At Tompkins Square Park, A Tale of Two Dog Runs

Tompkins dog runHeather Hollland These little dogs may be romping, but one local found that they, and their owners, are generally a sensitive bunch.

Tompkins Square Park has two dog runs: one for large dogs and another for small and timid ones. And it’s not just the dogs that are different – their owners seem to make up two distinct communities.

I recently took my friend’s Boston terrier, Chuck, to the small dog run (Chuck is not a big dog. I’ve seen bigger cats). It’s a serene place where most of the owners sit on a deck under a beautiful old American Elm. A man wearing white jeans and pink sunglasses spoke into a pink cell phone with a Hello Kitty bauble hanging from it. A woman sang a song about “all the little animals” (it’s refrain was about veganism) and handed out fliers depicting animal abuse at slaughterhouses.

Gate at Tompkins Square Park Dog RunMichael Clemens The gate that separates the big dogs from the toys.

The dogs in this area are precious. The Yorkies, Maltese and Chihuahuas don’t pick up toys as much as gently lick them. Some have coats more brilliantly white than the bleached teeth of their owners. Occasionally they play or wrestle with each other in the sand, but it’s a pretty civil affair.

Chuck didn’t exactly fit in this environment. He tore into the park like a kamikaze pilot, blazed around it twice, and tackled a Yorkie. As he held the dog’s paw in his mouth and forced it into submission the vegan stopped singing, Hello Kitty looked at Chuck in disgust and the Yorkie’s owner began yelling at me.

I immediately scooped Chuck up and set him over the fence into the big dog area. I could feel the disdain from the small-dog folks as I made my way over there. I seemed to confirm every suspicion they had about the big-dog set.

The big-dog people do not strike me as vegans. If you asked a movie stylist to create the East Village look, this would be it: perfectly tussled hair and clothes rumpled just so.

Chuck was clearly among his kind here. He bore down on the biggest dog he could find, a German Shepherd, and collided with it like a bowling ball hitting pins. There were other small dogs with big-dog attitudes, and the Labs and Great Danes left him covered in drool and sand.

Another thing was evident: the owners here were looking for love – or, at least, lust. Last summer, I saw women and shirtless men sunning on the park’s picnic tables. This time, I noticed a guy in a motorcycle jacket, with a chocolate lab, furtively glancing at a stunning blond with her Jack Russell. She noticed it too, but acted coy and looked back down at her Blackberry. I caught the eye of a couple of nice-looking guys and girls as a train of three dogs humped each other in the center of the run.

I left with an exhausted dog, dirty shoes and a sense of which park I belong in. In fact, I sometimes go back without Chuck and watch all the action at the fence. Love is always in the air.