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Pets as Social Lubricant

Pets as Social Lubricant
By Martie Petrie

Having a dog that requires walks a minimum of two to three times a day is a great reason why having a dog is so important for someone who is naturally shy, introverted, or has special needs (i.e., autism, wheelchair bound or senior citizen). It forces a person to think of and tend to her furry companion’s needs. In addition, it gets her out of the house into the fresh air and out for some exercise at least a couple of times a day. Otherwise, she may often be tempted to go for days without leaving the house unless absolutely necessary.

The added plus for those deficient in social skills is that a cute, friendly, sociable dog attracts attention initiates/facilitates casual conversation with others focused on a topic (the beloved pet) of which the pet parent is a knowledgeable expert and therefore extremely comfortable discussing with strangers. Guide dog associations are now fully aware of and trying to meet the ever spiraling requests for “social/emotional” service dogs for those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Many people try to get a dog that way but there is a one to two year wait, so they just go ahead and try to train a dog themselves.

Anyway, the side benefit of this “social lubricant” is that people will stop to “ooh and aah” over the cute little dog or ask questions regarding the dog. Perhaps before the dog, the individual would walk alone, keeping her head down and avoiding eye contact which diminished social interaction and increased the social isolation she felt, making her even lonelier because she did not feel comfortable out walking alone. Through the connection with a dog, people really feel that they are part of the larger world outside themselves in general. The symbiotic relationship between a human and her dog is an extremely deep bond that one with special needs may need to have in their lives. It is extremely therapeutic & great fun as well!

Take my mom for example. She is a senior citizen that many might think of as a hermit. Even though she frequently goes outside to tend to her garden, she rarely speaks to passersby unless they speak Spanish or know her. That makes it challenging for her to meet the new people who become neighbors in the area (she’s lived in Silverlake for over 30 years) and also makes her suspicious of newbies to the area because she doesn’t have anything in common with them.

Enter the world of dogs. Now that she is part of the Ken-Mar Rescue organization and helps to foster our orphans, she is more apt to talk to a total stranger that is walking their dog in front of our house and tell them about the great work we are doing to place animals. This would have never happened before. Her networking skills have enhanced her social skills and she has made friends with every single dog (and their parent) in the neighborhood. Young or old, distant or friendly, wealthy or “barely making it,” she has found that the true “ice breaker” in “getting-to-know-you” types of conversations more often than not ends up starting from a simple, “What’s your dog’s name?” type-question and then unravels into a complete conversation.

This makes me feel good in that she doesn’t feel so lonely during the day while I’m at work. She no longer waits with such anticipation for my arrival (which sometimes can be late from work), full of energy and zest to talk with “someone.” Now she is happier, recounting the neighbors’ stories about how this dog got rescued or that dog is new to the neighborhood and proceeds to get me “up to speed” on the lives of the dogs and their parents. It makes for a much easier relationship between us in that I no longer feel compelled to be her “social director” or “speaking buddy,” after the end of a long day. It’s nice that we have a love for dogs and saving them in common, it has strengthened our mother/daughter friendship and gives us both a common platform to discuss ideas and share new developments.

It’s challenging to identify what, exactly, the impact is for pets as social lubricant, but the reach is vast and very profound. Just ask a group of dog lovers what they like about each other and nine out of ten will tell you more about the other person’s dog than the parents themselves. Now THAT makes for interesting conversation!

Many people feel uncomfortable approaching new people they’ve never met. But the mental and emotional “barriers” are eased up a bit when you are talking about a furry member of your family. One of our adopters took a tri-paw’d dog and walked him with her brother. She had just adopted “Jasper,” and wanted him to see the neighborhood and meet the fellow residents. She emailed to tell us that her brother met more girls on that walk than he would have at a bar, all because many women found him “approachable” because he was walking a 15 pound, gorgeous Jack Russell Terrier versus trying to stir up stilted conversation. My friend now tells me that her little “Jasper” is the talk of the town and they call him the “chick magnet.”

If you would like to experience first-hand how having a pet can have a “paws-itive” effects on your life, please consider adopting from a local shelter or rescue. The benefits of adopting from a rescue are substantial. Most rescues, like Ken-Mar Rescue, do a behavioral and medical assessment of a pet while the pet is in their care. The pet’s likes and dislikes, little idiosyncrasies and such are uncovered and then relayed to you, the potential adopter. This way “what you see is what you get,” and this mitigates potential surprises or disappointments after taking the pet home. Another advantage is that most rescues have a “bring back, no questions asked,” type clause meaning that if you change your mind five minutes or five years from now, they will welcome the pet back with open arms. This advantage is dual in that you know that if someday you are no longer able to care for your pet, you have a “safe haven” for it to go to and, at the same time, you know that the pet will again be networked to find another loving home.

But if you’re not sure you’re ready to make that commitment then try to foster a dog to see what the experience would be like. Either way, it’s a win-win for everyone.

You may find that saving the life of a helpless animal might just

Martie Petrie and Ken Guild are Co-Founders of Ken-Mar Rescue.  If you are interested in becoming a Ken-Mar Rescue Foster parent, please CONTACT US! or you can go to this page to see how to foster a Ken-Mar orphan. The life you save will thank you for it!