Another day, another walk to school with my daughter, and yet another near miss with a dog that sees my child as a fabulous new chew toy.
I love dogs. I truly do. When my grandma passed away years ago, it was the family dog more than any other breathing creature who provided the solace, love and companionship I needed. An eight-pound Shih Tzu did more during that dark period than any friend, therapist, or family member.
So, all you dog lovers, please don't take this the wrong way when I say: You're completely out of control!
Let's do an experiment. I'll walk down the street with my beloved pet, a big warty bullfrog (because let's be honest: one person's schnauzer is another person's big warty bullfrog). As we pass you, my big warty bullfrog, whom I've named Lovey, will come barreling towards your 4-year-old, warts all a-jiggling.
When you pull your child away, which you undoubtedly will when an animal, any animal you don't know, comes charging at your child, I'll laugh, sneer a bit, and say, "Oh, don't worry, my big warty bullfrog wouldn't hurt a fly" or "If you're afraid of Lovey, you've got big troubles." (Both of which I've heard recently.)
That's what I encounter on at least a weekly basis: dog owners who not only refuse to reign in their pets (um, leash, it's the law?), but then shame parents for wanting to protect their children. You wouldn't believe the number of times I've been insulted. Just this morning, the owner of the dog whose incisors I saw up close (yellow, and very sharp looking) would not make eye contact or apologize to us after her dog almost bit my daughter. Instead, she made a sarcastic comment to the security guard across the street about how we snuck up on her and her pooch.
Well I've decided that today is the day I throw off the yoke of dog oppression. The day I proudly declare that I get to protect my daughter and me and not feel like a stupid, animal-hating, fur-wearing, anti-PETA activist and all-around bad person. Today begins my Take-Back-the-(Side)Walk-and-Park campaign.
Maybe I'll pass out pamphlets showing the gashes of those bitten by dogs whose owners said they wouldn't hurt a fly. Maybe I'll let share the stark statistics: 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, about 885,000 of those bitten (one in five) require medical attention for their injuries and, in 2006, 31,000 people needed reconstructive surgery because of dog bites. Or maybe I'll stop feeling cowed by otherwise (I'm assuming) polite and kind neighbors who somehow have gotten it into their heads that protecting my child or not wanting their dogs' slobber on my leg is something I should be ashamed of.
Here's what I'll practice saying, with a cue card, in front of the mirror (smiling gently yet firmly, speaking humbly in a non-defensive, warm, "I love dogs, too", kind of way): "I am sure your dog is amazing. But, as we all know, not every dog is comfortable around kids! And even dogs who are wonderful with kids might not be so good around a new child he/she doesn't know. So again, even though your dog is perfect, how about setting an example for all of those animal owners whose pets may not be as perfect around kids as your cutie sweetie pie? In doing so, we'll make this city a better place."
And don't worry. Next time you see me with Lovey, my adorable warty bullfrog, I'll make sure he's on his leash. And I'll make sure that the leash is at a responsible length. Because I know that not everyone wants Lovey in their children's faces, and not all children like big warty bullfrogs (or dogs, for that matter). And that's OK with me.
(In case you still think I'm just a stupid, animal-hating, fur-wearing, anti-PETA activist and all-around bad person, take a look at the dog bite statistics released by the CDC.)
Wendy Widom is CEO of Familes in the Loop (FITL), Chicago's hippest hub for parents and kids.
See more of Wendy 's stories here.