Indoor Dog Park—Whose Idea Was this Again?

January 8, 2009


Above: My first page of sketches at the indoor dog park at the Twin Cities Metrodome. The journal is about 7 inches square. If you want to see the verso page of this spread check out Twin Cities Sketchers for January 7, 2009, where I suck it up and sketch a car. Click to view an enlarged version. Note: the dog in the center of the page, head only is not sniffing the drinking dog's butt, though there was plenty of butt sniffing going on. This is just one of those odd overlaps that happens when you are making lots and lots of gesture drawings and not looking at your paper much! What am I happy about in all these random strokes? The dog drinking water. I got a good sense of him. And the dog lower right, a sweet little brown mixed breed. Shy. I have a sense of her; enough to do a painting. End of page one and I'm not unhappy I came.

Last month my friend Linda told me about the indoor dog park at the Metrodome. We didn't find out in time to go however. But I had plans to go in January and  I asked other folks to come along with me. Seems it wasn't to be a crowd or sketchers, but the Avidors were game; we agreed to meet there.

Well the moment I walked in (free for humans, $1.00 per dog) I began to have second thoughts, and if not exactly second thoughts, then a sense of "Whoa, what was I thinking?"

I got there right around 6 p.m. when it opens. All the dogs were just arriving, excitedly entering the new territory, smelling the smells and barking a greeting (it was very loud at 6 p.m. and then as the dogs and owners settled down it got more and more quiet, with only the occasional yip or two from an "instigator").

The Metrodome has opened a half-moon hallway that dog owners can walk up and down through. There are tables to sit at, and some tables where dog-related businesses have paid to set up shop. There are also frequent "cleaning" stations where paper towels and disinfectant can be found (you not only have to pick up you have to wash down after your dog). And there are many blue square buckets set out at frequent intervals for thirsty dogs to catch a drink on their rambles.

The Avidors don't carry a cell phone so I wandered back and forth for several minutes getting the lay of the land and scoping out whether or not they had arrived. I was also using the time to adjust to the cacaphony of noise, even when there wasn't barking there was panting and toenails clicking on the cement hallway floor, and of course people talking, calling to their dogs and pretending they are Cesar "tssching" and slying swinging their heels around to tap their dogs' butts and break their attention.

Cesar Milan of course, the Dog Whisperer, my hero—rules, boundaries, and limitations; exercise, discipline, affection; and of course the  "tssch" correction noise.

So I walk back and forth and finally decide that the only course of action to even attempt to catch any of this spectacle is to sit at one of the tables. (Nice comfy folding chairs by the way!)

Before I get out my journal, however, I do something I can't remember doing in a long time:

Roz Hits the Wall

Yep. I literally begin to think this isn't going to work at all. Of course it is way too much noise and light and movement for me (remember I'm not allowed to go to Las Vegas). So I decide I will do something grounding. I take off my coat, get my belongings organized on the table (i.e., fish out my journal and pens) and also get out my camera. I think taking pictures will calm me down.

It does. It calms me down enough to realize that I am in emotionally way over my head. It isn't enough that there are dogs and movement everywhere, and noise. But that movement is all dogs. It's about dogs. It's about happy, joyous dogs. Little rat terriers walking like "big dogs" down the center of the 14 foot wide hallways like they own the world (they do) with Danes and Wolfhounds running at their side (What do we do now boss, huh, huh, huh?—you see some cartoon depictions of dogs are actually accurate, see the tracking seen in "Lady and the Tramp." The cartoonists who drew that scene had watched working dogs work.) And packs of middle sized dogs race about, weaving and dashing, with the odd border collie trying to herd the unheeding packs.

Why am I emotionally in over my head: all the dog joy makes me miss Dottie. That physically achy missing, like someone put a plastic bag over your head. 'Nuf said.

After I take a couple photos (mostly blurry because I'm not using a flash) I call my friend Linda to get the Avidor's phone number and see if they are coming. I'm about 15 minutes from bailing. I call, the Avidors aren't answering. They are either here (and I haven't seen them) or on their way. I decide to take more photos.

A Boston Terrier bitch jumps up into my lap (now up until this moment many dogs have stopped to give me little (or big) kisses, but this bitch just leaps right up on my lap, plunks her butt down and looks around (clearly she thinks she's boss o'me, something I'm not used to). Of course I'm laughing at the audacity, and the cuteness. (Boston Terriers are rather ugly; so ugly they are cute.)

So a man comes by and tells me I have a cute dog. I tell him, "she's not mine," to which he replies, "she owns you now." He goes off laughing with his Golden.

At about this time I see Ken walking along the distant wall, obviously looking for me, but since I'm seated and blocked by dogs he misses me. I call out, he doesn't hear, I follow. I catch him as he reaches the end of the hall and is returning. He decides to stay and sketch the dogs grouped with their owners. I go off in search of Roberta. I'm convinced I'll stay now, but I still haven't been sketching. I do find Roberta and cross the hall to get a chair to sit next to her. Just then a lab takes a huge soft dump in front of her. No one fesses up to owning that dog. Roberta decides then and there that she has finished her sketch of one of the other passing dogs.

Right: Another page spread of dog sketches. Here I got a bit of luck because one young woman made her dog sit for Ken and Roberta. My favorite sketch of the evening is that little dog on the left, flinging his feet out in a full gallop. We saw a lot of that. Hence the difficulty sketching, but it was a wondrously fun thing to witness. Click on the image for an enlargement.

Roberta and I meet up with Ken at the other end of the hallway, nab a table and start sketching. I'm still a little uncomfortable. "It's going to be lots and lots of gesture drawings," I laugh.

And so it goes for about an hour or so. The three of us sketch and chat, with each other, and passing dog owners. I never did get more than a 30 second pose out of anyone!

Ken and Roberta have great visual memories. They can see something and retain it long enough to get it down even when the subject has moved on. I need that subject to stick around! They did some fun and inspiring pages (which I'm sure they'll post on Twin Cities Sketchers).

Ken is all fired up to go again (there will be another one in February). I admitted to my frustration. Ken gave me a wonderful piece of advice, not unlike his car drawing advice from the day before: "just get down what you can and wait for another dog to come along that looks the same and then add on to it. Who's going to know?"

Of course, who's going to know! And that's sort of like what I do at the zoo. I'll sketch an animal that is moving all about in four or five positions, adding a bit each time they return to one of the positions. I can actually apply this skill to the dog park. Well if I had remembered to breathe it would have been obvious.

So my point in sharing all of this is resist the urge to bail. Sometimes you might have a great idea that in the execution of which you suddenly decide it isn't such a good idea. Now some ideas really are bad ideas and I'm going to leave it to you to trust your intuition about those bad ideas, such as turning over garbage cans in the alley or other such rash acts which I can't even begin to think of but know the college kids around here do them all the time and should rethink them! But there are some ideas that seem like a good idea and then for a moment when you step into it they seem perhaps overwhelming or intimidating, or just not well thought out after all. And you might decide it's time to bail. Don't.

Stick with it. Sticking with it makes you stronger (after the fact; after you get in your car and start breathing again).

These are opportunities for growth and learning, no matter how many times we've done something and think we know how to do something (like draw in public, which I've been doing since I was 3).

If you don't bail you actually push yourself right through that wall and over to the other side.

Also, you have skills. They may not be the skills you hoped you'd have by this point in your life, or the skills you want, but you have skills and they can be pushed in a new situation, pushed into the development of new skills. That's a good thing.

So the next time I go to the indoor dog park I know that whether I am alone or not, I'll probably wait until 7 p.m. to start sketching, because things calm down a little then. Also, working with a brush pen, either with ink or with watercolor or gouache, would probably be a good choice for me because then I can still do my gesture drawings but get a big splash of shading done very quickly instead of stroke by stroke with a pen (I was using a Staedtler Pigment liner, which I love, but I think a brush pen would be better).

One more thought on staying. Staying also forces you to fight against complacency. And to work outside of your comfort zone. Both of these are good things. Find a way to do something like that today, tomorrow, soon. And keep finding ways to do that. Just remember to breathe.

    • sues
    • January 8, 2009

    Roz, I’m glad you stayed & that is such good advice. It’s also, good to know that someone other than myself gets overwhelmed with all the noise. You’re right that sketching or photographing always calms me down. Enjoy!

  1. Reply

    That was fun… we’ll do it again in February.

    • Roz
    • January 8, 2009

    Ken, I’m glad you have fun, even with the dog sloppering on your non-waterproof ink! I’m looking forward to next month. Linda might join us! I’m going to try using a brush pen.

    Thanks again for your advice.

    • Julianna Mahley
    • January 8, 2009

    I’ve never even heard of an indoor dog park. Is this because it is so cold in Minnesota?

    • Roz
    • January 8, 2009

    Julianna, as you know I don’t think it is “so cold” in Minnesota, but I think some people do. And those people don’t stand outside with their pups at dog parks very long in MN. (Though at the local dog park by me there is always someone there, but it tends to be the bigger dogs.)

    I don’t know why they started this indoor dogpark at the Metrodome, but I know people with small dogs are loving it. And there were also greyhounds (all breeds that have to wear coats when they go out in the subzero temps we get up here).

    Long ramble to say yes I suppose they did this because of cold temps up here, to give people time to interact with dog people and their dogs.

    Some of the vendors might have pushed for it too.

    There were only 2 huskies present on Tuesday. (One was severely overweight so whether he liked to go out or not his people definitely didn’t!) That sort of tells you who it’s going to draw in. Coated dogs are out and about with their people.

    There were a number of Great Danes, and labs and retrievers and one very handsome Weim. Again, for the most part, dogs without a lot of coat.

    But I think the real issue is it’s too cold for the people.

    I’m rambling. It’s been a long, long day and it’s only 3 p.m.!


    • karen
    • January 9, 2009

    I laughed through the entire post! Thanks!
    Stella says hello and that she’ll sit still when you’re ready.

    • Roz
    • January 9, 2009

    I look forward to seeing a steady dog!


    • Gina
    • January 9, 2009

    Hi Roz,
    Sounds like you might be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)–yes, we’re a group! You can find several books, web sites, Yahoo groups, etc. dedicated to explaining how overwhelmed we sensitive souls feel by too much noise, sights, smells, along with skills to cope it all. When I found out I was one, I was so glad to know it wasn’t just me!
    Good for you staying and sketching and finding a creative outlet!

    • Roz
    • January 9, 2009

    Ah Gina, this is interesting. I don’t think of myself as a sensitive soul, but I have always coped with the external world’s impact with my journal. And the help of a good allergist! (And I just avoid Las Vegas!)

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