What Would You Do?

Are we our fellow dog-owners’ keepers?


What do you do, what do you say? When you’re out in the world somewhere and you’re the token “dog person” and you’re witness to a dog (or a dog owner) engaged in some behavior that so appalls you that you feel kind of guilty by association?

For example, a few weeks ago, I was enjoying an early breakfast with my husband at our favorite bagel shop. Into the restaurant and up to the takeout counter walks a lady with a large mixed-breed dog on a leash. The counter person, a shy young Asian girl, smiles uncomfortably at the health-code violation, but simply asks the woman what she would like – no doubt hoping it’s something she can hand to the woman quickly and get her out of there.

But the woman orders something complex, and then sits down at a table in the restaurant, prepared to wait – with the dog wandering around the table, sniffing for scraps.

My husband – not a dog lover – gives me a look. I look at him and make a face, and then look pointedly back at my newspaper. Out of the corner of my eye I see other diners exchange eye rolls and looks of distaste, but no one says anything to the lady with the dog.

Then the dog somehow slips his collar and comes trotting over to our table, where he dives underneath for a crust. His owner seems not the slightest bit distressed, but comes over and hauls him by the scruff out from under our table, apologizing, sort of, for the collar! My husband is looking very disgusted, but I bury my head in the paper, pretending I’m not seeing this. I can tell he’s on the verge of erupting.

Finally her order is ready and the woman goes to the register to pay. The counter girl reaches to hand over the food, and – the coup de grace – the dog jumps up on the counter with his front paws to reach for what he undoubtedly thought was a treat for him. The girl lets out an involuntary shriek . . . and my husband has had enough.

“Ma’am?” he barks. “Are you aware it’s illegal to have a dog in a restaurant? Not to mention rude? Not to mention you have no control over that dog?” Of course she’s aware of that! Before he says more she smirks with a fake smile and says, “Oh, gosh, thanks!” and walks out, leaving my husband fuming. “These are your people,” he says to me, as if I’m somehow responsible for all dog owners.

Am I?

I’ll admit I was being a chicken, hiding behind my paper and hoping the woman and her dog would go away. I had barely even started my coffee. But I know plenty of other people who would have gone over to the lady and asked her – politely or not – to take the dog outside. I have friends who probably would have offered to go outside and hold the dog’s leash (and tightened his collar!) while the lady paid for and picked up her order.

I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, and I think I erred in not saying or doing something. People like that lady – and people who don’t pick up their dogs’ poop, or allow their dogs to run up to and jump on people (with the famous cry of, “He’s nice! He won’t hurt you!”) – make all of us dog owners look bad. The next thing you know, the restaurant owners may ban dogs from their outdoor tables. But how do you effectively handle one of these inconsiderate people without being a jerk yourself? Ideas?


-Nancy Kerns