Dog Park Distaster: Why Do So Many of Us Never Go Back?
January 13, 2013
You’re a first time parent. Your precious baby girl has finally mastered the use of both legs, and can run like a pudgy little cheetah. So you decide today will be the day to take her for her very first adventure at the neighbourhood park to meet some new friends. You know it’ll be busy because it’s Saturday morning and the sun is shining. Because you don’t know a lot of the other parents, you’re a little nervous, but excited to see your little bean make some pint-sized besties. So you put on her shiny new baby Converse and head to the playground.
After unbuckling your baby, you gingerly put her down in the sand around the play equipment and she’s immediately mobbed by six other toddlers. They’re pulling at her clothes, lifting up her shirt to poke her bellybutton and smelling her hair. When you rush in to rescue her from the melee one of the other moms says, “Oh, don’t worry, they’re just trying to get to know her.” You swallow your growing dread and smile…I mean, who wants to be the crazy, paranoid mom?
The crowd finally disperses in favour of other distractions except for one. He’s a bruiser. You can tell he spends a lot of time here. He seems good-natured, albeit a little too eager. For some reason, he seems particularly fixated on your little girl…who can blame him? But this is different. Instead of maybe showing her one of his toys, or building a sand castle…he’s decided he wants to play tag. He keeps running away, but when your little girl is too scared to chase him, he comes back and pokes her hard, screaming, “YOU’RE IT!”. You can see your baby has no interest in the game and is becoming increasingly confused and scared, but he’s just getting more intense. She’s not crying, but you can tell she’s on the verge, so you rush over to rescue her. Much to your surprise, the mom of the little tiny terror doesn’t do a thing about it! Instead of becoming embarrassed about her son’s behaviour, she condescendingly sneers, “You know, they have to learn. This is the only way your daughter will never be able to defend herself. He wasn’t actually hurting her…they would’ve sorted it out on their own.” By now you’re just so baffled that you have no response for her. Oh, and you’re still hanging on to the idea that you might not be welcome back if you don’t follow the unwritten playground rules. You have secret fears of becoming a mommy pariah.
Because you’re worried that your daughter is having a horrible time, you decide to bring out her all-time favourite toy: Talking Elmo. He’s the furry go-to guy for even the most terrifying tantrums. You can see the relief in her face as you go to pass him to her, but before she can even grab him, one of the other kids snatches him and runs away! After finally figuring out who his mom is you gingerly ask her if she could please get Elmo back from her son. She tries for a few minutes, but he keeps running away, so she gives up. Did you think you were going to get an apology? Oh silly mom! “This is a playground”, she snorts, “There are lots of other kids here. If you don’t want your toys to get stolen, then don’t bring them.” What kind of free-for-all is this? It seems that all the rules of social etiquette and understanding just don’t exist!
Your daughter is now legitimately terrified and miserable. As you kneel down to pick her up, a little girl, not much bigger than her, flies out of nowhere and hits her with a stick right on her head! Your sweet-natured, gentle little angel turns into a toddler version of the Hulk. She’s had it. She pushes the stick-wielder so hard that she falls over a Tractor toy and hits her head on the slide. You’re immediately surrounded by angry parents. It’s like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. They’re all screaming at once.
“Your daughter has mental problems.”
“How long before she attacks another child at the playground?”
“You should be worried…that girl is a monster.”
You’re too shocked to even defend yourself. I mean, maybe your baby isn’t as sweet as you thought she was? You decide in that instant, that you’re never going back to the playground again. If she wants to play, she’ll have to do it at home, with kids she already knows. No amount of socialization is worth that kind of humiliation and stress. So you pack up your things, literally run to your car, and never look back.
Do I even need to explain the analogy for you? We all need to think twice about how our dogs behave in the dog park. Just because they’re animals, doesn’t mean we should allow them to behave however they want. If we can all expect more from our pets, and take responsibility for the way they treat other dogs, then the dog park will become a place where puppies and new owners can feel safe and respected.