Dogs Are Not Public Property
Picture this: It's a lovely day, and you're relaxing at a local park, having a picnic with your family. A well-dressed lady you've never met before with a large smile on her face exits her car. She lays eyes on your family and begins staring. Slowly, she moves toward you, speaking gibberish and making baby talk, all googly eyes, and grabby hands. She begins touching your children, grabbing their cheeks. She grabs one by the face, moves her face to within inches of baby Tommy's, staring directly into his eyes and smiling. She grabs your husband by the ears and firmly plants her lips on his mouth. She gives you a little squeeze on the rump, hugs you tightly, and scratches your eight-year-old's head. Nearby stands your three-year-old nephew, she grabs his shoulders firmly and begins applying downward pressure, while saying, "SIT! SIT! SIT!"
What if she then spied your lovely new Coach purse on the picnic blanket and decided to throw it over her shoulder, cavalierly? "Oh, I really like this purse!" What if she then removed your keys, approached your car, and drove off with your credit cards.
OK, at what point during these events would you call the police? If anyone did this to you or your family, you would think they were socially defunct and may need to be removed from polite society. Would you, at any point in this interaction, have acted "aggressively" by telling her to go away? Would you have left the park? What would you have done if you asked her to go away and she continued to harass your family?
This story seems absurd, like something out of a hidden camera show. Sadly, this is not science fiction but an every day way-of-life for many dogs.
In the eyes of the law, dogs are considered the "private property" of the owner. Society apparently did not get the proverbial memo, so many people assume, "all dogs are for me to touch." Many have excuses like, "I LOVE dogs!" which they think gives them a free pass to wander our communities, groping any dog that comes into their contact. Yes, folks, there are serial dog gropers in your community.
No other private property that I'm aware of is considered "free access" to the community. You can't just move into someone's house, take their purse or car, or abscond with a cell phone just because you like it. You can't pick up someone's kid and hug them just because the kid is cute. You can't snatch up someone's picnic basket because you happen to like organic chicken salad wraps, Petit Noir, deviled eggs, and fresh fruit. Yet somehow, when it's a cute dog, it's a free-for-all. Dogs are approached without owners being asked, subjected to all kinds of things that dogs don't like, and expected to just deal with it. If owners ask for their dog to be left alone, they're looked at as if they are some sort of green, three-eyed monster with a serious attitude problem. For dogs, the rules seem to be:
- Someone steps on your tail? Deal with it.
- Stranger steals your favorite toy? Too bad, so sad!
- Have arthritis and someone pushes down on your rear, causing intense pain? Deal with it.
- Want to have a nice outing with your best friend without being disturbed by strangers? Tough.
- Don't like to be molested by strangers? Too bad, sit there and take it.
I guess the question must be: Are dogs ever allowed to have opinions? Do we really expect them to welcome every type of social interaction, all the time, in any circumstance? Do we expect them to tolerate pain, social pressure, and molestation?
In the comments on a recent article, a number of people said something to the effect of, "If a dog is out in public, I assume it is friendly and that I am welcome to touch it." Really? Where did this sense of entitlement come from?
As citizens, we are allowed to protect our homes and property. We are entitled to legal protection if someone threatens the safety of our family, tries to break into our cars, homes, or bank accounts. Why are dogs, which unlike all of these other material possessions, have feelings, opinions, and comfort levels, the only "personal property" we have that is subject to being assaulted by community members without recourse? When will we realize that many actions that humans think are friendly are perceived as active acts of aggression by "man's best friend?"
The moral of the story is -- my dogs are MY dogs. We may be out in public, but that does not entitle you to touch them or force yourself upon them. I have the right to say, "leave my dog alone," just as much as I have the right to say, "keep your hands out of my wallet or undergarments." Mokie, my Chow mix, really doesn't like being touched by strangers. She tolerates it, but does not enjoy it and looks at me the entire time as if to say, "I'll get something for this, right?" Sometimes, she just wants to go for a walk and NOT be touched by every stranger along the path -- in the past, I've had to resort to telling people "She bites," (she never has) just so we can go on a peaceful walk. Why have I done this?
Because people try to grab her without even asking or proceed to try to grab her after I ask that we be left alone. She shouldn't be forced into situations that make her uncomfortable; she's my friend, and it's my job to help her feel safe. Cuba, my Saint Bernard puppy, is a teenager and does like to be touched but needs reminders on his manners frequently, so if you want to pet him, you may need to wait a few minutes while I make sure that he is standing at my side, on a loose leash, and not pulling to meet you.
So if you want to greet someone's dog, ask; and whatever their answer is, respect it and don't take it personally because it's not intended in that manner. Most dog owners are not indiscriminate jerks, and if a person says, "no," there is likely a reason -- the dog doesn't feel comfortable being touched by strangers, the person is in a hurry, the dog is working, the dog is in training, the dog may bite you.
Dog owners are private property owners: If we treated dogs with the same respect we treated a Coach handbag, a lot fewer people would be bitten, dogs euthanized, and dog owners forced to deal with the stress of judgment for securing their dog's physical and mental well-being.
Dogs Are Not Public Property. Groping a stranger's dog is like groping a stranger's wife -- just NOT. COOL.
Check out other articles on dogs and dog safety right here on Dogster: