For so many of us, pets are at the center of our lives. They have a remarkable capacity to gauge our moods, comfort us, even protect us. And, pets can also take us outside of ourselves, helping us to discover and connect with the rich and complicated world that surrounds us. And that’s what we hear from Don Reese. 

Don Reese teaches humanities at the Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

I believe in the power of perception to expand what the world can mean. 

We got a dog last December, a slinky, black mutt who needs exercise: morning runs, mid-day walks, and bouts of tug-of-war that can last fifteen minutes. The dog and I know the neighborhood together. I keep him on task; we draw circles or lollipops instead of criss-crossing, follow-your-nose scribbles. My dog shows me the invisible world that guides him; he finds around trees and lampposts things that make him raise an unconscious paw as he sniffs. 

There are more bunnies in our neighborhood than I would have imagined, and we recently turned a corner on a sleek coyote strolling down the middle of the street, glancing neither left nor right. We were star-struck by his wildness. “I know,” I whispered. “It’s a coyote.” 

We know the stores, their sidewalks empty, bars across windows, well-dressed mannequins. It is a place of faint smells and discarded food wrappers (“leave it alone,” I have learned to say in anticipation). We know where the sidewalk buckles, and he looks back when I grunt at a misstep. 

Later in the day, our neighbors are out, many of them with their own dogs. One Saturday morning, as we neared the end of a long climb, a German shepherd streaked across the street toward us, and they barked and wagged and wrestled; I grabbed the shepherd’s collar. I handed off the dog, accepted the apology, and started to finish my climb. A city worker in a pickup and reflective vest stopped to ask if everything was okay; I puffed out a yes, and we kept running. 

The neighborhood emerges at a different pace during walks. He jumps into long ornamental grasses. We notice more squirrels and birds. The people bustle, sometimes stopping their days to pet the dog’s sleek fur, but more often smiling at the dog as they continue. 

Without the dog, I would meet fewer people, spend less time pondering random corners or plantings or tree trunks; without me, he would be suspect, confined, barking relentlessly. We turn our heads at every noise or flutter, and I watch what he is watching. He looks back at me, wondering where we are going to turn, one street as good as another for canine curiosity because all the world contains invisible records that only he can see. Together, we know a larger neighborhood.