A puppy dog tale

Over the summer some friends of ours got a new puppy. They immediately took him on holiday (a brave move some might say!). As a result we happened to bump into them in the beach hut they’d rented while also on holiday in the same place.

The puppy was curled up on the deck of the hut for all to see as they walked along the promenade. The effect of the puppy was amazing! So many people stopped to see him that my friends may as well have made a sign informing passers by of his age, name, breed and how long they’d had him.

Except they didn’t. Because this interaction with complete strangers was a lovely one. Occasionally, I’m sure, they would have received well meaning but slightly irritating advice or opinion on the puppy — much like that you receive from people who see you with a new born baby. But fundamentally this is an interaction between strangers that is difficult to start.

I’m not particularly a dog person, I’m a cat person. Cats don’t really cause strangers to stop and chat to you in the street (except if you happen to see me running away from my cat when she tries to follow me to the shops — if I don’t run at full pelt she would actually follow me all the way and that would be dangerous!). I do, however, envy dog walkers their ability to chat to other dog owners while out walking.

Loneliness is quite a hidden, shameful thing to have to admit but it is such a painful thing to experience. Animals go some way to helping humans with loneliness. Stroking a cat can calm heart rates and lower blood pressure, the loyalty of a dog can make a person feel loved and needed. I’ve seen news documentaries about recovering drug addicts who have found that talking to horses can help their self esteem. There are schools with working dogs who allow angst ridden teenagers to calm themselves enough to express what it is that they are feeling. Some schools even use them as reading dogs — where children read to them to help improve their reading ability.

All of these things are lovely and help enormously with our societies problems but sometimes we forget as humans to reach out to each other.

When I was younger my Grandpa went out of his way to talk to anyone he came into contact with. Always a little joke or comment to engage those around him. As a teenager I’d sometimes find this quite embarrassing but would never have said as much to him because watching his reaction when he got a response from someone was very rewarding. Sometimes he’d have to really work on it to get someone to crack a smile or get his sense of humour and these wins were all the more sweet to him.

I’ve noticed my Dad doing the same now and wonder if it is something that you do more of as you grow older to try and keep a connection to the world around you. Its very apparent that I only seem to get older people wishing me a good morning if I am walking around the area I live in (more so in the early morning because it’s almost like an early morning club to see another person up and about before the masses!).

So I’m pledging to be more sociable. To speak to more people around me. If I like that lady’s dress then I’m going to tell her! If someone goes out of their way to help me in a shop then I’ll tell them how much it meant not just a cursory “thank you”. I think we need to be mindful of those around us and reconnect as humans face to face. Its easier to text rather than phone, its easier to post than meet up and its easier to stare into a mobile device than make eye contact with another person.

It worries me to see so many parents pushing prams staring into a phone rather than what is going on around them. What are those babies learning from this experience? Babies are losing valuable time spent learning facial expression and parents are losing precious time interacting with these small beings who want to soak up the love that parents can give.

Can we all be braver with or without a puppy to start a conversation over and reach out to our fellow human beings with a smile and a greeting? If you have the time to spare try visiting www.withami.co.uk to link up with lonely people in your area.

If you have any other local community ideas to help tackle loneliness please let me know on my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed.