Dog-gone Clever

February 1, 2015, Department, by Samantha Bartram

Labrador-mix Eclipse hops on her local express bus for a quick ride to the dog park.The relationship between dog and man has evolved over centuries. We’re best friends, helpmates and sources of love and affection for one another. But in the bond between Jeff Young and Eclipse, a Seattle-area man and his two-and-a-half-year-old Labrador mix, there exists a remarkable level of trust and understanding. “I live in the city — 90 percent of my time is spent in an urban landscape,” says Young. “[Eclipse] has to be able to navigate the streets…I ingrained that into her since she was a puppy. There’s nothing worse than a dog that is scattered, scared and flipped out — that’s not Eclipse. If she’s out by herself, she knows exactly where she’s going.” 

Regular passengers of Belltown’s express bus know as much, as Eclipse often assumes the role of a fellow commuter, patiently angling for a window seat as she awaits the stop for her local dog park. Miles Montgomery, host of KISW Rock 99.9FM’s “Men’s Room,” broke the story in mid-January after noticing Eclipse during his morning commute. “I actually thought that she was a service dog because she was wearing a red harness collar and had her tags and everything,” Montgomery says. “She was wandering up and down the aisle and appeared to have no owner…She kept looking up at me as if to ask if it was OK to sit beside me. I told her to come up and she did. I later realized she just wanted to be able to see out the window so she could get off at her stop.” 

Once, maybe twice a week for the past two years, Eclipse hops on the bus ahead of Young, and 12 blocks later, the two meet at Belltown’s Regrade Park. The first time Eclipse slipped away, Young immediately “jumped on my motorcycle and flew down to make sure [she went to Regrade Park],” he says. Indeed, Eclipse was there, waiting patiently at the .3-acre off-leash dog park located in the heart of downtown Seattle. David Takami, communications strategic advisor with Seattle Parks and Recreation, said until the recent media coverage, his agency was unaware of Eclipse’s clever travel practices, but “we welcome visitors of all species and are delighted that Eclipse has found a unique way of visiting her favorite dog park.” 

Many expressed disbelief that a dog would know which bus to take, given the plethora of commuter buses traversing Seattle’s streets each day. Young, however, offers a simple explanation: “She catches the express bus. It’s big and red and yellow — the other buses are green. It’s low to the ground with three doors that open simultaneously. [Eclipse] knows that’s her bus and she knows where the dog park is, I assume, because of the smell. She’s familiar with the route now whether she’s with me or by herself.” These days, however, Eclipse is less likely to be by herself — her recent notoriety has Young concerned for her safety. “Lately I’ve kept her closer than normal,” he says, but the pair still regularly visits Regrade Park to enjoy Eclipse’s favorite, if predictable, pastime, “chasing tennis balls.” 

Samantha Bartram is the Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.