Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Puppy's Potential for Community Building

The little pug came scrambling along the sidewalk toward us excitedly, pulling its owner along. I love puppies and, of course, so do my kids. As we all stopped and stooped down to give and receive love and hugs from the little fur-ball, I looked up at its owner in apology.

"Sorry," I said, "You never get very far very fast with a new puppy, do you?"

She just smiled. "No, but it's okay. It's fun actually."

I was glad to hear it. Sometimes, puppy owners in a hurry can seem mildly if not aggressively annoyed at the attentions poured on their new charges. But Tricia relished the opportunity it afforded her.

"I've lived in this neighborhood for two years, and I've never met so many people," she said. "Eddie is a big rock star."

I shook my head. "That's amazing," I said. "People want to connect in a community, but often they don't know how. A puppy makes it so much easier."

Tricia nodded in agreement. I often think about this, wandering as I do in search of people to reward, people who might reward me with insight, that it can be a serious challenge sometimes to break the ice, to make the bold move of looking someone in the eye and saying even so much as a friendly hello.

Sadly, in our society, especially in a big urban setting, doing such a thing can often be construed as strange unless you have a reason to engage. And, even then, when people are supposedly engaged,  ordering something from a waiter or a barista, or coming across people who want to pet their cute dog on a leash, they often seem to miss the opportunity to remember that they are being offered a gift in that moment, a chance to interweave with another human being, a real living breathing body with whom even a brief connection can be magical, awe-inspiring.

As Oscar dangled a rubber snake over Eddie's head, Tricia warned him: "He'll chew that up..." She laughed. "He chews everything, including my hair."

Clearly, it was a small price to pay for all that Eddie has brought her, all that he--and she--have brought to the community. I gave Tricia a gold star for having the guts to take on the responsibility of her little bundle, and to take full advantage of her role of puppy owner and use it to establish a stronger sense of belonging in her community.

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