This is Dora, my red devil dog, sitting patiently next to Aidan and Riley at the clinic. Just like my daughter Sara did, these kids frequently come after school to wait for their mom to finish work and head home. Dora makes a great babysitter!

I put this picture on our Facebook and one comment made me stop and think. The comment was “Staring at tablets when a cute dog is in front of them? How sad.” I have to agree, but it’s the sign of our times, isn’t it? Everywhere, people of all ages bury themselves in their techno “stuff” to the exclusion of paying attention to the great big world around them (and to the person next to them). I wonder where this will lead.

I remember as a kid growing up in Maryland coming home after school. I’d get a snack, sit down at my desk and work on homework. When finished, I’d call up a friend and go visiting. In the evenings after dinner, the entire neighborhood gang (around 10 of us) would come out to play hide ‘n seek, sardines or capture the flag. And on the weekends? My buddy, Linda Davis, and I would head out all day long on our bikes to explore. We’d build tree forts with leftover lumber. We’d cut up hotdogs to catch crawfish or fish on a line in the creek. I was always home for dinner: dirty, happy and tired.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Where are the kids on bicycles? Where are the joyous voices screaming “Olly olly oxen free”? (Remember that strange catchphrase to call players who were hiding back home without losing the game?) Where are the families taking a walk around the block in the evening time?

Sadly, gone forever, I’m afraid.

Let’s start playing again. Good old-fashioned play, outside and with somebody alive! It’s so important for all of us: adults, children and pets.

Google the importance of play, and you’ll find tons of research detailing its importance in physical and mental development, socialization, feelings of positivity, blah, blah, blah. Just like I wrote previously: dirty, happy and tired.

For dogs, play is really important for their overall well-being. They need play or fun active exercise twice daily for a minimum of 15 minutes each time with young, rambunctious dogs needing longer playtimes. A tired dog is a happy dog – being busy keeps them from getting bored and developing undesirable behaviors (like chewing on your lovely couch or barking excessively). Using play to train and improve manners provides mental stimulation to make them smarter and live longer too. Best of all, spending quality time together through play strengthens their bond with us.

The same is true for cats, but I find most clients look at me blankly when I ask “How much time do you spend playing with your cat?” People tend to think cats are easy keepers, not needing a walk on a leash or a good throw-and-fetch game. A couch-potato, sleeping cat opens up Pandora’s box to obesity and diseases like diabetes. Paying attention and playing with your cat buddy makes them more social, happy and decreases problematic behaviors (like not using the litter box or using predator instincts to stalk and bite). For them, playtime should be once or twice a day with about 15 minutes per session.

So, what better thing to do for the whole family than to play together? There are so many play activities to indulge in, like: sports, games, dancing, gathering socially and exploring the outdoors. Perhaps Lucia Capocchione said it best: “Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good.”

Make your life taste better. Go take a brisk walk around the block with your entire family (two and four-legged). Perhaps make it your New Year’s resolution? Make another resolution – leave your phone at home.

Dr. Holly Woltz (Doc Holly), Chief of Staff at Veterinary Services, has practiced veterinary medicine for 30 years and specializes in senior care. A former teacher and writer, she enjoys talking and writing about the human-companion animal bond and its importance. Visit her at www.aikenpetvet.com.