Hollywoodland’s Furry Interlopers
Throw a rock in Los Angeles and you’ll probably hit some traffic. Most days, being a native Angelino, I pass by some of the most famous sights in the country without a second glance. On my best days, I may blink a waywardly stare at the Hollywood sign from the 10 freeway parking lot, but usually the thought that crosses my mind is, “Oh wow, it’s not as smoggy as usual today.” So here is my confession: I’m pretty guilty of not visiting some of the coolest sites in one of the most famous cities in the world, where coincidentally I also live – Los Angeles.
Don’t wag your judgmental finger my way just yet. A few years ago, while visiting my friend, Elena, in New York City, I realized that I wasn’t the only one guilty of this cardinal sin. I remember asking her if we could go check out the Statue of Liberty on my brief trip to the Big Apple. To this tourist’s surprise, Elena informed me that she’d never been to the island that’s home to the most famous lady holding the most famous torch in the world. Shocked doesn’t begin to describe what I, a girl obsessed at the time with living the NYC bohemian “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere” lifestyle, felt!
Sure, Elena was born and raised in Manhattan, but just like this oblivious Angelino, the Statue of Liberty might as well have been another Hollywood sign in the smog to her. The grass is indeed always greener on the other side, I suppose; and maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder, and you always want what you can’t have and so on and so forth. Point being: sometimes we don’t have to travel epic distances to sit in awe of what the world has to offer. At times, it only takes a drive up the 101 freeway parking lot to reach a little piece of heaven in your own backyard.
These days, I like to enjoy these special moments with a tail smacking me in the face while I try to take in the sun. So of course, wherever my little family goes, it has to include the smallest of our “pack,” my Jack Russell Terrier-Chihuahua mix, Irie. Dog friendly’s not a set of words that we take lightly, because when it comes to Irie, it’s of the utmost importance that dog friendly really mean just that.
On this particular day, my boyfriend Max wanted to give Irie a treat to end all treats – an off-leash dog park covered in grass. Toss a ball in L.A. and chances are you won’t hit a dog park with grass covering its lumpy landscape. Most dog parks are full of dirt, rocks, bugs, pee and digestible wood chips (at least digestible according to some pica-suffering dogs – can you blame them?). But grass transforms my puppy from a nervous wreck at the dog park into a bounding ball of puppy love in an instant. So 30 minutes of dog park research later and I stumble upon what looks to be a secret dog park in the most ideal locale yet – beneath the ever-so-famous Hollywood sign. There, nestled between celebrity homes, is Lake Hollywood Park, which from its online reviews reads like the perfect place for a dog-friendly “daycation.”
I’m not sure if it’s the quickest way to reach the heart of Hollywood, but exiting Gower Street from the Hollywood Freeway and heading up Beachwood Drive we found ourselves on a winding, and somewhat dangerously narrow, trip through the Hollywood Hills. On our way, we heard ecstatic tourists on busses let slip “awws” as Irie poked her little head out the window to check them out. I’m sure they assumed the slight cocking of her head made her the sweetest dog around. Fortunately for them, they don’t know Irie like I do, and what may have looked to them like pup sweetness was most likely Irie assessing the situation and thinking, “Hey, this is my barrio! Beat it.” She’s bilingual, my pooch.
So one windy trip up the Hollywood Hills and a wrong turn on Mulholland Drive later, we found our secret park tucked in between two major tourist look-out points beside a steep hill. Though it was Sunday afternoon, the parking was perfection. We had no trouble at all and rolled right into our curbside parking spot as if it had been patiently waiting for our pooch’s arrival.
It’s been about a year since Irie the Jackahuahua had her first taste of a dog park. That first month at The Boneyard in Culver City, Calif., was pure bliss – daily visits, romping, frolicking and more than anything, running. Irie looks like a 10-pound version of a Jack Russell with the muscled frame to prove it, and her small size plus the substantial muscle mass makes her the perfect little running machine. For this reason, we have a hard-standing rule that by no means can Irie ever be let off-leash outdoors. Unless, of course, it’s in a gated dog park. We hoped Lake Hollywood Park with its vast green pasture beneath an inspiring landmark would be the perfect place to let Irie spread her itty bitty wings.
But, as we came upon a list of warnings at the park entrance, the jig was up! We soon found that this “dog” park was really a regular ol’ park chock full of doggie aficionados and their illegally unleashed pooches running a-cute-muck beneath a disapproving Hollywood sign. Unfortunately, the notice at the park’s entrance, which overlooks the L.A. reservoir, clearly states that dogs must be on leash at all times and directs pet parents looking to break the law to nearby off-leash dog parks instead. Maybe the hipster pet parents on this particular day had drunk one too many grande, non-fat caramel frappucinos and were so wired they had missed the memo?
Nope, it was pretty obvious that everyone was well-aware of their transgressions and happily defied the law to see their pooch’s tail wag. Max and I, on the other hand, still had a tinge of law-abiding citizen guilt in our stomachs and squirmed at the idea of letting Irie off her leash; especially in a park where, despite its vastness, the perimeter still lacked the appropriate gates to ease our minds. After staking out a patch of grass free of dog poop, a big feat in a place where pooch feces seemed to be abundant and cleverly camouflaged by the grass (be forewarned!), we laid out our blankets and squatted for the afternoon.
Tethered to our hips, Irie sat beside us and took in the sun. It wasn’t long before George, a Shih Tzu mix, leapt over to meet Irie. Sniffing away, he ceremoniously bowed and invited her to a play fight. Irie, of course, obliged the request and joined in as well she could on her short leash. But when George dared her to chase him, she soon found herself abruptly swinging back at the end of her rope – uh, leash. The pouty look on her face said it all. “You bastards,” I imagined was what she would have said had her woofs been words. Bastards? Who, us?
Max and I exchanged guilty glances. Irie was the only one in the entire park not enjoying the feeling of grass beneath her paw pads. We looked like the crazy, overprotective parents on the lot and frankly, to be honest, hell yes we were. We know our dog better than anyone and we know that she’s capable of running at lightning speeds – speeds that neither one of her out-of-shape pet parents can match. But still, we had come all this way for Irie to enjoy a run through the grass and now this seemed like worse torture than waterboarding.
We gave in. We’re suckers under puppy peer pressure, so please don’t try this at home. On our feet, positioned to block her off at the pass if she were to try to hit the ground running for either the street or the hills, we anxiously released her from her leash. I assumed she’d act like she does at most dog parks, warily sniffing rear ends while keeping one anxious eye on momma, but the feeling of the grass and George beckoning her to come were too much to hold her back. She ran. She ran fast and hard. In circles, leaping, cornering the small tree we’d laid out underneath. She was delighted. We were terrified.
It wasn’t long before her (and my!) recall skills were tested and I blew a hard whistle her way, arms outstretched while frantically cooing at her like any freaked-out dog mom would. Wow, if she didn’t come running right to me and plow into my lap. I was darn proud of my training skills. She was back on her leash and pouting in no time – yes, worse than toruture, but I like my dogs alive and well, not being run down by an L.A. speed racer with a cell phone permanently attached to his ear.
The day progressed with a few more off-leash experiments as Irie met Peanut the Chihuahua, who seemed to have fallen a bit in love with Irie, and later Petunia the Bulldog in a cute pink collar to match her mom’s pink-embroidered dress; but all experiments led right back to the leash. Soon enough, Irie’s tummy started grumbling and we packed up and bid farewell to our secret dog park in the hills. On our way out though, we quickly captured a few photos at the look-out point over the L.A. reservoir, and further up the hill as close as we could get to the Hollywood sign. The tourists were abundant, but Irie staked her claim to Hollywoodland even if she was a furry interloper.
So while the east coast fried Sunday afternoon in record-breaking temperatures, over here in SoCal the breeze was just cool enough and the slobber just free-flowing enough to create the perfect Sunday afternoon for a day in a grassy, unofficial dog park. Just please don’t call the pooch police on us – thanks!