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Have You Ever Made a Friend for Life at the Dog Park?

After moving to a new city, I wanted to make new friends. My dog, Finley, led the way to relationships that will last for many years to come.

Whitney C. Harris  |  May 15th 2015


When my husband received a one-year job offer in Dallas, Texas, I was thrilled to say goodbye to New York for a short period of time. Both born and raised on Long Island and living in Brooklyn as newlyweds, we were craving something different, something that would challenge us in new ways. Moving from a notoriously unfriendly and fast-paced city to a medium-sized metropolis with Southern hospitality and Western charm was appealing for so many reasons, not the least of which was the laid-back lifestyle with dog-friendly features. But what’s a new and exciting life without friends?

Moving from New York to Texas was a big life change, but we were up for the challenge.

Soon after we arrived in Dallas, I made it my mission to meet as many new people as possible. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. With my sweet-and-sassy Vizsla, Finley, as my constant sidekick, our daily routine included a visit to one of the local dog parks in the morning and usually another one in the afternoon.

My goal was to step beyond my comfort zone and be more outgoing than I ever was as a New Yorker. Thankfully, our recent move made for easy conversation with most people. Everyone wanted to know what I thought of Texas and whether I’d ever consider moving back to the Big Apple.

“Folks here aren’t anything like the people in the East. We’re really friendly and nice. I went to New York once, and everyone was so rude to me,” I heard over and over again from dog owners of all types. I didn’t mind the benevolent browbeating as we all stood around and watched our pups chase each other across the wide open grass. This was just the kind of cultural experience I was looking for.

In my year of living in Dallas, I brushed up against some fairly wacky folks (and their dogs). I encountered a few people who actually scared me (along with their dogs). But, for the most part, I met some genuinely wonderful, warm, and welcoming Texans and transplants.

Finley loved being able to spend so much time outside enjoying the warm Dallas weather.

The first friend I made was a high school art teacher who grew up outside of Dallas and had recently moved back to the city after living in Austin for a few years. Her lively and fun-loving mutt, Meeko, was a perfect playmate for Finley, as they matched each other in age and temperament. As is usually the case, the dogs got to know each other first, which led to Colleen and I striking up a conversation.

I knew my Texas friend was a talented artist and asked her to draw my dog. She now runs a philanthropic pet portrait business.

We were both in our late-20s, creatively inclined, and living in Dallas not so much by choice but because of opportunity. It was easy to like Colleen. She had a free-spirited nature, yet she cared deeply about many things — from animals to art — and she introduced me to a side of the city I might not otherwise have seen. She took me rock climbing, karaoke singing, and to a Hare Krishna temple practically hiding in plain sight in East Dallas. We ran a 15K together and shared endless cups of coffee and carafes of mimosas to relax on weekends and celebrate milestones along the way.

About halfway into my year living in Dallas, I joked to Colleen that I wanted to commission her to draw a portrait of Finley like wealthy Texans must do with their cherished pets. She loved the idea and drew a remarkably realistic graphite representation of my then-one-year-old dog.

Since moving back to New York, I’ve kept in close touch with Colleen, who’s now living in Austin once again. She’s recently launched a charitable pet portrait business after realizing just how special her original works of art are for pets and their owners. The friendship I made with Colleen could have been a rare occurrence, a unique connection that I was lucky to make by being in the right place at the right time. But rather than being the exception to the rule, my year in Dallas proved it was practically a regular occurrence to meet people who I clicked with at the dog park.

On a muddy weekday morning in October, I met a former personal chef named Sage with a good-natured Wheaten Terrier, Freddie, who happily wrestled with Finley to no end. We quickly made plans to see each other multiple times each week, sharing brisket nachos on a dog-friendly restaurant patio or watching our doggies roughhouse indoors as we sipped ice water and sought relief from the climbing temperatures during spring and summer. I now consider her and her dog some of our best friends.

Finley loved playing with her Wheaten Terrier friend.

In the midst of an unexpectedly cold Dallas winter, I met a retired journalism professor named Darwin with a playful Australian Shepherd, Eliza, who Finley took to immediately. Since our dogs got along so well, we made weekly dates at the park to talk about writing and to play chess while our dogs horsed around. These days, we keep in touch via email, sending each other updates on our pups and writing pursuits.

One of Finley’s best friends was an Australian Shepherd who loves to run as much as she does.

The dog park pals I made weren’t just fair-weather friends, either. They would gladly pick up Finley from daycare when my flight was delayed or watch her for a few hours if I had a sudden obligation to fulfill. We celebrated birthdays together, shared our hopes for the future, commiserated about misbehaving dogs, and mourned the loss of one of our favorite parks to a long-term construction project.

These friends always lent a sympathetic ear and some hopeful advice as I worried aloud about Finley’s separation anxiety. I returned the favor whenever they complained about stress related to work, friends, or family. I always thought making friends as an adult would be a string of random awkward encounters. But with our dogs bringing us together on a nearly daily basis, it was easy to form fast bonds.

Dog-friendly restaurants made socializing especially easy in Dallas.

Dog-friendly restaurants made socializing especially easy in Dallas.

My husband’s next job opportunity has us back in New York, and while we’re happy with the homecoming, we sorely miss our Dallas dog park friends. Here on the East Coast, people frequently ask me about the kinds of people I met in Texas. They usually raise an eyebrow when I tell them that the closest friends I made were all dog-park pals. Yeah, I also once thought dog people could be kind of weird. But then I became one.

Have you ever made a friend for life at the dog park? Tell us your story in the comments!

Read more about life with Finley by Whitney C. Harris:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).