[photo and illustration credits at the bottom]
What a crazy ride this has been for us since April 2015… This is the story of the sad exodus of your friendly dog nerds in The Hague…
And those unicorns!
For two years, we used to train in a beautiful quiet field in Scheveningen. We even had our own cabin to put all our props and toys for the dogs. It had giant floodlights and it was dedicated to us. Just us, on training night. Sure the cabin was a bit shabby, there was sometimes shooting practice in the neighbourhood, and it wasn’t easy to find, but as far as dog training fields in The Hague were concerned, it was the bomb. Man, there were even unicorns there, and running water, and a toilet and… (well, ok, maybe no unicorns).
Then back in April 2015, plans were announced that our beautiful field was going to be turned into a giant car park. We immediately started looking, thinking we’d have a new spot in no time. We felt the pressure as we quickly started seeing roadwork vehicles and in the blink of an eye, the works were in full swing.
So we multiplied our efforts and got very systematic about our search. Full of naive courage, we kept going for months of what felt like a million phone calls, meetings, and improvised visits to sports centres, the municipality, other training schools, farmers, pet stores, horse riding schools, you name it. And very little to show for it. All that searching, and we came up with a couple of plan B’s and about two serious contenders.
We didn’t feel we were asking for the world. We were after a place conveniently close to residential areas, but large; lit up at night, but not close to a busy road; beautiful, but findable. A place with a cabin to store our stuff. A place that was affordable (dog training schools make paper-thin margins). A place that was safe and clean. A place where we had permission to bring (well-behaved) dogs. We’d already given up on the idea of running water or a toilet a long time ago, so how hard could it be? Well, it turned out to be soul-crushingly hard, nigh on impossible.
‘Cattle Raid’ takes on a new meaning
Finally we decided to let money talk (we pay our staff – most schools don’t – so our margins are even thinner than other schools’) and go for the gemeente option: the Westduin Park. It looked exactly like our old one in terms of ecology (nature reserve in beautiful green dune terrain). It would be in a public space, but you needed a permission to make systematic use of it (which we got), so we weren’t going to run into other training schools on the same field. Added bonus, it was right alongside the a huge well-to-do neighbourhood (Vogelwijk).
The biggest problem was that it didn’t have its own floodlights anymore. We had already investigated technical solutions for that. So, once we got our permission from the gemeente, we settled there in the nick of time, in September 2015.
And then one disaster struck after another.
First, less than two weeks before re-launch, we noticed that the cattle barriers had moved. The Highland cows had just gained access to the entire Westduin Park…. Including our field. So we contacted our cow ethologist friends and the local gamekeepers to size up the problem (read the bits in italics if you’re interested in the safety of Highland Cows in public parks). Conclusion: it wasn’t a big deal as long as some assumptions held true.
We found out that only the most docile calves descending from the most docile parents were picked for the public-mingling program. We found out that they got extensively socialized in a public park environment before being moved to the Westduin. We found out that even if they started to show too much pushy behaviour (nevermind aggression), they got removed to a more remote area. We found out that, despite these experiments with Highland cows mixing with the public running in the Netherlands for the past 15 years, incidents seem to be majorly anecdotal. We also looked for the safety record of these animals in The Hague and the worst we found was what kids did to them every year (horrendous…). Oh, and they are mostly active at sunset and sundown. The rest of the time, they rest. By the way, we also found out that they can only see red/orange/yellow. The rest is various shades of grey. Why a cow can’t see green is beyond me, but I digress.
Also, only juveniles and females are kept in the area, outside of breeding season that is. And (famous last words) they are not attracted to dogs or humans provided no one feeds them. They naturally keep a distance, particularly if you are in a large group. Just a little visual barrier should be enough to make them go on their way in the unlikely event they should stay close to us at night.
I say ‘famous last words’ because the cows got curious a couple of times, and came to inspect our treat pouches, puppy props, etc. So much for them being shy and wanting to keep a distance… Thankfully, they are just docile giants and ended up just leaving, but have you SEEN the horns on these things?! I don’t know if it’s my unicorn nostalgia speaking but as far as I’m concerned, the only horn I want to see on a dog training field not on a Highland cow.
Scouts, prepared yourself for a wave of cute pups
As we were losing more and more natural light, it also became clear that our current set of lights wouldn’t enough. So we kept adding more and more to our arsenal. But we couldn’t make it too bright, as that would disturb the local fauna. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
We acted on the cow situation by setting a fence around our students. It was portable, but it was heavy to carry and oh-so-laborious to set up and pack up.
To add insult to injury, we also had the worst autumn weather ever (seriously, two yellow weather alerts in six weeks, and heavy rain every lesson but one?!). Now we also needed to find efficient ways to keep our material from getting soaked.
We also heard from students that, when they arrived late, didn’t feel comfortable walking up the path as that too was unlit. We always sent a team member to lead students up before the lesson, but if you were late, you’d miss that boat.
We ended up working so hard on making the field comfortable for our students without disturbing the wildlife that we came home from school exhausted, instead of energized. Something had to give.
So we got back to our other favorite location, the scouting clan at the Meer en Bos. We took our students there for a trial night and wow did the mood change! Everyone was relaxed and cheerful and focused again. We could get our lessons done without accommodating for mother nature every breathing moment.
I still have my concerns regarding space – we are used to a biiiig expanse of land and we want to give the dogs the space they need, but we are also looking into running additional classes from across the road at the Meer en Bos so – spoken like a true scientist – fingers crossed. After all, what could possibly go wrong with the luck we’ve had this year? OK, think positive… Anyway, hopefully space won’t be an issue. And money? Well money will be tight. What’s new?
What counts is that we (Laure-Anne and Sabine) listened to our students, we listened to the team, and we listened to ourselves. The scouts just felt good – beyond-the-practicalities good (a couple of very comfortable locations want us still, but we did not pursue it because of a weak cultural fit). At the scouts, though, we instantly clicked. They were smart and resourceful and helpful and relaxed. And our central themes mesh very closely: nature, do-no-harm, and education. May our collaboration continue to be fruitful for the years to come.
As I write, our contract is being drawn out and it looks like we are going to have a home. Please let this one be permanent: no more roadwork, no more cows.
As of 2 December 2015, OhMyDog! will be giving all their lessons from… drumroll… De Clan. De Clan was beautifully designed and is carefully maintained by Scouting Ferguson. They designed the building to ‘hug’ the courtyard, as a welcome to people walking in. It is surrounded by a beautiful traditional wooden fence. It is very well deserved by public transport, is in a really good neighbourhood, is just across the street from the Meer en Bos for our activities requiring more space, it has tons of free parking spots literally at the door, it is lit by street lamps and it is nowhere near as exposed to the elements. Oh, and, there are toilets, running water but no… sorry, no unicorns.
For details on how to find it, click on our location page.
Wish us good luck on this latest chapter of our history!
Illustration and photo credits
- Unicorn: Torley. Courtesy of Second Life Resident Torley Linden. Downloaded from Flickr CC on 26 Nov 2015 (CC BY-SA 2.0 licence).
- Highland cow: Heeland Coo. Courtesy of Arran Moffat. Downloaded from Flickr CC on 26 Nov 2015 (CC BY 2.0 licence).