When my husband and I adopted a puppy early this year, I expected housetraining accidents, chewed shoes and muddy paw prints. I was correct in all these predictions. But I wasn’t expecting Winston to change how I interacted with my downtown neighbours.
I had always considered my neighbours to be friendly, but we rarely had reasons to talk. With a puppy by my side, I find myself striking up conversations with many more passersby. “What’s his name?” is just a starting point for conversations that often turn to discussions of local news or a new restaurant recommendation.
Dogs get people talking. And research shows that when people talk, even briefly, it strengthens their interpersonal bond and plants the seeds for a myriad of benefits. They feel safer and more connected to their community. They’re more likely to give time and energy to helping neighbours. In turn, this sense of connection benefits individuals, helping them deal with stress and anxiety, while encouraging their well-being by fostering a sense of belonging. In these ways, dog-friendly spaces can strengthen community and quality of life.
Public spaces have always served as a fulcrum for humans to meet, interact and strengthen their community experiences. People want to form relationships organically, but they often hesitate, either in accordance to some unwritten social rule or because they simply don’t know where to begin. A dog is a catalyst that makes conversations, and relationships, easier to start.
Although the core has no shortage of dog-friendly sidewalks, it is sadly lacking in designated dog parks. Downtown Edmonton and Oliver remain two of the only neighbourhoods in the city without off-leash parks—but not for long. When it’s completed next year, Alex Decoteau Park at 105 St. and 102 Ave. is sure to change the experiences of dog-owners throughout the core. It will fill a void by giving us a safe place to exercise our dogs—without a leash. But it will also become a gathering point for neighbourhood residents, dog-owners and non-dog-owners alike.
We might meet there because of our dogs, but we’ll keep going back because of each other.