Heel, Chicago Dog Owners... We're Taking Back the Sidewalk

Heel, Chicago Dog Owners... We're Taking Back the Sidewalk

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, Partner, Families in the Loop

Thanks for the love and the re-post, Chicago Parent!

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: children, dogs, moms, parents


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  • I agree with you 100%. The dog owners who don't leash drive me nuts. Yes, you think your animal is great, and I'm sure he is, but things can spook an animal and he can easily become uncontrollable and dangerous.

  • Agreed! It's frustrating when people won't leash their dogs. Have this problem all the time. We have two dogs -- one is a Rottweiller and one is a Doberman/German Shepherd mix. Despite how scary they look, they're sweet dogs and well-trained. They let children come up and pet them all the time. Even still, I wouldn't dream of walking them without a leash.

    Problem for us is when people tell us that their dog is friendly and well-trained and we needn't worry that it walks around unleashed. But dogs are still dogs. Had one such "trained", unleashed dog charge toward my wife and I while we were walking our dogs. Naturally, our dogs immediately sprang into protective mode and it took all the strength we had to keep them away while the woman scrambled to retrieve her dog.

    And, of course, it was our fault that our dogs weren't friendly to her charging dog!

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    Thankfully we chose to get out of Crook County, and reside in a lovely, unincorporated area of Will County, which does not have sidewalks, so the dog walkers and teenagers just walk down the street. We see the same people everyday; they move over when we drive by, say hello, and clean up the dog's pooh. That's what "community" means. Chicago is so full of self-important, selfish, ignorant, boorish people.

    I agree with the author, but first, your "reply" is way too long. I'm thinking more along the lines of "Man, you better control your dog before I do". Secondly, and I'm a dog lover myself, carry some pepper spray. Seriously, the first time precious pup gets a face full of Mace because it's owner is a jacka**, they'll get mad, then realize they better keep it on a shorter leash.

  • You have every right to protect your child. Get yourself an ultrasonic dog deterrent such as the Dog Dazer or carry a dog deterrent spray.

    You can't reason with a dog owner, but you can at least teach their animal to leave you alone.

  • In reply to zoe moore:

    Seriously? I think I would be more upset about someone trying to mess with my dog than my dog would be about an irritating noise. What ever happened to just saying, "I'm not really a dog person." I can read your stiffening body language WAY before you come too close and I'm the first to realize when someone doesn't like my dog.

    On the flip side- I'd love to see more kids leashed; the sheer number of toddlers/preschoolers that bum rush my pup every week is absurd, let alone kids on bikes, scooters and all kinds of quick moving things darting around my dog. What ever happened to leashing your kids too? Don't they have those "backpack-style" ones? So clever :)

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    I agree with you but also think parents need to teach their children about dog safety. I have a friendly toy poodle who is ALWAYS on her leash. I have encountered quite a few children who run up to her and without asking if she can be pet stick their hands in her face while the parents stand their smiling. My fear is she is going to snap at a small child one day. Parents need to teach their kids to be careful around dogs.

  • Here is Evanston I have the opposite problem. I recently adopted a "differently abled" pup, she has one paw shorter than the other. She was vet checked at the rescue, there is really nothing that can be done. I can't walk even one block w/o hordes of people demanding to know what happened to her paw. Some of them are quite rude, and feel entitled to know my name, address and background. It is unbelievable!!! I can see them asking for the rescue name if they want to confirm I adopted her that way, but it is amazing how people are willing to violate my personal boundaries without thinking. I am also amazed at how many people stop and ask me if I need a ride while walking her. Ironic because last yr I walked around with a broken hip for a week in agony (no health insurance) and no one in that neighborhood offered to do a thing. Don't blame dog owners, in my case, my personal info, my time, and my pet are treated as public domain simply because she limps! (Actually, we both do!) We are both fine, please direct your good intentions elsewhere!!!

  • Well said Wendy. Pet owners should realize that leashes are not only for controlling your pet but for protecting them too.

    We have a 2 year old Westie and definitely fall into the "He looooves kids" category, because he totally does, but we never take him out without a leash and we always ask if he can say hi before letting him interact with someone else's dog or child. And again, this is not only to protect them but him as well. We haven't had an incident like the one above with another dog, but we have had a ton of kids run up and grab his face and tug on his ears, a small child recently kicked at him (albeit after his mother told me "He loves doggies!") . So we usually keep him reeled in and most of the time I'll kneel down while children are petting him to make sure that everyone's comfortable.

    But I have noticed that most owners are not like this. And therein lies the problem. It seems impossible to make some people act responsibly. Which is unfortunate as they will inevitably ruin it for those of us that are good owners by making the city less dog friendly. Taking a stand and spreading the word that this is not acceptable may be what some people need to hear to motivate them to act differently...

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    It goes both ways. I have been walking my dog, only to have parents who are busy running their mouths on the cell phones or just plain ignorning their toddlers and sure enough the toddlers screams "wulf wulf" and lunges for my dog. When I say to the parent "I don't want your child grabbing for my for safety reasons." The parents seem offended and generally say something snide. Its not my job to parent your child and courtesy works both ways.

    Bad parenting applies to both dog owners and parents of children. People need to get off their cell phones and stop checking out when they are in charge of minors or animals. Do your job and that applies to everyone, not just dog owners.

  • I agree with Angelique.

    My experience has been the same with my two terrier mixes. They're cute, and smallish, so kids always seem to want to touch them. Even though the dogs are well-behaved, one sudden move or grab by the child can be misunderstood by the dog. Parents need to keep their kids on a short leash too, and stop getting distracted with phones. Your child is more important than that phone call.

  • Wow, everybody, thanks for the awesome comments! You've definitely opened up my eyes to some new perspectives: that parents are often distracted on phones and not paying close enough attention to the tots and that some parents let kids run up to dogs without asking their owners first. Looks like everyone needs to be more careful. Thanks for sharing!

    ~Wendy W.

  • Wendy, I hope we cross paths one day, I think we would make terrific sidewalk-sharers. My dogs are kept on a short leash and I don't want strange kids to pet them; your daughter is close enough to pull her away from warty bullfrogs. I see it now: we approached each other, each of us completely in control of the smaller mammal at our sides. We pass completely without incident, with at least 6 inches of free space in-between us. Each of us gives an approving glance to said small mammals - we nod to each other and give a slight smile. Once we have completely passed, we forget that the other person and small mammals in tow even exist, and carry on with our day.
    Perfect. See you on the sidewalk!

  • In reply to ResuMAYDAY:

    I hope so, too, ResuMAYDAY. Sounds lovely!

  • Here are my two requests: Dog owners (and I have been one!) keep your dog under control. Parents please keep your children under control. I've had issues with both when walking my (now deceased) dog and also walking my ferret. I don't mind letting a child pet my dog or ferret, as long as they ask first and I can maintain some measure of control of the situation. I do not want to have to deal with legal issues because someone's out of control child got bit by my pet trying to defend itself.

    Dog owners: Look, I know my ferret isn't something your dog has seen before. Get over it. I have her on a little lead, under control. It isn't my responsibility to pick her up just because your dog is having a freak-out you can't control. It's my sidewalk too. Also, my ferret is not a yo-yo. I shouldn't have to yank her up like one on her leash to keep her from being eaten by your dog.

    Rant over. Thanks.

  • In reply to EvilFerret:

    This is just too much. Dogs have an instinctual prey drive. This natural, biological instinct cannot be trained away. A ferret looks a whole lot like prey to a dog (in the wild, it certainly would be). You can't blame dog owners for a dog's natural reaction to seeing what it perceives as prey. That is just the way it is.

    It's your sidewalk too, but you bear some burden of responsibility for protecting your pet from known dangers, rather than expecting all dog owners to either walk on the other side of the street or engage in a futile attempt to train biological instincts out of my dog. If you're walking slow (people in this city seem to love standing in the middle of the sidewalk like a piece of artwork), I'm not going to slow down because you have a ferret. If we walk next to you and my dog lunges at your ferret, I'll probably apologize, but I wont feel too bad about it.

    Your ferret doesn't need to be walked.

  • In reply to EvilFerret:

    I posted this in the regular comments, but should have replied here:
    @evilferret, I think you're asking a lot here. Dogs have been trained for centuries to kill rodents so that's in their DNA. (I'm making the assumption or stretch that a ferret is a rodent and I honestly don't care if I'm wrong). Responsible dog owners are on the lookout for things that might get their dogs worked up - but a tiny little ferret? Who anticipates that on a sidewalk? If my little terrorist - I mean terrier - attacks a ferret, it's just because his instincts have told him to do so and no behavior class at Petco will change that. My dog has been trying for years to catch the little chipmunk out on our patio that teases him on a daily basis. My dog would see your ferret, think of Chipy and thank you for making it easy on him. I guess I'd pull out a $20 to compensate you for your loss and continue on my way. If I were you, I'd name my ferret Duncan and get it accustomed to being yanked out of harm's way.

  • In reply to ResuMAYDAY:

    OMG this is a hilarious string! I live in an area where ferrets are walked, cats are on leashes to be walked and bulldogs are toted in mini-buggies.

    I think...and maybe we all learned this in grade school (insert tongue in cheek)...that ferrets are ferrets, cats are cats, dogs are dogs and humans are humans. As far as I can recall, the only animal in the above that is capable of simple reasoning and abstract thought are humans. So let's just all be mindful of where we all fall in the animal realm.

    And again let's just all enjoy this wonderful weather while we've got it - cold temps are not as far away as we'd like them to be.

  • Beautifully put, Swim Tri Sail Chicago!

  • What's the point of the second paragraph here?

  • In reply to 7thCircuitStud:

    Oh! Ummm...animals: ferrets are ferrets, cats are cats, dogs are dogs and humans are humans. As far as I can remember, humans are the only animals in the aforementioned that use reasoning and abstract thought. So, to humans who are reading this (I'm pretty sure ferrets, cats and dogs can't): If you are trying to share the city sidewalks, parks, etc. with all sorts of animals, not to mention pigeons and "city bunnies" (ahem rats) let's just be mindful of where each animal falls in the animal realm as we interact.

    Thanks for asking.

  • I agree with everything above, lol!
    No one should be on their cell phones while walking with their children or being in a park with them. With our harried lives, unless it's an emergency, there's no need to not pay attention and have time with your child. I can't stand watching parents who are on the phone while they should be playing with their child in the park, or at least sitting down somewhere watching them.

    My dog was the neighborhood dog. Everyone loved him, right to the very end, but I knew there would be kids that he would not like. Children are not children to dogs. They are tiny animals that either need to be investigated for smelling / see where they are in the order of their pack or they have already recognized that child through multiple interactions.

    So my response is three fold - children need to stay away from unfamiliar dogs it's almost like stranger danger. Parents - get off your cell phones. There's nothing more pressing than time with your child. Owners be mindful that you have a dog that you're walking not a small medium or large human.

    And this is a great city with a handful of ignorant people. Let's just enjoy each other's company while we've still got this awesome weather.

  • Good for you about demanding pet owners be responsible and parents keeping their children safe! A couple of things, please.
    First, those parents have to teach children to respect animals and when not with the parent they need to beware of dogs and not taunt them through fences, etc.
    Secondly, what about the dogs who do not go on the sidewalks? Where are they??? Probably in cages waiting to fight for their lives in a garage or basement. I am limited as to what I can do; I just rescue dogs and have done so for 20+ years. Please teach the children in your lives to tattle if they see or hear anything out of the ordinary.

  • @evilferret, I think you're asking a lot here. Dogs have been trained for centuries to kill rodents so that's in their DNA. (I'm making the assumption or stretch that a ferret is a rodent and I honestly don't care if I'm wrong). Responsible dog owners are on the lookout for things that might get their dogs worked up - but a tiny little ferret? Who anticipates that on a sidewalk? If my little terrorist - I mean terrier - attacks a ferret, it's just because his instincts have told him to do so and no behavior class at Petco will change that. My dog has been trying for years to catch the little chipmunk out on our patio that teases him on a daily basis. My dog would see your ferret, think of Chipy and thank you for making it easy on him. I guess I'd pull out a $20 to compensate you for your loss and continue on my way. If I were you, I'd name my ferret Duncan and get it accustomed to being yanked out of harm's way.

  • I would like to apologize to all passers-by that my small dog has growled and lunged at. I do try to control her, but she usually will nip at someone's heals after they have passed. Pulling her away, yelling, and even given her a nip have not worked. But recently a friend has taught me a trick involving a metal can with a half a handful of pennies. It makes her cower, and though some may think it mean, I think of the thunderous sound as finally helping me to ascend to my rightful place as alpha dog. Again my apologies to all two-legged animals that my 7 pound four-legged friend has made jump in fear.

  • Thank you, responsible dog owners. And yes, other passersby have responsibilities, too.

    I bought my first cell phone (and pepper spray) precisely so I'd have it in case I was bitten by an off-leash dog during my Forest Preserve walks.

    Small dogs will sometimes back off if you say to them in your deepest, most commanding voice, "BAAAAAAAAAAAD DOG". Repeat louder if necessary.

  • That dog looks just like one I had years ago. We always cleaned up after him though and made sure he did his job on grass, not sidewalks.

  • I love this entire feed. It's clear that owners and parents need to be a little more responsible. I move over for walkers, joggers and children and many times people will say think you and are very polite. I have a dog who doesn't love children and I’m honest when kids want to pet her, but I am diligently trying to help socialize my dog in as safe a way as I can. If she is mellow, I will crouch down and hold her as the child gently pets her. It works and she is getting much better. I always appreciate a parent who asks and is nice b/c we are working together. As for ferrets... I’ll look out for you and make my dog move over (as will you b/c we're both responsible) but seriously… your ferret for a walk?
    I keep my dog on a six-foot, easily controlled leash and have very few problems w/ her. THAT SAID any dog owner w/ a retractable leash needs to remove their head from their own a## and get a proper leash. 1. you are not quick enough to lock that thing and pull your dog back if either dog snaps 2. not only are you not quick, but you're not coordinated enough to lock and pull 3. Your dog does not need 15 feet of lead (particularly around blind corners). 4. You are probably the one taking up the entire sidewalk and 5. When that crappy wire is tangled... my dog gets hurt. I move we ban the retractable leash... it is just a crappy product and usually a bad dog owner is the one holding it.
    Clearly, that last paragraph rant is for a different article, but I've had two run-ins w/ bad dog owners in Old Town in the past week. It's ok b/c I have my girl controlled, but the crappy owner w/ the crappy wire never does.

    Share the road /path/sidewalk and get better leashes…

  • I have 3 large pittbulls...they are NEVER OFF the leash and I stop them and make them sit when another dog goes by or they heel when people are walking by...I know how scary it is for people to have a dog rush up to them....if you love your dog you will control them. So yes your doing the right thing not all kids love dogs and not all dogs love kids...people tend to forget they are dogs...as much as we would all love to think we know what are dogs are feeling and want we don't.....so that being said yes non dog walking people have rights also...keep your dog leashed and ask if they can approach the kid......and people pick up after your dog...gezzzzzz

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