Carmelites have an almost European obsession with dogs. They put bowls of fresh water in businesses, hand out free doggie treats at restaurants, and provide cannisters of Mutt Mitts at most street corners. Dogs are proudly walked down the sidewalks, in front of quaint cottages and shops, and right down trendy Ocean Avenue. Big dogs, skinny dogs, little dogs, and hairy dogs seem to have the run of the little Californian town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. I have had dogs most of my life. I just don’t like to shop or eat in a nice restaurant next to someone else’s dog (service dogs excluded of course). Carmel dogs, however, are beautifully groomed, AKC recognizable breeds which show the good manners of obedience school graduates. Many sport little designer sweaters and coats to ward off the chill of the coastal fog. All are kept on short leashes and seem to understand that they need to pass on the same side of a lamp-post as their owner – a concept none of my dogs ever acquired.
The scenic town of Carmel sits on a hill over-looking the Pacific Ocean. Gravity eventually draws you downhill to the sugar-white sand of Carmel Beach. Dogs love this beach. Here they are let off their leash and run freely to chase seagulls and eat sea foam. Despite dozens of dogs loosely following their owners, there is no barking or fighting. They greet each other with wagging tails and a mandatory sniff, then trot off as if they were at a dog show, too well-bred to get in a little scuffle. All seem to be under close verbal control of their owners.
Marcia and I followed the crowd on a beautiful September day down to one end of the beach where a banner announced that the Annual Carmel Beach Sand Castle Contest was underway. A large area in the sand was partitioned off for the contestants to craft their masterpieces. Signs surrounding the area stated that all dogs, for obvious reasons, were to remain on a leash. Most dogs complied.
Artists from around Northern California descend upon Carmel each year to compete for the coveted honor of “Best in Show.” Massive sculptures, fortresses, castles, animals, and things you are not sure of, emerge from cool moist sand as teams of participants shovel, smooth, and shape. Drift wood, seaweed, shells, and feathers accent the sculptures. Once complete, the artisans sit nearby in beach chairs with a glass of chardonnay, to admire and protect their fragile creation, until the esteemed judges arrive.
As we soaked up the idyllic scene of the light blue-green ocean lapping at the white sand below orange bluffs – while strolling sophisticates admired the sand art – a black lab-mix dog tore through the crowd, tongue hanging out, tail wagging, ears flopping wildly. No leash held him back as he was darting and zigzagging between people, chairs, and sand castles. Sculptors, officials, and Samaritans sprung to their feet to try to protect the artwork and shoo the dog away. This just seemed to add to the dog’s excitement as he continued to circle the sand. Game on!
Eventually, the mutt seemed to tire of this stunt and trotted off to rejoin his embarrassed owners who promptly placed him on a leash and, I presume, in “doggie timeout.” No masterpieces were destroyed as far as I could tell. I don’t think this was a local, well-behaved, Carmel dog; probably just a tourist dog from somewhere like Mississippi, like we were.