Sniff, sniff, not a reference to me noisily crying, but the theme last Saturday at Toronto’s annual Woofstock gathering at St. Lawrence Market. Arpad and Maya were fairly indifferent about going but they climbed into the minivan with an air of cynical resignation, the specialty of Hungarians of any species. “It’s Woofstock’s ninth year,” I told them, “and there will be more dogs there than anywhere else in North America.” (I’m not certain that was true but the lady on the Weather Network had pronounced it with the same certainty she announced thunderstorms that afternoon, which fortunately was also wrong.) Actually, neither of my dogs is particularly interested in socializing with anyone but each other and me—a characteristic of kuvasz that makes even my intact male welcome at dog parks—but I wanted to go so they took me.
The atmosphere was a little cheesy, a bit like the Easter fun fair on Hampstead Heath, with lots of foul-smelling fast food. I dragged them into a Kijiji booth to be photographed for the Internet. “Would you fill out this release form?” the chirpy young lady asked, flourishing a clipboard. This immediately registered her as a non-dog person. I have two hands. One had Maya (42 kilos and underweight) and the other had Arpad (50 kilos and growing). If I could have put them in a handbag, which I was not carrying, her request would have made sense.
You can see how the ordinary becomes extraordinary through the eyes of a master filmmaker like Fellini or an artist like Brueghel. Lots of two-legged people of varying shapes and sizes gathered to talk while their four-legged companions made their own commentary. A tiny manicured toy poodle quietly lifted its leg and urinated on the hind leg—well, ankle, really—of a Great Dane as their owners chatted unaware. The harlequin Great Dane, being a gentle giant, simply looked around, sniffed and turned away. If only nations could react so wisely to such provocation, I thought. Well, no, I didn’t think that. I watched enviously and wished I had the bloody nerve to lift a leg and do the same thing on a long list of humans.
A young woman had a pit bull in a papoose-like contraption on her back. The poor dog was all muzzled up to satisfy Ontario’s bigoted breed-speciﬁc laws—genocidal laws actually—and perhaps in sympathy, its owner had camouflaged her own face with studs and rings everywhere. “You can kiss it,” she said, meaning her dog, not her studs, and I leaned forward and the little tongue came out of the muzzle and licked my face. Clayton Ruby and Olivia Chow are fighting the laws, she said, naming two of Toronto’s lefty activists, and I thought, well, I’d sign on to that, which only goes to show that dogs make strange bedfellows. A few minutes later the dog peed copiously in the papoose and the young woman was drenched.
The inevitable out-of-control shepherd mix was there. The owner, also inevitable, was a short male strutting around with a big dog he cruelly hadn’t bothered to train. Other dogs looked on as the shepherd lunged around and the man half choked it to death pulling on its chain. You’d think the dog would turn on him, but that’s the thing about dogs: they live for their owners. Maya and Arpad stood stoically for pats from toddlers and elderly Romanians but they were pulled up short by the sight of a Great Dane in a smoke-grey tutu. As dog tutus go, it was about the most tasteful I’ve seen. My dogs don’t wear clothes apart from this spacesuit in Lycra that covered every inch of Maya after her lung surgery. The damn thing must have been as uncomfortable as a too-small athletic torturer on a bicycle ride—a simile pulled out of space, since I’ve never actually worn a jockstrap.
The sniffing was pandemic but restrained by leashes. Careful butt sniffs, inguinal inspections and deferential sideways approaches. Whenever I try to find out what it is that dogs actually get out of sniffing, I run into cute phrases about doggy email. Okay, I get it that it tells them the sex of the other dog, but what else is in that email? Health perhaps: an explicit answer to “How are you?”
The event was fun for bipeds, but if the world is really going to the dogs, wouldn’t they have planned Woofstock differently? Instead of fashion shows there would be considerably more digging, an activity that humans seem quite joyless about, unaware perhaps of the deeply fulfilling pleasure of creating bottomless holes in flower beds and lawns. Marking is fun, too, and that would require more trees, lamp posts and hydrants, with cheddar for the highest urination of the day. Mounting is something bipeds do understand, but where was the bedroom area or the easy bitches? And what of the glorious possibilities of mud, not a single patch in sight, just a lot of booths selling cleaning products. If one has to be cleaned, surely mud first? More squirrels would have topped things off, but there wasn’t even a chipmunk to be seen. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being a visit to the veterinary dentist, this was an eight.
My dogs were bored long before I was. We went home after a few hours and that night I had a wonderful dream of American prosecutors on leashes, in muzzles all.