Just Say No
Sam and Lisa headed toward the park for a little stroll. It was hot and Lisa was eager to get onto the trail by the lake as it was heavily shaded. The shrill voices of children raked the still, hot air. Most of the shrieks came from the public pool area off to the right and behind some dense shrubbery and didn’t bother Sam and Lisa as they navigated the footpath beyond the pool toward the playground. The cool and shady path Lisa wanted to show Sam was to the left of the playground. Suddenly, the children playing on the playground equipment stopped and looked in Sam and Lisa’s direction. As if tuned in to the same radio frequency, the children, at least a dozen, but perhaps more, stopped and descended from the ladders and swings, their eyes boring into Sam and Lisa. Lisa began to feel a bit uncomfortable, but Sam didn’t seem bothered. But then the children started marching purposefully and relentlessly toward them, arms outstretched, their eyes singularly focused on Sam. Sam glanced at Lisa nervously. Sam was a big, handsome and friendly guy and was not easily intimidated, especially by kids. But the sheer force of their numbers and all of those outstretched arms, open mouths and glazed eyes was disconcerting. Sam slowed down, his own eyes darting back and forth, and nervously licked his lips. Lisa wondered if the children had been infected by some sort of zombie strain. Still, she knew what she had to do in order to save Sam, who was beginning to look scared. This was not a good look for a big, black dude.
“Stop!” Lisa called out as she expertly stepped in front of the uncertain Sam and held her hand up.
I made a bunch of grade school children sad today. And I’m not one bit sorry.
You may be wondering what the story above has to do with me making children sad and unhappy. Let me relate what happened and then think about the story I just told.
I was walking one of my regular daily clients today. We went to a local park that has a lovely, mostly shaded trail that wraps around a small lake. I chose the location because today was really, really hot and Bud is a big black Labrador retriever that easily overheats.
As we headed toward the trail, we were suddenly accosted by a large group of children. I’d seen them disembark from a school bus and I’m guessing they were on some kind of summer camp outing. One minute they were playing on the playground equipment, and the next they were all headed for Bud.
I’ll admit I expected a couple of the children to head toward us. I did not anticipate the entire group would do so. Strangely, they headed toward us in unison, with a couple of the larger boys leading the charge. I heard a few mumbled “pet the dog, pet the dog,” before I took action.
“Stop,” I said firmly, planting myself in front of Bud and serving as a shield between him and the advancing children.
Shocked, they actually stopped. “You may not approach a dog like that,” I stated calmly and quietly. Yet there was no mistaking the fire in my voice. Nor from my eyes.
The children’s faces fell, but with the exception of one, they all backed away. One little girl, also a budding fierce sort, stepped up to me. “But why? Is he jumpy?”
I suspect she was asking if he would jump on them. While it’s difficult to condense a topic that can be difficult for many adults to grasp in an entire conversation into a concise tidbit, much less into a tidbit for a child, I did my best.
“It’s super scary for him to suddenly be approached by all of these people like that. How would you feel if a bunch of strange people you didn’t know all wanted to come up and touch you on the head?” I asked her.
Much like most adults I sometimes try to briefly educate, I received a confounded and dazed look.
I didn’t have time to explain further, nor did I have any inclination to offer any apologies to the confused, dumbfounded and slightly offended looks I received from the crowd of youngsters.
But before I took off to continue my walk, uninterrupted by strangers, I made eye contact with the adult that was allegedly supervising the kids. Allegedly being a key word and eye contact being more like a stare of recrimination for their total lack of supervision.
I know a lot of people feel badly about saying no to other people. I am not one. I am my dog’s advocate and I am a fierce advocate. Luckily for my client dogs, I’m just as fierce an advocate for them as I am for my own dogs.
In today’s example – written in the beginning of this post as a story that seemingly involved two humans to provide a better perspective on how the dog might see things – Bud probably would not have done anything to the kids. He loves people and he likes kids a lot, but the sheer number of kids and all the outstretched arms probably would’ve made him very, very uncomfortable as evidenced by the fact that he was already seeking an escape route as told by his darting eyes that were already showing the whites and by his nervous telltale lip licking. And probably is not anything I ever want to take a chance with when it comes to children and dogs.
After I exited the scene with Bud today, I could not help but think how that very same scenario might have played out with my dog Camm. Camm is cute and petite. Lots of people, including kids, want to pet her. Camm is very selective about humans (this may come as a surprise to my own friends and to agility folk I know, but it’s the truth) and she intensely distrusts and dislikes children. I don’t need Camm to ever nip a kid to know that she would nip a kid in a heartbeat. What Bud very nearly experienced today would’ve been Camm’s worse nightmare.
I wish I could say that what happened today in an anomaly. It isn’t. Except it is usually adults I am dealing with.
“We’re not saying hi today, ” I sing out on a regular basis as someone with a dog pulling on the end of its flexi-leash and yapping its head off tries to convince me that my charge should meet cute little FiFi. Meanwhile the dog I’m walking has its hackles raised.
“Call your dog!” I regularly yell to the person who has chosen to exercise their own dog off-leash in a small neighborhood park and who has sighted the dog I’m walking with on the adjacent sidewalk. I do a quick one-eighty, looking over my shoulder to see if the dog has decided to go back to its owner yet or not. More often than not, the dog is slowly trotting behind us as the owner uselessly calls it and throws me dirty looks. I feel no shame when I tell you my own eyes get hard, very hard, as I meet that dirty look and raise it.
Recently, I stopped on a street in a neighborhood where I was walking and asked a man with an off-leash dog to leash his dog up. The man was deeply offended. This scenario probably happens at least once a week, but on that particular day, that particular man chose to take it up a notch. He proceeded to try to lecture me that dogs should be in their “natural state” (whatever the hell that was supposed to mean – clearly to him it meant unleashed) and that all dogs would prefer to say hello to one another. He then attempted to demonstrate how his dog would like to do just that. But instead of a more proper nose to butt dog greeting, he seemed to think the greeting should be nose to nose, despite the fact that both dogs were stiff and erect in their front end carriages and that the hair was raised on the back of the dog I was trying to walk and keep away from him. He then tried to greet the dog I was walking himself.
“No, ” I said.
“What? I’m just trying to be friendly,” he countered.
“No means no!” And with that I turned on my heel and got out of there. Just in time too from the hard eyes and stiff expression on Tommy’s face.
“Geez, what a bitch,” I heard the man say.
Asshole, I said out loud. And I made no pretense at muttering it.
I don’t know when saying no became something to be apologetic about. But it’s about time it stopped.