Had I indeed found my personal Holy Grail of online-meets-real dog parks? With the Colorado Dog Friends Adventure Group, it’s still too early to tell. But I do know this: My enthusiasm for the real dog park has waned somewhat, and my enthusiasm for online dog parks faded before it even began. With Meetup groups, on the other hand, I see real potential, and my enthusiasm remains strong. Here, I don’t have to pretend to be Altai and I don’t have to hope that the real dog park will have a good mix of agreeable people and dogs on any given day. Rather, I can simply be myself and connect with people who share my perspective and interests, and with dogs who—much more so than Emma and Eleanor far off in the Swiss Alps—will be kindred spirits with Altai, satisfying his need for socialization far closer to home.
We still go to our local dog park, though less often than we used to. And Altai still gets excited when we go. He gets even more excited, I think, when he sees me reach for my backpack and hiking boots. To Altai, the only thing better than socializing off-leash with other dogs is doing so while hiking in the mountains. At the end of the day, however, I don’t think it matters much to him whether the socialization came through our local park or the arrangement of an Internet Meetup group. What really matters is that there’s a real, live dog there to greet him when it happens.