I’m a cat person. When I was growing up, my family had both dogs and cats, but I’ve always preferred cats. When I grew up, I married a man who also loves cats, and our children are cat-lovers, as well. 


But we had a dog once, a really wonderful dog, and during the 12 years she lived with us, she taught me a lot. Things I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and many of these things had to do with good neighboring. 


Back when our kids were young, I had the idea that getting a dog would be a good thing to do. I searched online and found the perfect dog for us: a mixed-breed female who had been rescued from the side of the road. She was lovely, with a sweet, brown face and a furry, curled tail that was always wagging. She clearly had some German Shepherd or Keeshond in her ancestry. My oldest son was a fan of the Peanuts© comic strip at the time, and he named her Lucy. 


When we got Lucy, she was about a year and a half old, which meant that she was past those difficult puppy behaviors like chewing, jumping on people, and potty accidents. This was good news for a house full of cat people. Also good news was that dogs are experts at cleaning up the floor underneath babies and toddlers at the dinner table. To this day, every time I throw away scraps of leftover eggs, meat, or vegetables, I say aloud, “I miss Lucy.” How I wish I could allow her that after-dinner joy once more of sharing in our family meal. 


But the biggest things that Lucy taught me didn’t happen inside our house. They happened outside, in our neighborhood. In fact, the time when I miss Lucy the most is when I’m out walking, dogless, through my neighborhood. 


Weather permitting, I’m out on my street nearly every day, walking the quarter-mile circle of our street several times. Our neighborhood is very self-contained, and those of us who are outdoors run into each other a lot—whether walking, gardening, jogging, pushing strollers, playing with kids, or walking dogs. But more than any of these things, it’s the dogs that bring us together. 


There’s something about walking a dog that creates an instant bond with other people, whether they have dogs or not. Most dogs are by nature friendly creatures, most are cute, and most are extremely happy to be outside, even at the end of a leash. They’re eager to go, go, go, but also more than willing to stop and smell the roses (or whatever it is they find interesting to smell), or say a doggie-hello to everyone they meet, both human and canine. If we pause to let them do these things, we often find ourselves in easy conversation with others, even if it’s not our natural bent to be extroverted.  


With a cheerful dog as your companion, you’re an immediate friend of just about everyone you meet—whether they’re walking a dog or not. You don’t need to think of a conversation topic, and it doesn’t matter if you remember each other’s names (in fact, you may be more likely to remember the dog’s name than the person’s name—and that’s okay!). 


During the dozen years that Lucy and I walked together, she taught me important lessons that I’ve held onto in the years since. I still make it a habit to get out and walk whenever I can. Even though I’m dogless now, it’s easier to strike up a conversation or just give a wave and a hello to a neighbor. Lucy broke the ice for me in my own neighborhood, and the benefits live on. 


Just for the record, I’m still a cat person. Our cats stay indoors, but they’ve also helped us connect with our neighbors over the years. We have a full-glass storm door, and we often leave our front door open so the cats can look out. From the street they’re very noticeable, and I can’t begin to count the number of times that a neighbor has commented to us how much they like seeing our cats at the door when they pass by our house. 


The pets in our neighborhoods are natural ice-breakers. They connect us to one another in ways that are comfortable, easy, and inclusive for everyone—even a cat person like me.