How My Dog Convinced Me to Attend the Neighborhood Block Party

Posted on by Ashlee Addleman, MPH

“What matters is to live in the present, live now, for every moment is now. It is your thoughts and acts of the moment that create your future.” I recently read this quote from Indian spiritual leader Sai Baba in a magazine and of course, it made me consider the fact that I struggle to live in the here and now. It made me think about how life is so busy, ridiculously busy. I rely on my to-do lists and laser-focused planning to create a smoother future. It’s hard for me to be present in the moment, to soak in the life happening around me and relish in these happenings. My mind is always on what’s coming next, which distracts me from the present. 

On a recent walk with my dog, Mavis, I actually paused long enough to truly reflect on the meaning of this quote. I should use quotation marks around the word “walk” because Mavis doesn’t actually walk the way some dogs like to walk. She enjoys being outside, but doesn’t like to move with zest or do anything quickly for that matter. If we start walking too quickly, she puts the leash in her mouth and desperately tries to slow me down. Early on in her life, I would tell her, “Come on girl, we don’t have all day, we have so much to do.”   

After a year of trying every training trick to get her to move more than a few feet at a time and dancing like a fool in an attempt to excite and motivate her to walk, I’ve concluded that she will never be my ideal walking buddy; it’s not her thing. I’ve accepted that she simply wants to watch the world go by as she saunters slowly down the street. Once outside, she happily seeks out our neighbors. Because it takes us 20 minutes to pass four or five houses, there is ample time to catch up with my neighbors. I get the latest news on a job status, a recent trip to Alaska, or the follies of a current house remodel. Mavis enjoys teaching neighborhood children the proper ways of greeting a dog and shows amazing patience with the eager little learners. She’s the dog that convinces people who “don’t like dogs” to stop and pet her. I know because they tell me, “I’m not a dog person, but I really like her and it makes my day when I get to say hi to Mavis!”

Prior to Mavis, I didn’t know a single soul in my neighborhood despite living on a high-traffic corner lot for more than two years. I just kept to my business, hustled in and out of my house, not giving consideration to my connection to my neighborhood. I had the attitude that I didn’t have time for my neighbors. This all changed when my little puppy came into my life. Because Mavis didn’t like to walk, we spent a lot of time ambling up and down the street during her first year of life.

It was while on a walk with Mavis and soon after I’d read the Sai Baba quote that I realized, this dog and her dawdling has slowed me down long enough to get familiar with my community. After a year of meandering around my neighborhood at a turtle pace, Mavis and I are acquainted with most of our neighbors, including their pets, children and even visiting family members. I’ve developed friendships with my immediate neighbors—we swap recipes, check on each other’s homes when we’re gone, and help with house projects. I even attend the annual neighborhood block party!

If it weren’t for Mavis, I would not have slowed down enough to genuinely connect to my neighborhood.  I’m realizing how important it is to be connected to one’s surroundings and how much enrichment it can bring. It’s moments like having a group of school kids learn about her breed (Bernese Mountain Dog) which leads to us talking about Switzerland, the Swiss cuisine—chocolate and cheese—and where this country is located in the world, that make me appreciate Mavis’ ability to be absolutely present with whomever she is interacting with. Personally, this is much more rewarding than a purposeful walk or accomplishing tasks on a to-do list.  I no longer mind when Mavis just wants to sit and watch the world go by; in fact, I now make time for it.

In preparation for an upcoming research project, I’ve been exposed to the growing body of evidence that associates animal-human interactions in communities with positive attributes that contribute to health and well-being.1 Such attributes include tolerance, trust, social networking, getting “out and about” and doing the right thing in communities.2,3 Evidence of how animals improve our communities is thought to contribute to some dimensions of social capital, which is defined by  Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, as “connections among individuals, social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”2,3 

The field of Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) is growing and more research is being conducted to better understand the relationship between humans, animals, and environments.2 As professionals working in veterinary medicine, we already know that the human-animal bond is special and goes beyond companionship. This relationship has profound health benefits on both people and pets; as such, it’s critical to understand pet ownership and the role it plays in today’s society.2 It’s our responsibility as veterinary professionals to care for the health and well-being of our companion pets—we  can use HAI evidence and insight to deepen our knowledge of pet ownership. How do we leverage and translate these research findings to veterinary medicine and then relate it to our clients and the care we provide our companion animals? ­­­Please share your comments.

References

  1. Wood L, Giles-Corti B, Bulsara MK, Bosch DA (2007). More than a furry companion: The ripple effect of companion animals on neighborhood interaction and sense of community.
  2. McCardle P, McClune S, Griffin JA, Esposito L, Freund LS (eds.). (2011). Animals in Our Lives: Human-Animal Interaction in Family, Community & Therapeutic Settings. Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. 2007; p. 24-28.
  3. Wood L, Giles-Corti B, Bulsara M. (2005). The pet connection: Pets as conduit for social capital?  Social Science & Medicine. 2005;(61)1159-1173.

About Ashlee Addleman, MPH

Ashlee Addleman, MPH, graduated from Portland State University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health Studies and received her Master in Public Health from Walden University in 2010. Ashlee joined the Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge (BARK) team in 2006 and is Manager/ Research Programs and Projects. She has been with Banfield Pet Hospital since 2002. Ashlee and her partner Kate share a home with Mavis (a goofy Bernese Mountain Dog) and a clever kitty, Jordan. View all posts by Ashlee Addleman, MPH →


Share this.