at the Dog Park

  1. This post was such a delight to read! You have a very engaging writing style which makes me think you’d make a great fiction writer 🙂 And I could totally relate to not wanting to go anywhere because of major social anxiety and thinking that you’d hate it, when in reality you end up having an amazing time.

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  2. Gratitude is something I struggle with daily. I have a written journal that I must write five things I am grateful for – I may not FEEL like it but I must write five things I am grateful for. It could be “I got out of bed” or “I opened my eyes today.” Simple things. We have life; that’s gratitude enough.

    And, speaking of things to be grateful for – I’ve nominated you for the Mystery Blogger’s Award. Congratulations! Here’s the link with the information. https://wordpress.com/post/respectmyselfblog.wordpress.com/2717

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s a really good idea – especially on the days when it seems like coming up with five things will be impossible. I’m going to try keeping a gratitude journal for a bit and see how it goes. Thanks for the tip!

      And thanks so much for the nomination, but the link isn’t working for me. Maybe try copying it again?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “…to do some writing, reading, and maybe just some puking in the comfort of my own home.” Is it bad I laughed at this?

    I’m not much of a dog person, but at my school during exams they had Wellness Week and one of the programs they ran was a “dog room” where students could go in and spend time with dogs during the day as a therapeutic way to destress. I always thought it was a cool idea.

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  4. I’ve read a number of blog posts today, and this one is my favorite. 🙂 You write with skill and I enjoy your engaging tone. I’m more extrovert than introvert, but I still have to force myself at times to “want” to engage with people. But, like you, I find I’m glad I did. Those precious moments when gratitude strikes and I suddenly remember life is for the living help me ignore my couch even when it’s calling to me.

    I share my gratitude in various ways. My favorite way is a bullet list of moments I’ve experienced lately that made me smile. I post it on my blog occasionally, most recently in a post called “Sharing the Good: It’s Not You, It’s Me.” I think sharing the goodness we see multiplies it–as your post did for me. 🙂

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  5. I relate to your post so very much and found the final phrase truly poignant, “And maybe that’s how epiphanies happen: in small, insignificant moments with slobber on your shoes and an unexpected smile on your face.”

    I oscillate between my desire to be a homebody and feeling obligated to go out and engage, particularly with groups of friends I know I need to see. I’ve also been struck by ‘simple’ moments during different social engagements. Whether it be sharing a comfortable silence with a friend, or visiting a new store that I otherwise would not have known to check out. There’s value in those moments. Also, even though my deep-seated social anxiety sometimes rears its head, in the end I am always appreciative of the exposure to new experiences – even small ones.

    Wonderfully written post and I loved the dog photos! Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading! I’m glad my experiences resonate with people – makes me feel like I have a bit more of a reason to be writing them. And I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. Your kind words mean a lot to me.

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  6. I totally get where the staying home seems so much more attractive. I’ve never been too much of a socializer because I grew up moving around all the time and not being allowed to have friends over. But I can empathize with wanting to be with your friend at the dog park after you considered the alternatives. I liked the descriptions and the image of the dog peeing in all the drinking bowls. I think it’s funny because I think if I were a dog that’s what I’d like to do to keep things exciting. I hope you make it to grad school (if that’s what you want for yourself). Thanks for the good read.

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    1. It’s funny that you mention thinking if you were a dog you’d be like that one because my friends and I actually assigned a dog to each of us based on their personalities. 😂 That dog was definitely a character! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

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