by Dan Sayles

She sat in the passenger seat of the van as though she belonged there, looking regal and confident in her gray-tinged golden fur. Even though she’d been in that seat many times before, today’s adventure would be new for both of us, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Shasta is a golden retriever that was rescued by my aunt, and lived for a year with my grandmother before winding up with my parents and me. My mom reminded me that the dog had been through several homes and that it may take some time before she would feel confident that she finally had a permanent home.

Eventually, Shasta did calm down. Still, as I turned into the Horsethief Canyon Road toward the San Dimas Dog Park, I felt a surge of doubt. This was another entirely new situation for her. She’d only been around three people and one dog consistently throughout her life. What would she do in a park full of other dogs and people?

I kept her on the leash as we walked up to the entrance. I was amazed at how calm, yet eager Shasta was, and also at my own silly apprehension over the situation. This was a simple dog park, after all, not the prom.

A youthful, curious basset hound named Gus greeted Shasta at the gate, and after a bit of fumbling with her collar, I turned Shasta loose. She promptly ran toward the owner of the basset hound, who greeted her with a smile and remarked “You’re a good girl!” Even I had to smile, surprised at how well Shasta was behaving on her very first outing with strange people and dogs alike. I walked to some shade and watched her explore her new surroundings.

After this initial bout of salutations and introductions, Shasta paused, then came running back to me, jumping and seizing my arm in her mouth in a sort of needy, “What do I do now?” sort of way. I expected Shasta to be rowdy, not suffer a case of social anxiety. After a few moments consoling her and leading her back out to the large expanse of grass, she resumed her running around.

Before long, however, she began to grow weary. Despite the long walks with my father and me, she still hasn’t gotten enough exercise to romp around for very long. She came running back and sat next to me, indicating she was ready to go.

In fact, she was so eager to go that, in her haste to get back to the car, she slid out between the gates before I could get her leash on. Finally, after much fumbling around, I got the collar around her neck and led her back to the van, where she assumed her position on the passenger seat and relaxed with her head resting on top of the seat. She stared at me with a proud, “Haven’t I been a good dog?” look.

Of course, the answer was yes. I rubbed her head and sighed, and said to her, “You irritate me sometimes, but you’re a good dog.”

She promptly gave my arm a wet, slobbery kiss. Thanks mutt.