My dog is not part of the cool club. Instead we have to walk past them every single morning, me tugging at her lead to calm her down and she trying to rush at the fence and give them all a good telling off.
It's a good thing actually, because the 'off leash' section in the park is a mere 15 metres by 30 metres and is devoid of grass or anything more interesting to sniff at than dusty turds ignored by lazy owners. Instead, we veer off the path well trodden and into the 'forest'.
The 'forest' in reality is a small strip of neglected land between the park and several large apartment blocks but it's dark, dank and full of canine-friendly nooks and crannies to investigate, not to mention a few cats and squirrels to chase amongst the moss, mushrooms and wet leaves. Then, on the other side of the park, there's a huge expanse of grass that I also let Milly run freely on if there are no other dogs about.
Trouble is, there often are other dogs about but I don't spot them until there's a furry clash of meeting bodies and a mutual butt sniff which is then followed by me dashing over to clip Milly back on and apologise for any nip that the other animal received or was about to receive. "Je suis desolee. Mon chien n'aime pas outre chiens."
Luckily for me, this clumsy attempt has resulted in three Swiss humans reverting instantly to English.
It has also buried the popular myth held by most expats in Geneva that Swiss people are stand-offish and unfriendly. Not in my neck of the woods.
The first to revert to English when faced with a pudgy-but-apologetic Australian woman who was still unshowered, morning-breathed and messy-haired was an elderly lady in a burgundy puffer jacket as wide as she was tall, the colour of which set off her purple-hued perm rather nicely. Her big, black, maybe-cross between a Labrador and St Bernard took Milly's less-than-welcoming demeanour in his stride, contenting himself to stand there panting and wait for her approach him when she felt like it.
"His name is Cassius," Madame Burgundy informed me. She jumped in before I could reply. "I'm not a racist, I didn't call him that - it was his name for years before I found him at the ---- " several words of French escaped before the Anglais term arrived "----refuge. Yes, refuge."
It was then I noticed the criss cross scars on his front paws, standing out amongst the high gloss of his fur and shining, friendly eyes. "He was a guard dog for a man who owned a metal yard and had to run and sleep out on the sheets," she said. Through a series of questions, hand movements and guess work, Cassius's seven year life story before the arrival of Madame Burgundy emerged. No love or attention until somebody noticed his bleeding, infected feet and stole him away, hoping he'd find a better owner at the refuge.
"My husband died and I needed something to love. Cassius is everything to me," she said, leaning down to pat his head. Milly allowed me to do it too, taking the opportunity to flip over in the dewy grass and rub her back in the remains of kebab wrapper instead of rush over and attempt a quick nip.
Further on in the park we encountered Malou, the Mr Crazy Caffeine of our neighbourhood, careening around the corner of the copse in a blur. A regular buddy of ours, he too is a mutt; presumably the love child of a greyhound and Jack Russell with a sturdy torso and impossibly skinny legs. He looks like a coke can with four toothpicks stuck underneath it. He'd been found wandering up in the Jura mountains, abandoned. His coat is very flat but black and shiny like a brand new top hat.
"Hello sweetie," I cooed as he jumped up for a greeting. He lost interest the second he clapped his beadies on Milly who was still unaware of his presence as she stared longingly up into the tree that held two cavorting squirrels many metres up.
Malou danced. He pranced and woofed. He ducked and dodged. He cavorted, rushed up and back, sniffed alongside Milly and even nudged her arse in some truly commendable and exhaustive efforts to get her attention. As with Cassius, she was off lead and not inclined to make an attack but was unfortunately intent on studiously ignoring him. At least until he gave up and trotted back over to where his owner was standing, chatting to me.
"I'm so sorry," I said to Malou and then glanced up at his owner in case he felt offended on his beast's behalf. "You'd have won me over with your smooth moves and agility."
Love Chunks was once in the park jogging when I was busy talking to Malou's master. We don't know each other's names, just our dogs' (which tends to be standard social etiquette for four legged walkers the world over), but I did know that Malou enjoyed cross country cavorting when his owner was training for triathlons.
When I got home, LC said, "You know, you shouldn't just talk to any old bloke in the park you know. You've got to be safe, have your wits about you." The fact that Malou's master was good looking, fit and young wouldn't have had anything to do with his concern...?
This thought warmed me as we walked through the grass this morning, me grateful for my wellington boots as they crunched the ice now coating the fallen leaves.
Milly stopped, one of her front paws raised: a sign that she'd spotted something surprising. Strangely enough, it was another dog, not something she'd normally consider lifting a paw up for. I'd seen them in the distance on many other occasions and mentally considered the lady as Classic Genevois: designer coat, expensive fringed ugg boots, perfectly lightened hair and impeccable make up - not a bad effort for 7:30am.
I felt like lifting up one of my own legs in surprise because Milly's tail was wagging and she trotted forwards towards Black Dog Number Three. This one was as large as Cassius but slimmer in frame and shaggier in coat - a twist of liquorice wearing a flokati floor rug perhaps.
"Bonjour madame." Genevois Gentlelady smiled at my greeting and answered in English. Even those two words - spoken in what I assumed was a pretty decent French accent - betrayed not only my foreignness but also my ignorance.
"This is Bernard," she said, as he flopped on the grass beside her. As she walked, he walked; when she stopped, he flopped. Milly sniffed his seated butt cautiously but appreciatively. That was something new for her.
"What sort of breed is he?" Eyes like burnt caramel, fur softer than a kitten's and a mouth that truly widened into a smile the second he was touched. Something pretty special no doubt.
"Nobody knows....." I stroked his ears with my left hand and Milly's with my right to allow the conversation to continue without generating any jealousy or impromptu fighting.
"He is now two years old and I adopted him when he was only twelve moins - no - months - old. He had been through a terrible time."
It was nearly eight o'clock when she had finished, kissing the top of Bernard's head in a loving form of punctuation. Her change of movement had him up on his feet instantly, ready to move when she did.
She gently lifted up his tail. "You see here - it's a bit personal, yes? - under his tail, by his anus? They had burned him with cigarettes there."
And that's when I found myself holding hands with a woman I'd only met twenty minutes earlier and whose name I didn't know.
Three black dogs. Giving joy and deserving joy.