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Sebastopol's Dog Park


Sebastopol's Dog Park

by Shepherd Bliss

Having read articles complaining about dogs, which I shamefully must admit having done, I want to appreciate Sebastopol’s Dog Park as a good place for those four-leggeds and their two-legged human companions. We can gather, socialize, play, frolic, share stories, teach and kid each other, as well as build community among these two species. 

Various sub-cultures exist in small town Sebastopol and its West County rural countryside. Given political, life-style, ethnic, gender, class, generational, and other differences, humans do not always get along well. “Sebastopol’s Dog Park is like the old community water well, where differences are suspended.  Our love of all things dog binds us together. Dogs are like energy in physical form,” commented Angela Ford, companion to the small dog Molly. 

“Watching the choreography of the dogs dancing with each other is fun,” Angela added. They do various things, some humorous, like sniff each other’s privates, dig holes, jump over each other, urinate over each others urine, all without shame. Dogs tend to be sensuous, in their bodies, in present time—rather than stuck in the past or futurizing.

The park exemplifies the deep, historic, enduring “bond between canines and humans,” comments Dick Duchin, whose dog Luke is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Apparently bred to hunt lions, he helps keep the dog pack in line.

I like the diversity of people and dogs at the Park. Dogs, as well as people, come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They often manage those differences better than humans. For example, dogs are not racist. They have their own preferences, which do not seem based what they see. Smaller dogs barking at larger ones do not seem to notice size.


Two years ago a 12-week-old puppy adopted me. Having never had a dog during more than half a century as an adult, I was not looking for one. However, Winnie was apparently seeking human companionship. She jumped into my arms at Sebastopol’s Farmers Market and it was the classic love at first sight.

After we walked around a while, the Cazadero family into which she was born—where they are raised to hunt boar—insisted that I take her home. After recovering from her urinating and pooping in my Prius our first time together and my having to spend lots of money at Frizelle-Enos to feed and care for her properly, our love grew.

Winnie is a Catahoula leopard hound, with a six-colored coat. Also known as the Louisiana swamp dog, they are a mix of greyhound, Australian shepherd, and red wolf.  She be fast, fierce, and with two differently-colored eyes, as well as sweet.

Winnie growls and sometimes barks, as invitations to play. I like the growling but not the loud barking. So I squirt her with water, which sometimes quiets her down. Learning to growl, for both dogs and humans, can set boundaries.

Dogs can be very emotional.  Winnie, for example, tends to get jealous when I give much attention to other dogs. When I leave the park, even for a moment, she goes to the fence and expresses separation anxiety in clear vocalizations. Her longing for continued connection even enables her to jump the fence.


Sebastopol is dog-friendly. Issues do arise in the streets and at the Dog Park. Winnie, for example, is a work dog. She has to have a job, so at my farm she scares off turkeys and deer by running at them, growling and barking. I do not try to excite her by baby-talking in a high-pitched voice, as some people do with dogs. Winnie’s training is to run off the predators of my crops. Some dog guardians find Winnie too intense. So there are conflicts at the dog park. Different points of view—sometimes uninvited—on how to properly raise and care for a dog emerge. 

Winnie also loves to roll on her back and invite people to rub her stomach. Winnie knows how to receive pleasure and likes to lick, especially her Uncle John Taylor and Auntie Maureen Flanagan, who both lost their mature dogs to old age last year.

Dogs, like children, can be demanding and labor-intensive. Fortunately, many dog owners help me care for Winnie, especially when I’m off teaching college a couple of days a week. They walk her, visit her at my farm, welcome her into their homes, even for overnights, and take her to the beach. 

At two-years-old, Winnie is still a puppy. So her energy is a little too much for some, including myself at times. I am fortunate that Winnie has connected well with her Auntie Pam Spears, who has a male dog, Henry, about her size and age, though more grounded and mature. It takes a village to raise a dog.

Dogs have become my teachers. For example, they express affection in different ways, including what could be called “tough love.” Many dogs engage in “necking,” since their skin tends to be lose and they can pull at it without hurting each other.

The main thing we share at the Dog Park is our companionship with dogs. Most of my close friends and I share commonalities, such as interests in the arts and politics. We don’t tend to talk much about such topics at the dog park; we talk mainly about dogs and how to care for them. What a relief. 

The Dog Park is well maintained by Sonoma County’s Ragle Park workers and a committee of volunteer dog owners. I am grateful to them for the work they do on behalf of both we two-leggeds and our four-legged companions.


(Shepherd Bliss {} farms, teaches college, and has contributed to 24 books.)