Between November and April each year, as California newts migrate in large numbers across South Park Drive in Tilden Park, the road is closed to motor vehicles. As if on cue, these small brown and orange amphibians emerge from their summer homes and strut clumsily along the roadway.
They are joined in this winter celebration by locals and their dogs who stroll on the suddenly quietened artery of Tilden. This is one of the jewels to be found in the East Bay, where off-leash joy is plentiful.
Trails, normally accessible only by car, branch off the main road and access all other parts of this amazing park system. I walk silently with my dogs, past a rushing creek, and out into a clearing where redwoods and fir trees tap the sky and hawks circle hungrily overhead. It is possible to imagine I am anywhere but here in the increasingly frenetic Bay Area. Of all the hundreds of ways to indulge my love for my four-legged companions, it is the shared experience of damp air and green hills, the crunch of gravel underfoot as I hike miles of open trails with my dogs by my side that is the richest of them all.
Among all the ‘Tree-Hugging’, ‘Hate Bush’, ‘Peace’ and ‘Rainbow’ bumper stickers adorning Berkeley’s cars, a locally grown one, in simple white type on a black background, has become the catch-phrase for canine crazy humans across America: ‘Dog Is My Co-Pilot’ encapsulates the deep devotion of contemporary pet ownership—or guardianship. BARK magazine, dedicated to ‘canine culture’ is distributed nationally but is as iconic a Berkeley institution as Chez Panisse or KPFA—the synthesis of a lifestyle and progressive philosophy.
But open almost any publication, from Fortune Magazine to The New York Times, or watch a movie—from Jodie Foster’s recent ‘The Brave One’ to ‘The Game Plan’ with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and become aware of how pets have morphed from family companion to family member. Visit online community sites and see how many dogs have their own MySpace pages. Get a date online and find out that your relationship with dogs and cats is likely to be an important part of the get-to-know-you process. Divorce lawyers are catching on to the importance of pet custody issues among separating ‘boomers’. It’s easy to understand why the pet business is now a $40 billion a year industry.
There are organic diets, raw diets, and diets for specific breeds; homeopathic vets, holistic vets, opthamologists & endocrinologists for our animals; dog biscuit bakeries and cat B&B’s where Horatio and Alger can stretch out in a ‘condo’ or be allowed uncaged time if they agree not to spray on the cat toys in the wicker basket; Honda promotes their easy to clean ‘dog suitable’ vehicle in local canine publications with names like FETCH and Bay Woof, and pet photographers are booked months ahead.
You can spend more on a designer collar than for a great meal, and that couture dog bed may cost more than a plane ticket to visit your aging mother in New Jersey.
Invite a behaviorist into your home to find out why Trixie pouts when she can’t watch Animal Planet from the sofa, and fill your bookshelves with the torrents of new books gushing about the ‘special bond’ between dogs and humans. Scores of bored professionals have re-invented themselves as ‘animal professionals.”
There are dog trainers, schools to train dog trainers, academies to train dog walkers and a dog walking company which loads photos onto Flickr—in real time—so that while you’re at your desk in San Mateo, making the kind of money you’ll need to pay for all the above, you can see that Max or Cody are getting nice and muddy in the park. Or that your cat is getting petted—as requested and paid for.
It is, in short, an industry tailormade for the kind of lifestyle indulgence we do so well in the Bay Area. If you’re new to the area: welcome—we speak dog and cat here (and iguana at the amazing Vivarium on 5th Street).
But wait. Isn’t this supposed to be the heart of the anti-corporate world of conspicuous consumption and consumerism?
When all is said and done, the fiercest pleasures shared with our four-legged companions are those simple ones that cost us nothing, or next to nothing at all. And Berkeley and the surrounding area will give you enough moments of exquisite peace with your dog(s), it will make all the frustrations of living in the capital of political correctness seep away—if only temporarily.
If you haven’t got a dog or cat yet, but you have signed a lease with a pet friendly landlord, head down to the animal shelter with the lowest euthanasia rate in all of California—Berkeley Animal Care Services on 2nd Street. And if you want to take a pit bull or mix into your heart, a range of training options are available from pioneering advocacy group BadRap.
If you don’t find a companion there, your choice of local agencies to adopt from includes the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society on Carlton Street or one of the many animal welfare groups who host mobile adoptions across the East Bay including Home At Last, The Milo Foundation, Hopalong Animal Rescue and breed specific groups like Greyhound Rescue. If a cat or dog seems too ambitious, the House Rabbit Society can provide you with, well, a rabbit.
While the East Bay Regional Parks offer hundreds of miles of off leash trails in cities from Fremont to Pinole, including the dedicated dog park, Point Isabel with its own dog washing facility Mudpuppies, other enclosed parks and recreation areas provide different forms of dog activity, notably the new small dog exercise areas in Mosswood Park in Oakland and in Alameda.
Local waterfront parks are renowned (though some of us chafe at encroaching limitations on access) and my favorite remains the hotly contested Albany Waterfront Park (known affectionately as the Landfill), where local artist and civil rights lawyer Osha Neumann still ventures to create some of the best and most exciting outsider art, including a stunning wooden sculpture of a dog, made from found materials.
Great dog parks? Best pet store? Cheapest pet food? Friendliest neighborhood? Bars with outdoor patios where you can take your dog? Best place to adopt or ‘rescue’ a pet? Whatever your vote is—until Berkeley becomes like everywhere else, this is a great place to own or be a guardian to a pet. One more reason to fight the forces of conformity!
WHERE TO . . .
Local dog paper Fetch and Bay Woof are available at most vets and pet stores and list information and services, as well as a comprehensive list of area municipal and non-profit animal shelters.
Have fun with your dog:
There are wonderful parks all over the area. Here are some of my favorites. Always observe the ‘pick up poop’ rules, and leash your dog where posted.
• Lake Anza /Tilden Park.
• South Park Drive (between November and April) /Park at the Wildcat Canyon Rd end/ Tilden Park
• Albany Bulb and Plateau, Buchanan St. exit off I-80 / Albany
• Roberts Regional Park/ Skyline Blvd/ Oakland
• UC Berkeley Strawberry Canyon Fire Trail/ access off Centennial Way or Grizzly Peak/ Berkeley
• Point Richmond Hills /east of Miller Knox Regional Park/ Point Richmond
Find enclosed dog runs:
Most public parks allow dogs but usually only on leash.
The following allow off leash dogs in an enclosed run area.
• Ohlone Dog Park/ Hearst & MLK Jr Way/Berkeley
• Mosswood Dog Run & Small Dog Park/ MacArthur & Webster/ Oakland
• Crown Beach Park (no beach access)/ 8th & Otis/ Alameda
Find pet food and basics:
• Alpha Pet Supply, 960 San Pablo Ave., Albany
• Animal Farm, 1531 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
Find small stores with knowledgeable staff who know their stuff, and both have a loyal fan base:
• Paws and Claws 2023 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland
• Natural Food Store and BathHouse has become a valuable resource for
local pet owners
• Your Basic Bird, 2940 College Ave., Berkeley. The name says it—this is a favorite haunt for anyone who needs great advice on birds. They also show cats for adoption!
• Pet Food Express. A bit corporate, but a local company and they support local animal welfare groups with Love My Mutt photo program which you can enjoy when you pass their window displays.
Each of these stores has a unique feel—one thing they have in common—you will meet other dog fanatics who will give you more advice on how to enjoy your dog in this area! And they all support animal welfare organizations.
• Dog Bone Alley, 1342 Park St., Alameda
• Holistic Hound, 1510 Walnut St., Berkeley
• George, 1844 4th St., Berkeley
• RedHound, 5523 College Ave., Oakland
Favorite places to eat or drink with your dog:
This isn’t Europe that’s for sure—where dogs sit right by your side in many restaurants, bars or pubs. But many places locally have outdoor spaces where your canine pal can hang with you. Some personal favorites:
• The Pasta Store / Tacubaya /Café Rouge / Peet’s Fourth Street Shopping area, Berkeley, where you can sit at one of the outdoor tables that serve all these businesses, with your dogs.
• Kitty’s, 6702 Hollis St., Emeryville. A hipster bar that made this 50 something feel welcome with my two dogs for a cold beer on the patio on a warm evening
• Town House Bar & Grill, 5862 Doyle St., Emeryville. A good lunch spot or dinner spot with your leashed dog on the outdoor patio
Photograph by Jill Posener.
Dogs and their caretakers at the Albany Bulb.