Every time Anne Dobkin takes her dachshund, Mollee, for a walk around Lake Sumter Landing, she meets new people.
An eight-year resident of The Villages, Dobkin has made many friends through Mollee and, before that, another dachshund named Muffie, which gave her the idea to start The Villagesâ€™ first Dachshund Club.
â€śHaving dogs always helps to talk to people,â€ť the Village of Pennecamp resident said. â€śEvery time she goes to the square, people come up to me all the time to talk to me about her. They want to pet her.â€ť
Dobkin is working to get the Dachshund Club up and running, while the Muffins and Mutts group formed in March and the Great Dane Club started about a month ago.
The growth of dog clubs in recent months points to the popularity of socialization through pets in The Villages, and that socialization comes with health benefits, too.
Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride levels and loneliness, according to the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
â€śStudies have demonstrated that human-animal interaction increases oxytocin levels in the brain,â€ť Steve Feldman, executive director of Human Animal Bond Research Institute said via email. â€śOxytocin is recognized for its role in bonding, socialization and stress relief. Even petting an animal for a few seconds creates this ripple effect where we pet the animal and immediately feel happier and more social.â€ť
At the same time, pet ownership increases opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization, according to the CDC.
â€śIn general, people with pets are out more walking around and interacting more, going down to the square and going down to dog parks,â€ť said Dr. Alan Krause, a veterinarian in South Florida. â€śI would say (owning a pet) does increase socialization in a person.â€ť
He witnessed the social transformation for one couple who lost a dog and just got a new puppy.
â€śIt opened up their world a little more,â€ť Krause said. â€śNow that they have a dog, theyâ€™re out doing more stuff.â€ť
Socialization is key for dogs, too, according to the American Kennel Club. Whether a dog is a puppy or an adult, owners are encouraged to slowly introduce dogs to new sights, smells and sounds to make socialization experiences with other dogs positive.
Besides finding a good friend for your dog, socialization gives pets confidence and makes it easier to ease into new situations, according to Dogtopia, an international dog day care chain.
Muffins and Mutts
Tammy Smith said socialization is the focus of Muffins and Mutts.
Formed in March as an extension of the Dynamic Dog Club, it currently is made up of 15 to 20 people who meet at Lake Sumter Landing to walk their dogs around the square before stopping for breakfast and chitchat at a pavilion near the AM-640 WVLG radio station.
Meetings started out once a month but have increased to twice a month and even may become a weekly occurrence, Smith said.
â€śIt keeps growing,â€ť she said. â€śBecause people will see us walking around the square and theyâ€™ll come up and ask about your group and want to join it, so I tell them just come on out the next time.â€ť
The group is open to all Villagers, even those who are not members of the Dynamic Dog Club.
â€śItâ€™s an excellent socialization thing,â€ť said Sara Morgan, of the Village of Hadley. â€śI get to meet the other handlers with their dogs, especially the members of the club. And, of course, the exercise is good. If Iâ€™m going to have to walk Monday morning, what better way than with the dogs and some community?â€ť
Morgan brings Murray, her goldendoodle, every month so he can spend time with Smithâ€™s golden retriever, Chloe.
The group helps members make both dog and human friends, but Smith hopes it also will encourage pet owners to walk their dogs more. She has encountered many who are intimated by walking their dogs because they fear the dog may control them or misbehave.
After taking classes with Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer, on his ranch in California, Smith feels qualified to offer training tips while out on walks.
â€śI help give them confidence so they can take care of and walk their dog without reactive dogs,â€ť Smith said. â€śAnd itâ€™s a social experience. Even if the dogs arenâ€™t playing together, they are within feet of each other.â€ť
Starting this fall, dachshund owners can look forward to the monthly gathering of The Villagesâ€™ first Dachshund Club.
Dobkin is in the process of finalizing the club with The Villages Recreation and Parks Department and hopes to get meetings going in September or October.
â€śThere are a lot of dachshunds in The Villages and a lot of very nice people, and I thought it would be really great to get these people together with their dachshunds,â€ť Dobkin said.
She hopes the club will be the perfect setting for dachshund owners and their dogs to get together, not only during meetings but beyond. She anticipates hosting special events like dog races and Halloween costume contests at local dog parks.
In addition to forming friendships for both people and their dogs, Dobkin would like to use the club to network. She hopes to bring in speakers to talk about dachshund health and care practices. Eventually the club could reach out to dachshunds in need, like fostering for animal shelters and hosting fundraisers to help owners with dogs who need surgery. Many dachshunds have bad backs and surgery can cost thousands of dollars, Dobkin said.
So far, she has about six people interested and assumes more will be interested once word gets out about the club.
Great Dane Club
Camaraderie and socialization among owners of the same breed of dog is something Colleen Jaffe has come to appreciate since she got a Great Dane. Itâ€™s why she decided to start the Great Dane Club.
Formed in July, the club meets the third Sunday of each month during happy hour at country clubs. The first meeting was held at Belle Glade Country Club and the group will meet at Evans Prairie Country Club this month.
Members are meeting without their dogs to get to know one another before introducing the dogs.
â€śWe decided weâ€™d get to know each other first and then weâ€™d start to bring the dogs in,â€ť said Jaffe, of the Village of Pinellas.
Having her Great Danes, Gus and Murphy, has given her and her husband, Burt, more opportunities to meet people, including Great Dane owners Dave and LeAnn Olson.
The four met three years ago when Burt spotted Dave with his previous Great Dane, Otto, at the grocery store.
â€śWe got the boys together and had a play date,â€ť said LeAnn, of the Village of Hillsborough. â€śThatâ€™s how we met and it carried from there â€” our love of Danes.â€ť
Now the club gives them more chances to see each other.
â€śSince I started the club, we see them more often,â€ť Jaffe said. â€ś(LeAnn) now golfs with me. Itâ€™s brought a sense of closeness.â€ť
Kristi Schweitzer is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5225, or email@example.com