Most of us on dog beach have no idea what we fellow humans do for a living, or what our names are, and don't care, but we do know the names of almost all the dogs and address them so. With the exception of Kay, the owner of Millie, I have no clue who any of these people are and it's almost an unwritten rule that we make it a point not to pry or ask or show any interest in each other, only our dogs.
Dog Beach is busy most of the day, but especially mornings and late afternoons and early evenings, where regulars are passed at almost the same times, like predictable creatures of habit. It can be uncanny. Most of us tote little bags of poop, for we are all paranoid about a cruel nickname of dog beach that tarnishes we and our dogs' reputation: “Dog-shit beach.” I have never heard any of us under any circumstances utter that term, and, seldom if ever have I seen a dog squat and poop without its master hurrying to the spot and withdrawing a plastic poop bag to filch turds, tuck them away, and tote them along with leashes, ball flingers and balls, like beasts of burden, or, as I once told the man with the tan half Corgi/Cattle dog, who always trundles up to me for a pet while my100 pound bearish brown Lab, Wilbur, nuzzles him, “We are slaves to our dogs, and it shouldn't be any other way.”
“Right,” he retorted. “Some people treat dogs like jewelry, like something to show off, they're not all in. They're family.”
This is largely the attitude of those owning pets on dog beach. One lady, at least in her eighties, who has had 6 Irish wolfhounds over her span of years, but is now without and looking for a new one, and somehow reaches the beach with a horribly painful looking hip, and feeds all dogs little biscuits, said, “They don't live that long, the precious things, so we must spoil them.”
Whenever Wilbur poops close to my entry point near the stairs at the end of Studio Dr. in Cayucos, I leave the bag on the beach to retrieve on the way back, so I don't have to tote around smelly shit, and sometimes it magically disappears, and I know it is the happy always smiling friendly couple who police the beach every morning with hefty bags and pick-up sticks while their frowsy hound follows—after they walk their 17 year old black Lab in the alley because he can no longer get up the stairs.
Most of the dogs relate to fellow dogs, or are too busy chasing, but some, like Wilbur, and Lobo, are ardent, irresistible schmoozers, needy of drawn out human affection. Lobo is a young, sprightly Chihuahua who, when spotting me from a football field away, makes a dead run at me, approaches with an excited smile on his face, and accepts pets and ear scratching while Wilbur nuzzles his master, always in ear phones. We nod. The only words we've exchanged were about a year ago, when I said, “We've got the two friendliest dogs on the beach.”
“Yes we do,” he said, and nodded, and moved on.
We don't really talk about ourselves, but about our dogs. If I accidentally run into the lady with two ball chasing, ocean-splashing, nonstop barking and demanding black Labs at yoga class, she asks, “How's Wilbur!”
“Old and on the loose,” I say. “How are those rowdy Labs?”
She laughs. “Completely out of control.”
Her husband actually kneels on one knee when Wilbur runs toward him and hugs his trunk, his neck, practically kisses him, even though Wilbur's stolen so many balls from them I carry extras just for such occasions, as well as a biscuit or two to bribe him into dropping filched balls, an embarrassment anywhere else, but “cute” at dog beach.
The only people I've seen who do not seem absolutely ebullient at being on dog beach are solitary and dual power walkers with ear phones or cell phones, or the occasional suffering jogger. When Wilbur approaches any of these types with his big hopeful needy seducing smile, pleading eyes and wagging tail, and he is skirted, rebuffed or shrunk from, I feel like telling them to “get the fuck off dog beach you asshole!” There are other beaches nearby, where those who are different from us leash their dogs, regiment their dogs, watch their dogs pull, bark and whine when they stretch toward another leashed dog they might want to play with, or a human they might want to nuzzle and infuse comfort and joy to, as well to themselves.
On those beaches you can savor the scenery, the wisdom of the waves and rocks, but on dog beach you savor the dogs.
Dogs that provide pride in their so-called masters, as well an unnamed wellness unconnected to any pill or elixir or psychological therapy.
Also, on dog beach, love occasionally blooms, and there is no age discrimination, for one of the most beautiful dogs on the beach, a two year old striped brindle named Penelope, who appears to be a sort of lithe, short haired border collie, is madly in love with 12 plus year old lumbering, limping Wilbur, and is not afraid to show it. Her behavior in his presence is scandalous, as the upright lady in the straw hat that engulfs most of her pretty face attests to, and is amused, stopping her seldom interrupted walk to observe Penelope take off from sometimes a 100 yards away (once she spotted us coming down the stairs to the beach and accosted Wilbur) on a dead sprint, skids to a stop, and commences to nibble on his snout, his neck, his nose, a dreamy look in her eyes as she rolls on her back in utter submission and Wilbur growls and nips at her flank in a show of male dominance. It goes on and on, as good a show as you'll see in any movie house, until old Wilbur tires or the lady moves on.
The first words I said to this woman, after about a month of this spectacle, were, “Well, Wilbur's a handsome old man.”
“Yes he is,” she agreed.
About a month later, after more of this frenzied capriciousness, I said, “Penelope is really full of herself. She knows she's the best looking girl on the beach, and plays it to the hilt.”
“She's hard to hold down,” she admitted, while I petted one of her two other dogs, both resembling the usual refuges from shelters, of which there are many on dog beach. “Penelope wants it all to herself.”
About six months into this blossoming relationship between Wilbur and Penelope, I ventured out to her with this: “Your passel of dogs, reminds me of that character in Steinbeck's 'Tortilla Flat,' the one with all the dogs, all of them mutts, I think it was the Pirate.”
She nodded. “I have to read that again,” she said.
And we've left it there, for it seems to me that often is the case that those of us who have invested in dogs, and perhaps do not have kids, and especially those who accumulate several dogs--like the splendid couple who adopt unwanted huskies with wolf in them, and nurture them in a manner that tames them into shy softies--are more dog people than people persons, though I am the exception.
Fact is, what makes dog beach so unique and heart warming is that we all, over time, achieve such concern for each others dogs that we ultimately trust and grow concerned for each other, hoping our dogs will stay healthy and live for ever, and grieve when we lose a dog, and cheer when a new one takes its place.
Kay's Millie, a low-key black Lab of ten who moves very slowly and always says hello, was due for major stomach surgery. We discussed it. I told her I'd hate to see Millie go through extensive surgery that would incapacitate her for a long while, would hate to see her suffer. Kay said she planned to go through with it. I wished her well, and good luck.
That whole weekend I wondered how Millie was doing, hoping for the best, realizing I might not see Kay or Millie for a while, and perhaps not Millie ever again.
But I was surprised when I ran into them a couple days later.
“I canceled the surgery,” Kay said. “And thank you for helping me make a decision. I really appreciate your input. Millie's full of life and having a good time, so we're going to ride it out as long as we can.”
“She's a happy girl,” I said.
“Yes she is.”
I've lived on one beach or another since 1970. I love the beach. But nobody loves a beach, and especially a dog beach, more than a dog.