Friday, June 17, 2016

No Dogs Allowed!

You know that you are a dog lover when you count your dog into your daily activities. With a little bit of creativity, a car, and a heart full of love, you can combine dog walking with shopping and running errands, and this is what I did with my new canine love, Kinook.

Kinook at the lake

Exploring my new city, Ottawa, I found a place where I felt right at home from the first visit: a family-owned building on Main Street, Mama Poppy and her daughters, and their businesses: a vegetarian restaurant called The Green Door, where all the who’s who in the healing arts, yoga and meditation meet, intentionally or not, and eat; a consciousness, spirituality and well-being specialty book store, Singing Pebbles; the new age gift store The Three Trees and a health food store called at the time The Wheat Berry (that’s before wheat-free was fashionable). That building was my favourite hangout where I’d browse the books, listen to meditative music, chat with people, have a flavourful vegetarian Mediterranean-inspired meal (the owners are Greek), and shop for food, books, incense and crystals.

The Green Door and its sister businesses stand across the street from the St. Paul’s University, a doggie-loving academic institution to my taste, where hundreds of happy (wo)men’s best friends gather to romp the green pastures of the University’s property, along the Rideau River. Dogs run after sticks and balls and each other, the water-loving kinds jumping all the way to the water and back, and it’s an ongoing people and fur friends outdoor party. Ottawa’s culture is quite conservative, and compared to what I knew in Romania, Israel and Yellowknife, it is quite hermetically closed to newcomers, with one outstanding exception: the doggie park! Walking your dog in Ottawa is more likely to get you a conversation with strangers and a phone numbers exchange than going to any other place, well, except the Main Street businesses, which are like a Greek-new-age embassy of warm hugs and communion.

Kinook and I adopted the Main Street walk-n-shop as one of our outing routines. Kathleen the trainer-turned-friend had advised me to walk with Kinook in a variety of places. “It keeps her on her toes” she said, and a lover of variety myself, I went along with it. So on a sunny day we’d take the car, Kinook taking her regal spot on the back seat, on a doggie blanket and towel, go for a walk behind St. Paul University, go down to the river for a pee and a drink of water, the order of which never mattered, for as long as one was upstream of the other; then visit the dog-friendly Singing Pebble book store and have a browse and a chat with Moira.

Moira is this ageless woman who loves nature and has stories of animals and trips to Africa. There’s something about Moira that makes me think of Safari explorers– her sporty clothes, her gray hair braided in one thick braid which rests on one shoulders, her love of animals. She’s worked at the book store for a long time, and judging by how comfortable she looks, always with welcoming, smiling face and eyes, my guess is that she likes it there. Moira and I liked to chat, and when I wanted to eat next door at the restaurant, she took Kinook in her care while I was away. Kinook spent some time behind the counter, but did all she could to find her way to the door and watch outside, nose against glass, to wait for me, and see my return. The French say: “Qui m’aime, aime mon chien” – who loves me, loves my dog. I felt at home among dog lovers, and in these places where my pup was welcome.

And I felt not so much at home in all these other places where the “No dogs” sign stared in my face, from shopping malls to parks to beaches. My assumptions about Canada being a dog-loving country turned wrong in Ottawa and its surroundings. It was for the first time that I was seeing an entire park banning dogs and I could neither understand why, nor accept it. Some parks allowed dogs only on leash, a policy largely disobeyed; and most of these parks were frequented by canine delinquents who happily and carelessly ran around from tree trunk to tree trunk with no leash on, taking in the glorious bounty of scents.

It was the summer of 2001, and to me a real summer is when you go swimming outdoors in a natural body of water. As a child growing up in Romania, I travelled for hours each summer to spend a good two weeks on the Black Sea shore. During the fifteen years of living in Israel, I lived within walking distance from the beach – the Mediterranean beach, mind you! Then I moved to Canada, and my first Canadian summer was that impossibly cold Yellowknife weather when people perspire profusely at a mere 25 degrees Celsius, and lakes are put there by the gods not for you, human being, to swim in their waters, but for your dog! So Arctic summer means that you take your dog for a hike and throw a stick into the lake so puppy gets to swim, not you, but if you so chose, you're welcome to vicariously enjoy the water through your furry friend.

Well, now I was in warm(ish) Ottawa, and I had a dog, so following the compelling mental images of my heart’s desire, I jumped in the car together with my husband and my new, wet-nosed love Kinook, and drove to the Gatineau Park.
The wooden bridge on the way to the beach

Parc de la Gatineau is the French name for this lovely Quebec national park, a beauty spreading over miles and miles of forests and lakes, so big that, if you live in Europe or Israel, think that your country has turned into a park, that big! It has trails and lakes for swimming, lakes for hiking around, one lake for staying away from dipping in because it has funny substances that you don’t want on your skin; and it has a couple of visitors’ centres where you can go and get maps for the whole thing.

Meech Lake is a go-to-swim lake, and bathing suit on, I parked the car in the parking lot, and together with husband and dog, I trotted the short hike towards the beach, looking forward for a dip in the water together with Kinook.

At the beach, we were greeted by an NCC (National Capital Commission) officer in uniform, who pointed towards the dreaded “No Dogs Allowed” sign at the entrance to the beach, and who requested that we leave.

“Is there a beach where we can take our dog?” I asked the officer.

“No ma’am, all public beaches are banned to dogs”

“Why?” I asked.

“For health reasons, ma’am” and then he added, "It's Health Canada regulations, ma'm!"

I was surprised, disappointed and angry, and I complained all the way back to the car. How exactly do dogs pose a threat to human’s health? I thought of the park across the street from my home, where dogs were allowed on the right hand side of the park, but not on the left hand side of the park where the children’s playground was. Moms and dads who happened to have both human kids and fur kids to walk with, couldn’t go to the park without splitting the family in two. Now we were in a forest lake, not in a fancy country club with man-made swimming pools (and I’ve seen dogs in those country clubs in Israel, baking in the sun alongside their humans, their only threats posed only to ice-cream cones and hot dogs). Forests are inhabited by bears, deer, raccoons, geese and loons and a great variety of animal species big and small, all of whom are known to pee and poo, some of them on the beach, and some of them in the lake. Dogs on the other hand sleep indoors, often in the same room and bed with their humans; they see the vet more often than I see my doctor; they are vaccinated, bathed, fed special food, kissed, caressed, hugged, and hand-checked for ticks; and I cannot understand how their pee and poo is more dangerous to humans on a beach, than the pee and the poo of scavenging wild beasts. Argh!

Back in the parking lot I saw a group of men who were unloading bicycles from their cars. One of them had a fluffy white little dog with him. I approached the man, cheeks flushed from anger and disappointment, and pointing to his dog, and mine, I asked him: “Where do you go to when you want to swim together with your dog?”

The man, while placing his protection cap on his head and fastening his gloves, replied: “There’s a nudist beach up ahead on this trail. If nudism doesn’t bother you, you can take your dog there. The beach is unofficial so nobody will bother you about her.”

“How do I find the beach?” I asked, pretty sure that nudism bothered me much less than no-dogs beaches.

“Oh, that’s easy!” the man replied, pointing towards a small plaque nailed on a tree: “Just follow the ‘Nudism Prohibited’ signs!”

Just follow the signs!

The signs helped, and we trotted on a hilly hiking path for about twenty minutes. On the way to the nudist beach we met the beginning of the Meech Lake spreading on both sides of a picturesque wooden bridge, the cool azure blue glistening in the sun so proud and beautiful,  sunlight sparkling on the surface of its water, so magical that it makes you tingle watching it. Kinook ran to the shallow water and went wading with her mouth open, letting the water flow in as she drank like a crocodile. I watched with a huge smile on my face: this, like most everything that she did looked so cute and funny to me, so adorable, especially since, as the respectable and dignified dog that she was, she did everything with a very serious look on her face.

Wading in shallow water

Another few minutes on the main path, we turned to the left to a smaller path, and then again to the left on an even smaller path, literally out of the beaten track, and into the woods again. And then trees turned to low bushes, and the tiny path opened to a small beach covered with grass, and a breathtakingly beautiful view. No sight, sounds, or smells of cars or roads: all the eyes could see around the waters were trees, a dock on the other side to the left, and on the far side across, a house. Naked bodies of men sprinkled the grassy beach in front of us and the forested hill to the left, lazily lying like lizards, soaking in the sun. A group of three or four naked men were standing in the lake to their waist, chatting.

We found a spot in half-shade and laid down the beach blanket. Kinook went to the water for a drink, a pee and to chase some frogs. I looked around a bit curious, a bit apprehensive, and amused at my own hesitation to undress. I removed the bra of my two-piece bathing suit and kept my arms crossed in front of my chest for a long while.

I remembered a scene from a beach in Israel. It was soon after a large number of Persian Jews fled Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, and immigrated to Israel. Many of the Israeli women at the beach wore topless bathing suits with tiny thong bikini bottoms. A small group of male Iranian newcomers walked by one such woman who was lying on her back the sand, her young, round, cheeky breasts reaching up to the skies to be sun kissed. The men slowed down their pace, and stared at the woman, heads pulled forward towards her on stretched necks, their eyes and mouths wide open in shocked amazement. It must have been a great cultural shock for them, leaving behind a society where women were covered from head to toe, the Moral Police arresting anyone for even showing a strand of hair or an inch of skin on their ankle, to arrive to this place with bare breasts and buttocks. I looked at the men and thought poorly of their cultural attitudes.

Now I was sitting on this other beach in my new home country, Canada, facing the other end of prudish attitudes: my own! Public nudism is quite common in Europe, not only in the South of France, but also in the country of my birth, Romania, which boasted a nudist colony by the Black Sea - but for some reason I had never been to that place and this, here in the Gaineau Park, was my first mixed - men and women - nudist encounter. As the morning advanced towards noon, a couple of families, with women and children, appeared on the beach, and when the other women dropped their panties, I dropped mine. Participating in public nudism became easier after that, including learning to make eye contact when talking to others, instead of staring down below their waists.

A number of regular beach-goers called themselves ‘naturists’, even though they were smoking and drinking beer, so I quickly learned that naturists are not necessarily vegetarians, vegans, or even natural-health seekers. They are men and women who like to get together naked. One of them, Lucien, greeted us with a wide smile and a warm, friendly hand shake, and told me the story and politics of the beach, which, I learned, was “clothing optional”, which meant that one had the freedom to do with (or without) clothes, as they liked. The regular naturists shared a code of unwritten rules about their stay at the beach, which included careing for the environment, cleaning after themselves and packing all the garbage away when leaving; respectful behaviour towards women and men, with no overt sexual passes to others, and these rules made the place pleasant for all. Kinook was immediately welcomed by most everyone, and she was an easy companion, with little demands. She went to the water to cool off, and then lied in the shade of a tree; the greatest annoyance she was ever guilty of was when
planting herself in front of whoever was eating their lunch, shaking an unsolicited paw, staring at their sandwich.  

Us, humans, got along well, and unlike clothes-on beaches, we formed friendships and talked about things personal and political and philosophical, agreeing and disagreeing on things; and later on, when Mark Zuckerberg made it available, some of us connected on Facebook. Weekend after weekend, summer after summer, until late in October for as long as dipping in the cool lake was still possible, Kinook and I trotted up and down the trail to the lake, and we had the best times ever in that place where no clothes were required and no dogs were banned.

Happiness is playing in the lake together!


  1. Beautiful story, beautifully told.

  2. Thank you :-) Soon to come: stories about her favourite boyfriends...