When people think of San Diego, they’ll often think of sandy beaches, palm trees by the dozen, and a stellar craft beer scene. Outsiders may not know, however, some of the county’s best kept gems – like glistening mountains on our east side, a stunning suspension bridge near Balboa Park, and the fact that the county is absolutely nuts about dogs (OK, maybe that last one isn't so secret).
Walk along a major street in San Diego County and you’ll see countless water bowls outside restaurants and businesses, dozens of doggy boutiques and hotels and plenty of dedicated spaces for our furry best friends.
Let’s be honest here – you kind of just fit in better as a San Diegan if you have a canine best friend. So why is it that San Diego County is so obsessed with tail-wagging, wet nose-having, bone-loving pooches? We took a closer look for you.
Why Does San Diego County Love Dogs?
“I think it’s our connection with nature,” said Gary Weitzman, president of the San Diego Humane Society. “San Diego is all about connecting with the earth. We’ve got everything, all these diverse geographies.”
It’s true. San Diego County has the ocean, mountains, deserts and depending on how adventurous your pooch is, you can bet Fido can tag along. From various dog parks to choose from to the dog beaches along the coast, the county has made sure to use its natural resources to welcome our canines.
For that reason, many dog owners will consider trying out new spots with their pups in mind.
“There might be certain restaurants you want to go to but if they don’t let you bring your dog, that may determine whether you want to go,” said Linda Miller, a San Diego County resident who adopted three pit bull mixes.
Miller agrees with Weitzman that locals love their canine buddies because of their temperaments and since their keen sense of adventure fits their lifestyles.
“I think part of that is the mentality of the people that live out here,” she said. “San Diegans are very active, like to go out and have fun. If you have a dog, you want them to come with you.”
While dog owners in the county do love to spend time with their pups exploring, that shared love that the owner and dog have is deeper than simply mutual interests – it’s a bond, according to Dr. Christine Harris, a University of California, San Diego Professor of Psychology.
Harris, who herself is a dog owner, believes the county is fond of dogs because they’re able to become attached to their human counterparts.
“Dogs have the capacity to have emotional bonds with humans,” she said. “They show the kind of responses children do, like separation anxiety, which suggests they have a serious emotional attachment to humans. In many cases, dogs offer us the same kind of love that humans do.”
Not only can dogs form actual attachments to their humans, but they also help us and offer us health benefits.
"When you’re sitting and petting your pet, you can lower your blood pressure. That’s one benefit," Harris said. "The other is we have an innate need to have an emotional bond. We’re born that way. What happens with dogs and cats, or any of our pets we become bonded with, it activates that same attachment system. We get joy out of being with them."
Such joy is created when humans welcome an animal into their lives, that the San Diego Humane Society estimates there are more than 500,000 dogs in the county!
To take a look at local animal shelters participating in this year's Clear the Shelters, check out this map.
How Dogs Help Us During the Pandemic
Weitzman says having a dog during these unprecedented times amid the coronavirus pandemic helps humans immensely since it offers us stability and a sense of love.
"I think it’s a lifeline," he said. "They’re the safest things you can hug. That’s important since we’re losing contact with people."
Due to public health orders, large gatherings are prohibited and officials advise everyone to stay six feet away from individuals who are not a member of their household.
"Loneliness and a lack of social connection are big problems in the era of social distancing," Dr. Christopher Oveis, associate professor of UC San Diego, said in a statement. "Over the long term, feeling socially isolated can harm your health as much as smoking. It’s so important to feel connected to others, and people really feel connected to their dogs.
"I can’t even imagine going through COVID without my dog," Weitzman said. "They lower blood pressure, help us release oxytocin, can help with stress. I don’t think there’s anything more therapeutic than having a dog."
Having a dog isn't all cuddles and laughs, however -- it's a real responsibility since it requires caring for a living, breathing being. Aside from taking the time to toilet train them, take them out for walks and making sure they get socialized, owning a pooch comes with financial responsibilities.
A CNBC report estimates having a dog for about 10 years, or through its lifetime, can cost $27,974 to $42,545, considering veterinarian visits, food, toys, and grooming. Many pet owners will say the cost is worth it.
"If you can do all that and you’re interested, then this is the perfect time," Harris said. "We’re all suffering in various ways in these changes in our world. An animal offers you that affection. They’re funny and fun to interact with."
Dogs certainly do offer some entertainment. Even the calmest pet can distract you with its affection while goofier pups can offer you a laugh.
"They're ingeniously entertaining," Weitzman said. "Dogs are continuously trying to bring up our spirits and they’re funny and brilliant and incredibly loyal."
At the end of the day, though, dog owners must remember to take care of what's theirs.
"It takes a lot of consistency. They like consistency and schedules," Miller advised. "Being on top of their wellbeing is important so they don’t misbehave."
Meet the Dogs and Cats of NBC 7
So, there you have it, San Diego! The county's deep admiration for our canine friends may be in part because of their ability to create bonds with humans, their ability to be out and about and keep up with us, and that they help fill in the social void in the strange climate brought upon us by the pandemic.
The next time you see your pooch, remember the amount of joy they bring you and give them a big, ol' belly rub and treats for their companionship.