So today on one of my city bus rides I sat next to a woman who was showing everyone seated around her the photo on her phone of her dog Layla. Layla is a 60 pound pit bull, 6 months old, and in the photos she is sprawled out on the chesterfield with little pink booties on her four paws. What struck me about this scene was the way people of different genders, ages, races, income groups (one man had a briefcase, the woman next to him had a cane made out of tree branch) come together to share stories about their canine friends. It reminded me that when my family moved into our subdivision we were told that it was children that brought people together, we’d know people from Parent-Teacher nights, school fairs, sports, brownie nights, etc… That didn’t happen. After 5 years we knew next to no one in the subdivision, not even on our street.
You couldn’t say it was because I was shy! I talk to everyone. In fact I think I overwhelm people, especially when I tell my suburban neighbours about my work with the homeless (I can see them looking over me for signs of bedbugs!). One clue is that our properties are an acre of land apart. One could surmise that folks moving into this area WANT their privacy. I remember the day I asked a man around the corner how he came to have the awesome concrete steps that led up to his doorway. It was name, rank and serial number all the way. A man I knew from church had moved into the area from Cape Breton and Lower Sackville, he complained he’d lived in the area for 5 years and never made a single new friend. I responded, “David, if you look at how the lots are designed, small front lawns, big back yards, huge decks, it is obvious that when people get home from work they want to keep the unfamiliar to a minimum.”
BUT 5 years ago when our family went to Litters and Critters and received 10 week old Nova everything changed. Suddenly people would stop us, cross the street to speak to us, stop their vehicles in the middle of the road to ask us Nova’s breed, even call us to arrange “play dates” for their dog and Nova. Now we know countless people (and dogs!) in the area. We spend hours talking about our dogs, never about our children.
What is it about our dogs that bring us together, that breaks the ice and lowers whatever suspicions we harbour about each other? I think it is the innocence of the animal, we are not afraid that the dog will judge us, ask something of us, or attempt to sell us something. We can pat the dog and move on. We don’t feel compelled to stop and chat, drawn into a needy conversation, forced into a conversation we cannot escape. The irony of course is that some of the folks most worried about these conversations are the same people who love to share their unique passions, for quite a lengthy time, with whomever they meet. It the lack of give and take in our social lives that has convinced us to keep to ourselves. But dogs move us out of that space.
And so I say, thank God for dogs!