Baku West Ashley Greenway

Baku enjoys a walk on the West Ashley Greenway on a recent afternoon. Caitlin Byrd/Staff.

Charleston understands and celebrates the unique bond between dog and man.

It's a city where our four-legged friends can join us for happy hour, eat with us at restaurants and tag along with us while we explore the Lowcountry.

When I decided in 2016 to take the plunge into dog ownership and get Baku, my khaki-colored beagle, I was anxious and excited.

Though I grew up with three generations of black labs and one beloved beagle-border collie mix named Freckles, it's always different when you do it yourself.

To prepare for this new canine-enriched life, I did what I always do: Research. 

Even then, I began to realize that I couldn't have picked a more perfect place to both raise a puppy and to become a first-time dog owner in my own right.

When I checked out a slew of books about puppies and beagles from the Charleston County Public Library, the librarians shared stories of their own dogs when I brought my stack to the front desk. (And when I later returned a book about puppies that Baku decided to devour literally and figuratively while he was still teething, the librarians laughed and very kindly informed me I would have to replace the book.)

With his near-boundless energy, frequent walks and play dates with fellow dogs remain a must for Baku. In Charleston, I don't have to look far.

The first apartment where I lived boasted two dog parks on-site, showing that residents in these dog-loving parts find a place for their pups to play just as important as having access to an outdoor pool.

If I want Baku to be able to take a dip himself, we can drive to the James Island County Park. For a $2 admission (or free for Gold Pass holders), the park offers an off-leash park that boasts three "beach" areas for dogs along with plenty of room to run and play in both the sun and the shade. 

We've since explored other parks, too, and are still working our way through the list. (That's how many dog parks this city has.)

In the off-season, Baku can join me for walks on area beaches but each one has different rules so we always check before we head out for a beach adventure in the fall and winter.

More often than not, though, Baku and I can keep our explorations a little closer to home.

We frequently walk on the West Ashley Greenway, a nearly 8-mile trail where dogs frequently join their owners for walks, jogs and bike rides — I've seen dogs that can either keep up with their owners on wheels or can fit comfortably in a basket.

But it was when Baku caught pneumonia as a puppy that I really found myself feeling grateful about where I live.

I was able to reach an emergency vet practice after midnight, explain his symptoms over the phone and get him in to see a veterinarian that night to get him the care he needed.

Thankfully, we haven't had a scare like that since then. Baku is now 2½.

Raising a puppy by myself was an adventure.

With Baku, I met people I would never have met otherwise. Dog park friends became best friends. Lazy Saturdays became opportunities to explore my city. And I wouldn't have it any other way.