Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Off the Leash (dog park, Boston)

Off The Leash: A Year at the Dog Park, by Matthew Gilbert (Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 227 pages, $24.99)

What is a Dog Park?

Who of us hasn't taken a dog to the dog park at least once? Or wanted to? Or has a friend who frequents the dog park (with or without said canine)?

It is well-known that this reviewer is a yellow lab and golden lover so imagine my delight to find a book cover with both my breeds! I simply couldn’t resist! Not only are these two dogs in the cover photo but each has a tennis ball in his mouth on a great expanse of green green grass with trees and skyscrapers in the background.

Dog parks are urban patches of green, often fenced-in, where dogs can romp with each other off-leash and run to their heart’s content, cheered on by proud humans.


TV critic Matthew Gilbert asks (and answers) the question: how does a non-dog-person such as himself become enamored of the canine species and fall in love with “everything dog”?


In short, fall in love with a dog-person! And start with an adorable lab puppy.

A Year in the Life of a Dog Park

Off the Leash chronicles Gilbert’s first year with his dog, a yellow lab pup named Toby, and their canine and human friends, characters all, in the subculture of a Boston dog park. Of course, it is also about the growing relationship between man and dog for Gilberts works at home and can flex his work time to allow for dog park excursions – lucky human! And lucky dog!daily

A dog park, like few other locations, is one where people run into and befriend people they may not come into contact with or meet in other places – a hodge-podge of people whose one common denominator is dogs. Other than that, they are students, senior citizens, writers, lawyers, housewives. They are also loners, joiners, party-people and gossipers. Some are complainers and others fall in love. A true microcosm of the world at large in a little square postage stamp of nature peopled with dogs and their people.

Meet Charlotte, one of a kind who probably frequents every dog park in the country. Meet the college girl with a crush on the handsome stud of a guy who has no time for her but they both have dogs they love. Meet Gilbert’s best friends at the dog park: meet Toby’s best friends, which include a golden retriever who teaches the pup how to play and do just about everything else, with golden patience.

Starting in the fall with four essays and going through winter (seven), growing into spring (six) and finally into summer (five), Off the Leash has two unforgettable “chapterettes” with a discourse on poop and how people take care of it or don’t, and on balls of the tennis kind. Off the Leash is a book also about beginning and endings as people come and go with their dogs and college students move on with their lives elsewhere.

Dog park members will love this little book and will recognize all their dog park friends in it. For novices, it will service as an introduction to the people-kinds one might expect to interact with at the dog park. Fortunately, the author soon gave up his ‘alpha’ role in relationship to his dog and embraced a gentle way of training Toby! These little essays may take several day to wade through but the cover is worth it!

(Caveats: This title was sent to me by the publisher for review. The review first appeared on GenerationWags.)

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