Two years ago, I moved to Portland from New Hampshire. I was a stranger here; I didn’t know a single soul in the city. Once I arrived, I adopted a rescue dog from the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Bella and I became regulars at Portland’s popular dog parks: Valley Street, Quarry Run and Baxter Woods.

Baxter Woods became the go-to park for my high-energy girl. A highly social dog, Bella needed the space of an open park to run off energy and play with other dogs. Over time, we made friends at the park. We enjoyed lively romps with George, Archie, Sherman, Ollie and at least three other dogs also named Bella.

The dogs recognized each other – Rosie and Joe, for instance, always remembered Bella – while I would remember the dogs’ names but not necessarily the names of their human owners. A common conundrum, it was one that was easily laughed off at the park, where a frequent greeting is “Hi there, Nuka’s mom!” or “Aren’t you Remy’s dad?”

I came to value my dog park friends. We never talked about White House scandals, stressful politics or controversial news. Instead, we talked about dog things, like trail conditions and poop. Sometimes we took on more important matters like rabid animals, Lyme disease and wasps – like the time poor Ollie was stung by wasps and an injury caused her to miss outings. Bella missed her old pal. When Ollie returned, there was a raucous reunion and celebration.

Squirrel chasing is a popular topic. Once, Honey Cow and Sherman almost caught a squirrel near the Stevens Avenue park entrance. We all gasped when the lucky critter got away. We shared one worry: “What would happen if one of the dogs caught a squirrel?”

Last Christmas morning, we found out. There was fresh snow and conditions in the park were not good – for humans. But for dogs? Ideal. Mowgli, an energetic pup, found a dead squirrel in some bushes and ran off like a bandit. Commands to “drop it” were ignored, and a hilarious chase ensued. In the end, Mowgli abandoned the dead animal, and we all shared a joyful, if not awkward, laugh on that festive morning.

I moved away from Portland last month and I’m settling into my new home in Fryeburg. There are no more trips to Baxter Woods. We have different adventures now, but I sensed Bella was missing her friends and the social life we had there. Though I’m far from Portland, I found a dog park just across the New Hampshire border in Conway.

Once again I’m the new kid in town and don’t know a single soul. But we’ve already made friends with Snickers, Maggie and Jasper at the Mount Washington Valley Dog Park. This time I’m going to work really hard on remembering names. Human names, that is.


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