Park etiquette I: Opening the discussion
Last week, while going through fan email, I came across a note from a dogless mother of two in Locust Point — unusual because (A) she doesn’t have a dog, (B) she was reading my blog anyway, and (C) she managed to complain about off-leash dogs with a sincerity and civility that rarely accompanies such concerns.
She was seeking an answer, as opposed to grinding an axe, and I thought her concerns were valid, reasonable and so well-stated that I’m reprinting — with her permission — the whole thing.
I offered her a couple of pointers (not the dogs), and suggested that — If it’s solutions she wants — why not throw it open to the readers, a couple of whom I know for a fact are smarter than me. She was game.
On top of that, her letter serves as a reminder for those of us who sometimes put our dogs needs above everyone else’s. I’ll give you my opinions tomorrow, but for now, here’s Jen:
The family and I are sorta new to the area (about 1.5 yrs coming up). I’m currently a stay-at-home-lose-my-mind-some-days Mom to two girls 2.5 yrs and 15 months respectively. I’ve had a few troubling incidents with unleashed dogs in Latrobe Park (our ‘hood) and have been browsing around looking for tips on how to approach the situation.
Now, before you get all bentoutashape, asking yourself “why are you emailing the author of a dog-centric blog?…let me first say that I am most definitely one of those people who are middle of the road on everything and I try to see everyone’s point of view before taking a stance on something. I say this before soliciting your opinion/response/advice regarding my predicament:
1. I support the Locust Point Dog Park – signed the petition when they came door to door.
2. I love dogs. Grew up with them. Not afraid of them. Would like my girls to adopt one for their own. We don’t have one right now.
3. I support the idea of all Dog Park Free Run areas in public parks in case that wasn’t clear in number 1.
Here’s my dilemma: My 2.5 year old is no longer keen on dogs after being knocked down last summer (she was about 17 months old at the time) in Latrobe Park. She has been getting better, mostly through my working with her and reacting very positively when we see a dog (which is often, this is a very dog and kid friendly neighborhood).
Also, her little sister adores all things canine – she would probably lick back if we let her. So we are working on it. What parent wants their child to grow up with a fear of anything, most especially ‘man’s best friend’?
Latrobe Park is our hangout spot. You are likely familiar with the layout. There is an enclosed playground and then the general park surrounds. We utilize both. There are unleashed dogs in the park every single day. I try to do the best with the situation – using common sense. Like, maybe we don’t leave the playground right now while there are dogs at play, or we take the long way round out of the park.
But sometimes encounters are hard to avoid. It is in these situations where I’m not sure what approach to take with folks and their canine companions. Two very large sheepdogs ran up to my little girl on our way out of the park the other day – it’s hard for me to convince her that this ok when they are more than double her size and moving toward her at a pretty fair speed.
This also doesn’t do much for my efforts to reintroduce to her the idea of dogs as friends not threats. In fact, it undoes weeks of work in a single incident. And it’s these incidents that get me frustrated. I want to coexist with dogs and I want the same for my girls. But don’t you think there need to be ground rules for everyone?
I don’t understand how the leash law is applicable to one dog owner but not another? How are we to differentiate between which dog owners have very well trained dogs (that will respond to voice commands) and which dog owners have poorly trained dogs?
There are people who have deep seated fears re: dogs. Like my mother in law. Bless her, she’s terrified of dogs. Why? Because as a child, the neighbor’s dog bit her ankles and chased her every single day on her way to school. Not an exaggeration, unfortunately. But it’s the dog’s caretaker that’s at fault here and in cases where the dog is unleashed in a public park.
Hey, and it’s not just me and my skittish toddler here. There are other dogs in the park that are leashed – and unleashed dogs running up to it can’t be appreciated by other caretakers….how are they supposed to evaluate in that split second whether or not this animal is going to attack their precious Fido?
But hey, maybe I’m not educated enough on the inner working of the canine pysche. I’ve got enough to do trying to maneuver through the terrible twos.
So anyway, I don’t want to be that asshole neighbor that calls 311 or what have you - to report another neighbor’s dog off-leash. But what am I supposed to do? I want to be a good parent and a considerate neighbor. I do my part to turn a blind eye to unleashed dogs running in the park (because I understand the need to run free and I agree with it). But it is not fair to ask me as a parent to continue to do so when it is at the detriment of my child. I’m supposed to have her best interests at heart. Right? Dude, I like your dog – but I don’t want it licking my kid’s face. Don’t take it personally…. I don’t want you licking her face either.
Give me some pointers, will ya? To say that you appear to be a dog lover and advocate would be an understatement. So in theory, you might be able to provide more unbiased advise than say, my mother in law.
Sorry to rant,
A mother of two in Locust Point