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As the most popular pet to have in the United States, it’s no surprise that dogs bring plenty of health benefits to their owners. Having a loyal companion or a de facto exercise partner are some of the more apparent perks, but dog ownership has even been linked to lower cortisol levels and improved blood pressure. While it’s clear that owning a dog can help with a person’s physical health, a dog can also vastly improve one’s mental health.
A daily mood booster, a dog provides its owner opportunities for connection and socialization with friends, family, and other dog owners. And those with the vast New England landscape at their fingertips (or paws) have an even greater opportunity for bonding and improved well-being. Whether hiking the White Mountains with fellow dog owners from a meet-up group, watching the sunset with family at a beach in Maine, or relaxing at one of Boston’s dog-friendly parks, there are no shortages of places to visit with your pup across the region.
Here we’ll talk with three Boston-area dog owners about how their dog has impacted their connection to community and their well-being.
An active support system
Liz Lauzon, 31, says that her Labrador retriever, Riley, helps her and her boyfriend, Ryan, keep an active lifestyle while living in South Boston. “Since Ryan and I both work full time and are in the office more often, we like to do something fun with her in the mornings.” Typical activities include taking Riley to Castle Island to play frisbee, kicking around a soccer ball at a nearby field, or letting her go for a swim.
On weekends, Lauzon and her boyfriend often go hiking or meet up at dog-friendly breweries with their friends, many of whom have their own dogs. Dog parks also offer an opportunity to chat with fellow dog owners and for Riley to socialize with their dogs. Riley even helps Lauzon with her networking skills, as she joins her at the office from time to time.
Riley doesn’t just impact Lauzon’s physical health, but her mental health as well. She shares that Riley feels like one of her best friends and has taught her how to be patient and not take life too seriously. “If I’m ever feeling a little anxious or upset about something, just getting outside to go on a walk with her, I’ll come back feeling 10 times better.”
Fostering a connection to community
Connecting with dog advocates and finding ways to give back to the community felt natural once Waltham resident Rachel Tyner adopted Ollie, a beagle and Staffordshire terrier mix. Because of Ollie’s love for other dogs, Tyner, 34, started fostering through a local animal rescue organization to give Ollie a buddy without adopting a second dog. Tyner soon learned that volunteering was a great way for her to socialize too. “I felt like I had a whole new group of friends because we were all sharing advice and experiences, attending events together, and bonding over a shared passion for dog rescue.”
Ollie, who charms nearly everyone he meets, inspired Tyner to consider how she could spread that joy to others in her community. “He’s gentle and has these big soulful eyes. I’ve seen him be a source of comfort to people, which is why I thought he would be a great therapy dog.”
Tyner goes on to explain that one route for dogs to volunteer in settings like a hospital or hospice house is to complete the Canine Good Citizen program, a training program designed to teach good manners to dogs and responsible dog ownership to owners. She describes the program as a confidence-building experience in which she was able to connect with other dog owners with a common goal.
While Ollie is a light for the many people he encounters, his most positive impact is on Tyner’s well-being. She shares that having a dog pushes you, even on your busiest days, to take a break and get outside for a walk. “Being able to step away from my computer during the workday for some fresh air, sun, and exercise is an opportunity to reset.”
Bringing family and friends together
“We are a happier family when we have a dog,” says Jill Bunker about her family’s decision to adopt Winnie, a pit bull mix, after the passing of their dog, Brody. Their time together as a family is often spent with family friends and their dogs. “We are a family of extroverts and Winnie is one as well.” She goes on to say that the get-togethers, which are entertaining for everyone, are an ideal way for both the pets and the kids to burn off energy.
Bunker, 40, even has a best friend who has a dog that’s best friends with Winnie. “We love to have doggy play dates and meet for walks.” She shares that it feels similar to raising kids at the same time and has brought them even closer together. “The potty training, training school, the chewing phase, sleep struggles — it’s comforting to have a friend going through the same experiences.”
Winnie also helps Bunker and her family meet others in the community, whether out for a walk or playing at the park. Winnie’s high energy offers an easy opening for Bunker to connect with fellow dog owners, often leading to enjoyable conversations with those who frequent the same spots around Franklin, where she lives. “It reminds me of the playground days with young kids and how you’d end up making friends because of that shared connection.”
Well-being in Boston
Opportunities for dog owners to connect are flourishing in Boston too. Dog parks with off-leash areas continue to pop up in the city and surrounding areas, as well as unique opportunities to socialize alongside your dog and likeminded patrons. Earlier this year, Mayor Michelle Wu even announced a policy that will allow approved restaurants and beer gardens to welcome dogs in their outdoor spaces. Given how these efforts to make the city more dog-friendly have increased over the years, it’s evident that dog owners want to spend as much time with their furry pals as possible.
For Bunker, it’s Winnie’s unconditional love; for Tyner, it’s Ollie’s companionship; and for Lauzon, it’s Riley’s calming effect. No matter what they love the most about their dogs, all three owners can agree that their health and well-being are much better off thanks to their four-legged family members.
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