Five different cats owned us over the last 25 years. (Yes, I used “owned” intentionally. You’ve likely heard the quip, “In ancient Egypt cats were worshiped. They’ve never forgotten this.” Yes, it’s true.) When the last of our furry felines died this spring, our 11-year-old began an adopt-a-dog marketing campaign, and my husband and I finally agreed. Little did we know that inviting a dog into our lives also meant building community.
In early September, we adopted Cooper, a vivacious Chihuahua mix. I knew there would be a lot to learn in having a dog in our life (e.g., litter boxes versus multiple outdoor bio breaks every day), but I was not prepared for one thing in particular: neighborhood hospitality and community. Walking Cooper around our neighborhood has opened a whole new world to us.
It’s curious to me. We’ve lived in our neighborhood for six years. I often walk our local sidewalks, as a form of exercise. My husband and I are regularly out on the sidewalks with the 11-year-old, watching him ride any number of different wheeled vehicles. So it’s not like we’ve been holed up in our house over the last six years. But there’s something definitely different about walking a dog.
Building community, one dog at a time
Cooper is naturally friendly, and she is pretty cute. Even so, everyone we encounter on our daily walks stops to talk. Some are walking their dogs, others are just out walking. But everyone stops, asks about our dog and a real conversation ensues. We’ve probably seen these people before, but we simply passed on the sidewalk. It’s as if community-making magic is contained in that 17.3 pounds of Chihuahua mix!
We all know that walking is a great form of exercise. Studies show that there’s a loneliness epidemic that is a threat to public health. Having a pet carries with it some health benefits. Put those three things together and what do they suggest? Get a dog and get walking! You’ll meet people, building new community. And there’s the companionship of the dog, too. You’ll be getting great exercise. It’s a win-win!
We know from our health initiative, Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls, that when we are at our healthiest–in body, mind and spirit–we can best respond to God’s call in our lives. So, what are you waiting for?
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director.