Life in the Hills: The people you meet – getting to know neighbors at city parks

Truvy, Pippin, Oreo, Mabel, Olive, Lula, Zack, Benjy, Spuds, Sage, Kai, Tipsy and Emmie. At first, it was all about taking my dog, Maverick, to see his friends and release his boundless energy so that I wouldn’t feel as guilty leaving him at home as I went about my day. We would head to Lincoln Park or Shoup Park early in the morning before the kids arrived to play. The moment we turned on University Avenue, Maverick would know where we were going and start barking uncontrollably. By the time I parked the car, he would be practically sitting in my lap preparing to leap out to greet his friends.

In those early days, I would keep one eye on Maverick and pick up after him while I checked my email or made a call on my phone. But little by little, I started talking with the various dog owners. Our conversations initially revolved around our dogs: where a dog had just been groomed; who was leading the pack for the day; who found the stinkiest place to roll. It was an unexpectedly wonderful way to begin the day for both Maverick and me. So we started going more regularly. And the conversations each morning became increasingly personal and unrelated to our dogs. I would learn where Mabel’s mom had just traveled; where Spuds’ owner used to live; what Oreo’s owner did for a living. Soon I realized that this group of dog owners included some very interesting people.

Mary, a former flight attendant, used to live in Chicago, where she was based. Having studied art in college, she transitioned to a career as an art consultant. She then met her husband and relocated from San Francisco to Los Altos Hills. For many years now, she has helped individuals, couples and companies select and curate their art collections. Wanting to create art herself, she decided in 2014 to go back and earn her Master of Fine Arts from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. A visual artist who focuses on the language of painting through mixed media and collage, Mary is prolific and highly regarded. She has exhibited extensively in the Bay Area. All of this, of course, is lost on Maverick, who mostly likes Mary for her generosity with treats.

Bob and his dog, Zack, haven’t been coming to the park as often due to some health problems, and we are missing him. One day while circling the park, Bob told me a story I will never forget. Bob, a former airline pilot, and his wife, a flight attendant (not everyone at the park is associated with the aviation industry, I swear), had busy schedules, sometimes overlapping, sometimes not. When Bob’s sister-in-law separated from her husband and needed someplace to go with her 3-year-old son, they gladly offered her a temporary sanctuary in their home, where they stayed for the next 18 years! The sister-in-law was also a flight attendant, funnily enough. The three adults coordinated their flight schedules so that someone would always be home to take care of the much-loved child. It was a gift for all of them and takes an extraordinary man to open his heart and home to an extended family.

And then there is Harvey, our den father. Harvey knows everyone’s names, dogs and owners alike. He is the first to notice if a dog has gone astray, and who is on vacation. He often walks and cares for other people’s dogs if they are incapacitated or out of town. I first met Harvey in 2004 when I took our former Portuguese water dog, Shasta, to the park. There we met Harvey and his beloved, beautiful standard poodle, Lula. Our paths only crossed a few times back then. But when Shasta figured out that our electronic fence was on the fritz, he would take himself out for a walk around the neighborhood. To our good fortune, Harvey would recognize Shasta and bring him safely back home. Fifteen years after first meeting Harvey, l still look forward to our walks around the park discussing anything and everything. Harvey is the kindest, brightest, most unassuming Los Altan I know. He is one of the pioneers of the computer industry, having had stellar careers at SRI and Apple. And yet he also has a wealth of knowledge about art and artists, opera and experimental music, theater and culture. A true Renaissance man!

Los Altos spends money on Downtown Greens, community center plans and the annual Pet Parade, all for the purpose of creating community. Meanwhile, we dog owners have organically been getting to know our neighbors at city parks. City council members should come spend some time with us as they consider a pilot program to test off-leash hours for dogs at parks. And soon, please.

Julie Arnheim is a Los Altos Hills resident and Town Crier contributor.

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