Huffpost Travel
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Susan Portnoy Headshot

Exploring a New City? Here Are Four Reasons to Hit the Dog Park [Photos]

Posted: Updated:

2014-03-02-SPortnoy_20140222_0064.jpg

(Dogs romp at a waterfront at the base of the Albany bulb near Berkeley)

While visiting friends in Berkeley, I found my way to a nearby waterfront adjacent to the Albany Bulb, an old landfill that has become a park of sorts. It was an early Saturday morning and from the activity on the beach I could see it was also a favorite of the locals and their dogs.

Score!

If you're exploring a new city, dog parks are a great place to go.

Here's why...

2014-03-02-SPortnoy_20140222_0128.jpg

(Bran, a large Kangal stands with his human, Ken. The dog on the left is Little Dog, an Anatolian rescue)

It's a great way to meet the locals

Even without a dog of my own, there's something about the love of animals that unites. Armed with my camera, I asked if I could shoot pics of people's pooches and everyone was happy to oblige. Bonding over a dog is a great way to break the ice, and casual conversation was a breeze after that. None of the typical "Why are you talking to me?" expressions I might come across if I chatted up the same people on a street corner.

2014-03-02-SPortnoy_20140222_0104.jpg

(Spunky, shown here, was rescued six months ago. She's still a bit shy but loves her new momma)

You're bound to learn a few things

Did you know that Kangal dogs are Turkish in origin and bred to guard livestock by fighting off wolves, bears, and jackels? I sure didn't.

Frankly, I didn't even know there were Kangal dogs. I learned this and other interesting tidbits from a very nice man named Ken while taking pictures of his 10-year old Kangal, Bran.

In fact, I learned a lot in the space of an hour: one couple explained the layout of San Francisco Bay, and another suggested ways to safely navigate the Albany bulb. I got tips on local restaurants, and not surprisingly, many people shared sweet stories about their dogs, which leads me to my next point.

2014-03-02-SPortnoy_20140221_0031.jpg

(Happiness is chewing on a stick)

You meet people at their best

I know there are exceptions but I think that people are their best selves when playing with their pets. They're open with their affection, and the depths of their caring is pretty heartwarming. And when you're in a new place, what better time to meet people than when they have an open heart?

Kaleigh and Sol are one such example, a sweet duo that have been together for over a decade. Kaleigh, a senior puppy (I've called all dogs puppies since I was a kid), wracked with arthritis, loved to play game after game of fetch in the bay with her dad, Sol. Kaleigh's physical limitations kept the game at a snail's pace, but neither seemed to mind.

2014-03-02-SPortnoy_20140222_0153.jpg

(Sol throws the ball for his elderly dog Kaleigh)

Kaleigh would paddle into the water and when she was 10 or 15 feet out Sol, armed with a nifty plastic thrower, would hurl the ball at least 100 feet beyond her into the bay. Kaleigh would slowly chug along until she reached her target and then turn back towards the beach, ball in mouth, only to drop it, like clockwork, five or six feet from the shore. This meant Sol had to get into the water himself or wait for the tide to bring it to him. He chose the latter. Not a perfect scenario, but one he was happy to endure.

2014-03-02-SPortnoy_20140222_0191.jpg

(Kaleigh always drops the ball before reaching the shore)

As soon as Kaleigh saw Sol pick up the ball, she'd turn around, walk back into the water and start the whole process over again.

"How long will she go?" I asked. "She'll go for a long time," he replied. "But when she was younger, my shoulder would give out before she would," he added with a tinge of sadness. Anticipating my next question, Sol explained, "When she's done, she lets me know." "How?" I asked. "She just won't drop the ball" he replied. "She'll keep it in her mouth and walk right out of the water. That's when I know she's had enough." It was obvious he missed the young Kaleigh, the one that had years ahead of her.

Sol doesn't get to the beach as often as he would like, but he knows the water play is good for Kaleigh's joints, "She's always a bit looser after we play fetch, " he said with a grin. "I try to bring her here as often as I can."

You're likely to play with some cuddly canines

If you like dogs, I find they typically like you back. I quickly realized that my plopping down on the sand to take a picture was actually a canine invitation to cuddle. These snuggle sessions may not directly contribute to getting to know a city, but they're sure one hell of a bonus.

If you'd like to read more about my adventures near and far, please visit The Insatiable Traveler or like my page on Facebook.
This article originally ran on the Insatiable Traveler