Ruth Spencer discovers the five types of people you meet at the dog park.

If you have a canine companion and live in the city you'll be a frequenter of dog parks. And why not? Each park is a unique delight.

Henderson Park, for example, combines an off-leash area with a Frisbee Golf course - what could possibly go wrong? Whether you prefer the refinement of a leash-only area or take your chances where the wild things are, your dog will love the chance to frolic in an enormous outdoor toilet.

But you won't be alone and - dogs aside - not everyone is man's best friend. Here's who you might encounter at the dog park ...

The Phantom Menace

You stare into the abyss of brown eyes an inch from your own. The abyss stares back and slobbers on your T-shirt. In the far distance someone yells, 'He's fine!'


He's clearly fine, how could he have got so big without enjoying very good health? When a dog trots past with no owner in sight, a Phantom Menace is nearby. Well, not nearby nearby. He's is the Jedi of dog owners, confident that he can keep his dogs in check using only the Force. If they misbehave, these aren't the dogs you're looking for.

Pray you have something in your pocket, because the only thing that can appease the abyss is abysscuit.


The Hairy Maclary Gang

Out of the gate and off for a walk are a pack of dogs and their pack of owners. HairyMacs take over the park, judging your dog and your life choices. If your Bottomley Potts has too many spots or your Schnitzel con Krumm is excessively low in the tum, they'll rub your nose in it, because nothing turns otherwise normal people into rabid alpha-wolves like joining a literal mongrel mob.

They are the natural enemy of The Introvert (a dog owner not on this list because you won't meet one). Introverts usually have cats so they won't need to leave the house, but the cold anonymity of inner-city living has liberated the introverted dog lover.

At the posher dog parks of Grey Lynn and Ponsonby, owners who see nothing amiss with bending to retrieve their dog's breakfast won't stoop so low as to acknowledge other walkers, and even the dogs disdain to sample each other's nether scents, knowing their own to be infinitely superior.

The Hairy Maclary Gang.
The Hairy Maclary Gang.

The Underarm Bowler

Tools are designed to make life easier. Why throw a tennis ball with your spindly human arms when you can launch it into space with a plastic banana scoop thing? We live in a benevolent future.

Unfortunately there are evil geniuses who manipulate technology to their own ends. In a dog park near you is a woman pretending not to know how to use the ball thrower. Her arm windmills but the ball thunks pathetically to Earth, only inches away. Her dog lifts a depressed eyebrow and whines. The sight of a person using a tool wrongly stirs something fundamental in a man, so the Underarmer's walks are a constant stream of gallant gentlemen coming over to gently correct her technique.


More reliable than Tinder and faster than speed-dating, her dog might not be getting much exercise but her contacts list is.


So Long, Old Friend

White hairs among the black and the slow, waddling gait of an elderly penguin - and that's just the owners.

Is anything more poignant than the old

couple with the old dogs? The sight of this gently perambulating group prompts the awkward question: who will go first? A partner, leaving the dogs to comfort the one left behind? The couple, leaving the bewildered elderly dogs to an uncertain future? Or the dogs, leaving the couple with a pair of sad little crosses on the lawn and surprisingly little to talk about after 50 years of marriage?

So tragic, but focus on the positives: they have adorably jaunty little jackets on. The dogs, too.


The Bag Lady

She gives you that wry smile as her dog does its business and you enjoy the camaraderie of shared suffering. It's a warm feeling; warm and also soft.

She gets the bag out, inverts it over her hand with the experienced air of a surgeon and proceeds to undertake the kind of pick-up Uber won't help you with.

You walk away, your dog crisply trotting at your heels (or, because this is real life, yelping after a duck that flew away months ago) only to find, on your return, a little plastic-wrapped present.

Knotted at the top as only the most disgusting discards are, it lies at the foot of a bench like the world's worst Christmas stocking. Too lazy to find a bin but not quite insane enough to take it home, the bag lady has struck again.