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The Yankee Express

Luke visits Butler Farm Bark Park of Millbury


Luke is one of the more social puppies I’ve had, especially when it comes to playing with other dogs. Luckily, my neighborhood is full of interesting dogs for Luke to bump shoulders with. He’s learned to bark back in the face of aggression, romp with rambunctious rescues, and chase after sleek dogs built like greyhounds. When it comes to Dog Play, Luke never gives up. For this reason, we have called him a Scrapper. He’s even invented a signature move, ramming his shoulder and one side of his body against a bigger dog, as would a defensive back. 


He’ll sit on the front steps, ears lifted in curiosity, to watch leashed dogs walk by. Often times, a friend will prance onto my front lawn to invite spontaneous play. “Hi Luke. Let’s play!” Rosie, an exuberant Goldendoodle, flounces onto the front steps. “No more resting. Let’s get this party started!” Luke responds as he always does. He sits with a quiet aloofness, as though needing to make an independent choice. He lifts his big puppy head to sniff the air, twitches his nose and thinks over the idea. Then—“Game on!” Just like that, Luke has convinced himself that he’s in. The two dogs dash around my house like running fools. 
Despite Luke’s social nature, I still felt apprehensive about a trip (his first) to Butler Farm Bark Park, a dog park located in Millbury and “funded through the generosity of the Stanton Foundation and donations from local business, non-profit organizations and individual dog lovers.”  The park boasts charming bridges to climb upon, a water station for dirty paws, a leash hitch, and spacious area for running. The park is everything a Dog Mom could hope for. Still, I found myself worrying about little Luke. What if a Pit-bull with low self-esteem attacked him? What if the adult dogs don’t like the color of his coat? Questions passed through my mind while I parked. 
We arrive and make our way to the gate. A pack of dogs stiffen their necks from high ground in the park ground. “A newcomer!!” They rush towards the gate entrance to greet a pup named Luke Valentino. A few dogs poke their noses through the bars of the gate. One barks and this dog creates a domino effect until we’re greeted by a crescendo of yelping. The sunny Friday weather has definitely let the dogs out of the house, I think to myself. There are about five dogs waiting for Luke to enter. I begin to stereotype them. In my mind, they are villains behind a jail cell. I don’t want my puppy to play. 
“Hello there! Don’t mind these guys. They’re fine.” A sprightly Dog Mom struts over to the gate entrance, sensing my apprehension. “Don’t be afraid.”  I can tell she’s a veteran Dog Parker who knows the ropes. Still, I’m afraid.
“It’s just that Luke is still a puppy. I’m a bit nervous,” I say back. 
“He can wait here until he’s ready to join the group.” She guides me to a smaller, gated area at the border of the main park. Grateful for the veteran’s compassion, I lead Luke to seclusion. “Am I in a time-out?” He sniffs the ground anxiously. 
We are protected. The Dog Park feels suddenly perfect. Then the gate latch jingles. A sleek, muscular dog strolls in. His ears are small and pointy. His coat is the bright grey of a newly minted nickel. 
“Is he a Pitbull??” 
The accusation is inappropriate, even unfair. The owner responds casually, with indifference. Perhaps he’s used to the comment. “He’s not a Pitbull. He’s only seven months, still a puppy.” 
“Luke is a puppy as well!” I croon, hoping to redeem myself with a clever dog connection. Luke tugs at me. “I want to play with the non-pit pup!!”
The owner opens the door of the time-out section. Maybe I was distracted. Maybe I let my guard down upon learning that another puppy is here to join us. In any event, I didn’t expect Luke to break free but he does just that, and finds the gate opening to the jungle of big dogs. I feel small and helpless. I watch my pup enter the park and pray that everyone will play nice.  Four dogs rush towards Luke and sniff his body at all sides, an initial frisk, a rite of passage it seems. Luke lowers his head. His ears are pinned back like a bunny’s while the dogs encircle him like vultures. “What have I done? Will the dogs play nice?” I feel my heart skip a beat.
“Bring it on!” Luke isn’t concerned about playing nice. Instead, he chases the tail of a Shetland Sheepdog, then snaps back around to growl at the Black Lab sniffing his butt. “I’m playing with the Shetland!” He stands his ground, even growling to fend off two dogs at once. I can barely believe my eyes. My puppy, whose name contains the letters L, O, V, E, has figured out how to handle multiple personalities at the dog park. 
I perch on a wooden bridge in the center of the park that reminds me of the fairytale, The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff. Other dogs, sensing that I’m a Dog Person more than I am a troll, wander over to sit beside me. Beneath a sunny, autumn sky, I hang out with them while my own plays freely below. The dogs lick my face and hand me their paws. They nestle close and love me unconditionally. I realize, then, that I have not given these dogs enough credit. They look into my eyes with acceptance and a gentle understanding, as though to say, “Your puppy is safe with us.” Something tells me they’re right. Dogs always know the truth. 
Butler Farm Bark Park is located on 44 Singletary Road, Millbury and is available to Millbury and Sutton residents for a $20 annual fee (which includes a dog tag, special instruction on rules, and an open invitation to enjoy off-leash social interaction for your dog!

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