Dogs to Our Rescue

Towards a more civil society
By Claudia Kawczynska, September 2019

Nell, The Bark's founding dog, out for a stroll on the waterfront.

Frank Bruni, one of my favorite New York Times op-ed columnists, has a marvelous opinion piece entitled “Dogs Will Fix Our Broken Democracy” in today’s edition. (I hope you’re able to read it, although the NYT paywall may be an obstacle.) His main thesis is that, as the subhead reads “We need more reasons and prods to step outside of our narrowest selves.”

The “prod” in this case is his new dog, a black-and-white, five-and-a-half-year-old Aussie/Husky mix named Regan. He doesn’t go into where or how she came into his life six months ago, but it’s nice to hear she’s an adult. This smart, “telepathic” girl seems to have sparked something in him, if nothing else, the necessity of taking her for walks. In their case, the venue is Central Park during the park’s “before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.” off-leash hours, where Bruni mixes with other dog people and she sniffs up new canine friends.

As he observes, even the act of leaving his apartment with Regan is a revelation for him. People with and without dogs stop to chat with him and admire her. “I have honest-to-goodness conversations with actual strangers, who are from all kinds of backgrounds and occupy all sorts of categories: young and old, black and white, rich and not, fit and fat.”

Once they arrive at the park, he gets to hobnob with all sorts of people  “not chosen by some social-media algorithm, sorted by income level, screened by political affiliation.” They are all simply dog people, and you know how that goes.

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It can be so easy. We don’t have to depend on work, school or sports to make new friends or acquaintances. We have parks and green spaces where we can meet up and share our admiration for one another’s dogs, take and offer dog-centric advice, and, as Bruni observed, get out of our “increasingly homogeneous enclaves.”

Our world feels polarized and fragile, and we are becoming more and more separated from each other—in some cases, actually fearing “the other.” Again, as Bruni points out, “There’s no real surprise, no true spontaneity, no actual serendipity.” He also champions the importance of public spaces: “My interactions in Central Park are partly about having a dog but just as much about what the dog encourages, even compels: spending time in public spaces that are open to everyone and well situated and appealing enough to guarantee that people from all walks of life cross paths.”

Like Bruni’s Regan, our first dog, Nell, proved to be that social copilot for us. More than 25 years ago, she opened up a whole new world for us, not just in the friendships she inspired, but in her need, and the need of all her doggie pals, for safe off-leash recreation. That, in turn, got us involved in the political activism necessary to secure such public spaces for them. And yes, that also led to us putting together the fledging dog-culture newsletter that we handed out to enlist others in the off-leash cause.

As a result, today we have The Bark to offer to you and a new family of dogs, all of which continue to open doors for us. I couldn’t agree more with Bruni’s conclusion: “We need dogs, or at least we’re better off with them. They yank us outside of our narrowest selves. They force us to engage.”

I would love to hear your stories of how your dog has affected your views (or is prodding you!).

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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