I can’t stop thinking about a tragic incident I read in the news last week. A family’s pet husky attacked a newborn baby and it died as a result. The family, obviously, is heartbroken, but now there’s a whole debate over why the animal did it. “We can’t explain the attack,” the family said. Funny, I thought, because I can explain it easily: it’s an animal! Animals, no matter how highly trained they may be, remain what they are. Ask any zookeeper if you doubt me! A zookeeper will never turn his back on an animal. As a result of my general mistrust, I am very protective of my children around animals, particularly dogs in this case.
I do not have a dog. I probably never will, just because I wouldn’t enjoy it. I like the freedom of being able to travel whenever I feel like it, and there’s enough cleaning to do with two kids in the house! Many of my friends have dogs and I have no problem with that. Their dogs are nice, cute, mostly well-behaved. I guess my relationship with dogs is like that of women who don’t want children, when they meet a child: friendly, pleasant neutrality. Yes, that describes it pretty well, with an added state of perpetual alert.
Except when people think their dog does not have to follow general public rules. That makes me go absolutely insane.
Incident #1: There is a beautiful hiking trail along the Lake Huron shoreline where I used to walk daily with my son. He was less than a year old and sat in the stroller as I walked briskly. A big sign says, “Dogs must be on a leash. Trail is shared by hikers, runners, bikers, and rollerbladers.” One day, a mean-looking dog came running around the corner and hurled himself directly toward my son. The dog was huge, barking wildly. My heart leaped into my throat. An adrenaline rush of terror made me pick up the stroller, baby and all, and stand in the middle of the trail with the dog circling me and barking, until the owner finally arrived.
“Oh, don’t worry! He’s fine! He’s super friendly. See?” Now the dog was wagging its tail as the owner patted its head. “But dogs must be on a leash here,” I said in response. The lady gave me the nastiest look and walked away, dog trailing behind.
Incident #2: My boot camp class was doing a workout on a grassy lawn. It was late fall, around 7 pm, so it was very dark except for a nearby streetlight. We were focused on a brutal set of pushups, getting yelled at by the leader and almost at the end. Suddenly a huge black shape rushed into the group of us on the ground, scaring the living daylights out of us and causing us to jump onto our feet. It was a dog, off the leash once again, though this, too, was a mandatory leash zone.
The owners finally caught up to the dog, who wouldn’t leave us alone, and they were laughing! They thought it was funny that their dog “wanted to join the fitness class,” they said. If they’d paid attention, though, they would have realized no one else thought it was funny.
Incident #3: I was seven months pregnant, biking to a friend’s house and pulling the toddler in a chariot behind me. A Rottweiler ran out of someone’s backyard onto the street, snarling and growling aggressively. It circled around the back of the chariot. I was terrified. I started screaming because I didn’t know what else to do and continued biking. The dog wouldn’t leave us.
A guy quickly appeared and called the dog back. It took a while to respond, while he apologized profusely. “See, I’m building a fence to keep it in. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” He was rather alarmed by the size of my belly, I think!
I lost it at him completely. “But your stupid fence isn’t built yet, so what the heck is a dog like this doing running around the street? I have a baby in here, and how would you feel if your kid almost got attacked by a mad, raving beast? Are you insane?” I screamed at him. He was terribly apologetic, but I’ve since changed my bike route. Last time I drove past his place, the fence still wasn’t completed.
Incident #4: Nine months pregnant, walking with my son on a peaceful fall day. A barking, growling pitbull runs out of someone’s open front door and barrels toward my son. The pitbull is close to face level with him. I pick up my son instantly.
The owner appears (why do they always appear after the fact?), laughing again (why do they always laugh?). “Oh, he’s really gentle. He loves kids.” I stare at her. “But I don’t know that, do I? Anyways, I’ve had bad experiences in the past, so I prefer to be safe than sorry.” I turned and walked away, I was so angry.
I understand dog owners love their dogs, and I’m very happy for them. But it’s not fair to assume everyone else loves their dog, too! In light of the attack that killed the newborn baby, and the countless others that have happened throughout history (this is not a rare thing), it would be much appreciated by mothers like myself if people kept their strange dogs away from our kids and respected the signs. I wouldn’t take my kids to play in a dog park; why let your dog run in a kid-park?
I’m going to end with a positive incident.
I go for walks with my friend and her husky puppy. He is highly trained and very obedient. I can tell my friend puts a lot of time into making sure he’s a responsive, pleasant animal. He is always on a leash and walks right at her heel. Impressive – I wish I could train my toddler like that!
One day we went to a playground and there was a big sign reading, “No dogs allowed.” And you know what my friend did? She didn’t go into the playground! I was shocked, also very, very impressed. Finally, a dog owner who respected the sign and did not assume that, for some magical reason, the rule didn’t apply to her dog. The frustrated dog pulled on the leash and begged to go play, but she remained firm and stood far away. I respected her more than ever in that moment, and I wish more dog owners were like her!