Boston Common Dogs: An Investigation

I walk through the Boston Common bare minimum twice a day. For better or worse, I spend a significant portion of my life traversing the paths of the oldest city park in the United States.

Today, we’re focusing on the better, and that better has a name. Dogs.

I may not love walking through the Common all the time, but something I do love is that it is constantly filled with dogs. Small dogs and big dogs and puppies and the dog-elderly, most of them off leashes, all of them having a full-on blast.

But I have had a lingering question on these walks, a question of such deep significance it refuses to leave my mind for longer than moments at a time:

Are these planned dog playdates? Or spontaneous friendships forming between dog-strangers?

Despite my inherent reluctance to speak to the glamorous dog owners of Beacon Hill, it was time to investigate.

Thankfully, we live in the age of the Internet, and I was able to conduct an exhaustive investigation using only my laptop and the need to know whether there was an online dog-owner community I could stalk in order to be aware and later take advantage of the most dog-heavy hours.

My research began with the extensive and pretentiously-written Parks Rules and Regulations of the city of Boston. Immediately, I was given the shock of my life; Section 5 includes the statement, “No person shall, in any public park […] have or allow any animal, except a dog on a leash no longer than eight feet.”

It was a concept I had never considered. Were these dogs committing acts designated as illegal by Boston Parks and Recreation? Am I witnessing the cutest, fluffiest residents of Boston break the law on a daily basis? I had to find out more.

I delved into Google, finding only a Yahoo group called “Boston Common Dogs,” the last post of which was seven years ago—a user called CoOlBoY writing about parrots, for some reason. It was a dead end.

My first real clue came from an elegantly-designed website called Bring Fido, dedicated to giving tips to dog owners on ideal locations. Information on the Common was extraordinarily limited: a single review, a single photo, and a single sentence description. Although the photo is full-on amazing (see above), I had eyes for only one thing: the answers and new questions contained within that one statement of description.

“There are dedicated hours where dogs may play off-leash, but they are welcome leashed at all times.”

It was a lead if I’d ever seen one (which, in my limited investigative experience, I had not). If I were to find these off-leash hours, would they correspond to the heavenly times when hordes of dogs frolicked together, free in the oldest city park in America?

This question led me to the site Fido Loves, essentially a more long-winded, less well-designed version of Bring Fido with a very similar but more fragmented name.

The revelations contained within the essay-length entry on the Common were twofold.

First, the reveal of a private Facebook group: The Common Canine. It’s uber-exclusive at only 648 members, and Fido Loves cautioned, “It is a group open only to local dog owners in order to keep discussions focused on the needs of Boston dogs.” As I sent my request to join, I was overcome by thoughts of how to slip in unnoticed. Perhaps I had a picture with a dog I could change my profile to . . . Maybe a quick post stating, “Wow, I love taking my dog, who I definitely own and who definitely exists in the city of Boston, to play in the delineated areas allowed by Boston Parks and Rec.”

Deep within this train of thought, I received a notification. After 15 seconds (presumably dedicated to an intensive examination of my Facebook profile) I was admitted into the Common Canine.

A scan of the last few months of posts revealed four equally important facts.

  1. No concrete meetup time planning occurred.
  2. There was still a sense of community within the dog owners of Boston Common that could only be created by regular dog/human bonding.
  3. Every time a new member was added, a post was made greeting both the two- and four-legged, and I needed to get the dickens out of this group before I was discovered.
  4. The excellence of the dog pictures and the rigor with which dog-related events were shared convinced me there was no way I could leave this group.

I had never felt more undercover detective-y (and therefore cool) in my entire human existence.

But Fido Loves’ Bible-length posting contained another revelation within its millions of words: “Dogs are allowed off-leash during the morning hours between 5 am and 10 am, and then again in the evening between 4 pm and 9 pm.”

The investigation was complete. There was only one thing left to do: Trawl Boston Common at optimized hours for dogs to pet—now equipped with the knowledge only the Common Canine could grant me.

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