Every so often, while I’m out walking my dogs, someone offers me money for my well-behaved beauties. Sometimes it’s just a playful and friendly joke – people are often inspired to say friendly words at the sight of such happy dogs. But every now and then someone with experience recognizes the two trained and healthy dogs as worth something more than money.

The truth is that my dogs are worth the money I spend on their food, toys, and occasional vets visits. And I’m not just talking about their help in the usual way, guarding the house, and protecting me when I’m out on a walk, although they certainly do that.

But by far their greatest value is that they get me out into my neighborhood, walking the streets, meeting people who I would otherwise be too busy to notice. In fact, since I, like most other working-class people, work all day away from home, I don’t really have the time to spend with my neighbors. If it wasn’t for Adam and Evie, I would not regularly go for walks. And if I did, I’d walk like most people do in Chicago – fast, head down, and on a mission to get where I’m going.

But when I’m walking the dogs, it’s like playtime for me too. I look at the beautiful houses, take time to breathe deeply and smile at the people I see. Every day, for a few hours, I don’t have to work, or clean, or think, or be otherwise engaged in doing anything other than being myself. I try to use the time wisely. Sometimes I play my lute, sometimes I skip, sometimes I chase and play with the dogs. I sing sometimes too. But most of all I try to take the time to talk to people, people who are my neighbors, but yet unknown to me.

The dogs are an instant excuse for conversation. “What kind of dogs are those?” a new acquaintance might ask. “Good dogs,” is my usual answer, as I introduce them and myself. I meet a lot of great people that way. I meet kids, their hard-working parents, other dog owners, city workers, and all sorts of people who for whatever reason smile at the sight my dogs.

The truth is we are all so rushed nowadays that any excuse to stop and smile is worth its weight in gold. That and enough bread to eat are what everyone deserves to have in their life, and I’m glad to be a small part of the fight for both.

The author can be reached at bkishner@pww.org.