Dogs At School
I have always had animals in my life. I have two cats right now, I have had close to a dozen cats over the course of my lifetime. But I have also been a dog owner to a rescue dog that we named Sugar, a Norwegian Elkhound that my mother and I adopted when I was a teenager.
It was really hard becoming a dog-owner. The demands were way beyond what I had anticipated. My teenage brain hadn’t been able to comprehend the fact that things like good behaviour had to be taught, usually through repetition and endless hours of commitment. The fairy tale of dog ownership was nothing like the reality. We had to learn to love Sugar for who and what she was, not for what we wanted her to be.
But usually I don’t think about dogs all that much. I live near a park where, though it isn’t an official off-leash park, every dog owner lets their animal run wild. It doesn’t tend to bother me because the kids area is fenced off and it’s extremely rare that any dogs go inside. If they do get in they are almost always quick-as-lightening scooped out by their owners who then scold them, more for our benefit than for their own.
All of this is to say that I do know a thing or two about dogs, and I don’t have unreasonable expectations of their owners. At least, I didn’t think so.
Last week I was dropping my son off at school. When I arrived at the fence that leads to the front doors I saw a dog running back and forth across the street. The dog had a collar on and it was rushing around sniffing frantically at things. My first thought was, “Uh oh, someone’s dog is loose!” so I looked around to see if someone was looking for their pet. They weren’t. ‘Someone’ was leaning on a car with their back to their dog while that dog basically did whatever they wanted: on the road, on the sidewalk, around children, toddlers and babies alike. I kept my mouth shut but I was baffled.
I got to the place where the main sidewalk opens, leading up to the entrance of the school, when a man crossed our path with a large dog next to him, this time with no leash and no collar. He saw from my face that I was afraid. He smiled reassuringly and put his arm around the dog’s neck. “Oh, go ahead.” he said generously, or at least that was the tone he was going for. I did push my stroller past him, but I couldn’t help but yell back at him, “I’m pretty sure there’s a leash law!” I had hit my limit.
“So that’s it? You’re just going to walk away? We can’t even talk about this?” he yelled at my back as I kept going, straight into the school, straight to class and then straight to the TTC stop where I catch the train to go to work. If I’d had the time or the inclination to stop here’s what I would have said:
There is nothing to talk about.
- It is against the law for you to let your dog leave the house without a collar and a leash. That is not up for discussion, it’s the law. That law was made to protect every person in this city from being confronted by strange dogs. Being a good dog owner is about more than making your dog happy or fitting them into all aspects of your life. Your dog is as dependent on you to protect them from themselves as the rest of us are dependant on you to protect us from your dog.
- I don’t know you and I don’t know your dog. And you don’t know me. You don’t know my allergies, my belief system or what traumatic events have shaped my feelings about dogs. It is not your right to decide for me whether or not I meet your dog or have to worry about your dog.
- I have as much right to feel safe walking down the street as you do to walk your dog down the street. The compromise is that you use a leash. And that’s all I’m asking of you: use a leash.
- I’m sure your dog is a sweetheart, loves kids and wouldn’t hurt a fly. I’m equally sure that almost every dog owner who’s dog bit one of the 5000+ people who are bit in Ontario each year would say exactly the same thing. The bottom line is, you have a responsibility to every person that you share the public space with to be respectful when out with your pet.
To the majority of dog owners, the good ones who always use a leash, who take their dogs to one of the multitude of off-leash parks in this city, thank you.
To the rest of you, please, smarten up.