Most people will go through their entire lives without witnessing a miracle. Me? I’ve experienced three of them. I’ve named them, too: Miracle #1 is Pepper, Miracle #2 is Suki, and Miracle #3 is Jasper. These are the names of my three dogs.

I know what some of you may be thinking…“but Claudia, they’re just dogs. Miracles are something that’s supposed to be life-altering! Dogs don’t change lives! They’re just cute and cuddly!”

Suki (a.k.a. Miracle #2) is just one of three wonderful dogs that have changed my life and shown me the world in a totally new perspective!

Well, actually…they do change lives. Or at least, they’ve changed my life anyway.

Before you write me off as some dog-crazed lady (though I wouldn’t blame you if you did), let me explain how dogs are shaping the way we see the world.

Dogs Connect Us to Others

When I was in college, I walked around—A LOT—and in doing so, I met a ton of people. I went to a large, public university which meant that I could encounter a hundred people just by walking from one class to another.

For a girl living in a car-centric suburb of Southern California, walking around was something I only did in college because that was the only way I could get around campus. So after I graduated college and started working full-time in an office, the amount of encounters and conversations I had with strangers dropped dramatically. It’s very difficult to meet new people and find community when I’m constantly shuttling myself from place to place in the secluded comfort of my own car. All of the sudden, I went from seeing new faces every single day around school to seeing the same faces every day around work. I’m not trying to knock down my coworkers or anything—they’re some of the most interesting people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing—but I missed learning new things about new people I came across while walking around school.

So, what did I do about it? I turned to Pepper, Suki, and Jasper, of course.

No, I don’t mean that I replaced human interaction with long talks with my three dogs (they’re fantastic listeners but they don’t contribute much to the conversation). What I mean is, I decided to start talking to people I came across while walking my dogs around my neighborhood. And what did I discover? Glad you asked!

We Southern Californians have a habit of driving from place to place so we miss out on the people and places we drive by. Dogs have the amazing capacity to break this habit and force us out of our cars and onto our sidewalks! By getting out of the car and going on regular walks with our dogs and exploring places we’ve never been to before, we get a chance to meet people we would otherwise never encounter. This allows us to build relationships with others which in return, helps us foster a sense of connection and belonging to our communities. A strong, vibrant community isn’t measured by the flow of traffic that comes in and out of it—it’s measured by the flow of communication between its members.

Dogs Connect Us to  Our Neighborhoods

The amount of people I’ve encountered while walking around my neighborhood with my dogs isn’t quite as high as the amount of people I came across at college, but the quality of the connections is the same, if not better. Because guess what? You and I have something very important in common with the people in our neighborhoods: we live in the same place! That means we probably visit the same grocery store every week and probably get mad at our dogs every night for barking at the sound of Disneyland fireworks too.

Jasper introduces me to all the best grass patches in the neighborhood.

Before I had dogs, I thought I knew all there was to know about my Orange County community. I knew which streets would lead me to my favorite local eateries. I knew which houses to visit during Christmas and Halloween because they always had the best decorations. I could picture my neighborhood and it’s neatly ordered houses in my head. I thought I saw everything that needed to be seen. But of course, I was wrong. There was so much more to my neighborhood than I realized, and I was only able to realize it because I had dogs that I needed to walk around.  

To the casual eye, my neighborhood looks like every other suburban neighborhood. Its streets are lined with cookie-cutter homes on either side, some are decorated with white picket fences and others with meticulously manicured lawns.

It wasn’t until a puppy by the name of Pepper was dropped into my lap did I realize that my neighborhood was more than met the casual eye. Suddenly, I had a new reason to step outside my front door and do that dreadful thing so many of us Southern Californians try to avoid: walking! Whoa, hold on you might be thinking. Let’s not get out of control here...I mean, why would we walk to places when we can sit in climate-controlled vehicles while singing along to Beyonce on the radio? Or is that just me?

Enter the magical powers of dogs. You see, dogs are like Aladdin and his magic carpet: they can show us the world.

Ever since I started walking my dogs around, I’ve realized that my neighborhood isn’t just a place filled with random cars, buildings, and people. My neighborhood is so much more beautiful and complex than that. My neighborhood has a house on the corner whose sprinklers always make a puddle of mud that my dogs will inevitably JUMP in. My neighborhood has a specific spot where you can see the Disneyland fireworks through an opening between the oak trees. My neighborhood isn’t just filled with people; it’s filled with families that take walks on warm nights after they’ve had dinner. It’s filled with other dogs (like Big Rupert, the Retriever) that love to jump in the puddle of mud on the corner, too. I know which streets have my favorite flowers, I know where the best parks to play fetch are, I know so much more than I could have possibly known if it weren’t for my canine companions.

How Dogs Connect Us to Ourselves

So not only do dogs shape the way we see and experience our neighbors and neighborhoods, they help connect to ourselves, too! Is there anything dogs don’t do for us? Let me explain...

I work full-time in an office so that means that I don’t have many opportunities to get up and get moving (unless it’s to walk to the refrigerator to get a snack). A typical day for me is usually spent staring at a computer screen at work and then going home and staring at another computer or TV screen. I’m a millennial, and true to our millennial ways, I spend a little too much time face to face with a screen. After a full day this constant screen time, I’m usually mentally spent. Luckily for me, I have three furry little reminders that give me that much needed push out the door to get some fresh air and exercise every day. It’s been incredibly beneficial for me to take a break from the hustle and bustle of emails, texts, and tweets. By walking my dogs, I give myself the time and chance to reflect and think about new things I’ve learned throughout the day, my favorite moments, or things I should do to better prepare for tomorrow.

There’s a reason why dogs are known as “man’s best friend”. Not only do they help us get physical AND mental exercise, but they do it with endless enthusiasm and undivided attention!  

The Dog Days Have Just Begun

You know that one idiom about “the dog days of summer”? It’s a popular idiom that refers to the hottest days of summer--a time usually marked by lethargy, inactivity, or laziness.

The dog days are just beginning! With guides like Pepper and Suki, I've seen new aspects of my neighborhood and even met new people. You, too, can get more out of your neighborhood - there's always more to explore!

Well I’d like to propose a new definition for that idiom. I think the “dog days” should refer to days filled with activity, excitement, and exploration! Dogs are little miracles that are changing our lives! They help us see things in our neighborhoods we never realized were there, they help us connect with the people around us, and they help keep us healthy and active. They’re the ultimate package of furry and fun!

Now for those of you that don’t have dogs (I haven’t forgotten about you), let me remind you that you don’t need to have a dog to connect with your communities. Having a dog certainly helps build a bridge to connect you with a healthier lifestyle and community, but you can take the initiation and make these bridges yourself! Get out there! Take the time to enjoy the countless people and nuances of your neighborhood. Make an effort to notice something new every day. You don’t need a dog to enjoy your surroundings (although it is highly encouraged).