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Please keep your dogs off the beach. My children are playing.

The author's children at Kits beach

I love taking my twin two-year-old girls to Kits beach. Every time we roll the stroller off the #22 bus the girls get excited. And each time I see waves lapping and the mountains rising up from the ocean, I realize this nature-fix is precisely what I need.  

Which is why it bothers me that too often I head home frustrated, reflecting not on the enjoyment Abi and Bea got from throwing rocks into the water or digging in the sand, but on yet another altercation with a dog owner who let their dog scare my children as they played on the beach.

The facts. According to city bylaws, dogs are not allowed on the 'beach' of Kits beach. This means the sand, and the sand only. The dog friendly areas are exactly that - places for dogs to do what dogs do best: run and play.  

 

The issue. It is not illegality of the situation that bothers me. I am not generally a law-and-order person. I could care less that the 70-year-old woman with the puffball poodle lets her dog sniff the sand. What I do care about are the large (and visibly aggressive) dogs who charge my children while they are playing on the beach. And what frustrates me are the reactions from these dog owners who have no qualms about allowing their dogs to frighten my children in a place where my children have a reasonable expectation of safety.

For those dog owners who may find this a tough philosophical concept to comprehend, here it is simply. I don’t care that you are breaking the bylaw. I care that you are letting your dog charge at my children, partly because your dog might be dangerous (there are enough stories of dogs mauling children), but mostly because your dog running full tilt at my children scares them. And I am frustrated because you don’t seem to understand (or care) that part of the enjoyment my children derive from playing at Kits beach comes from their expectation that they can play there without encountering dogs there.

You may wonder if I am putting words in my children’s mouth. I assure you I am not. Abi and Bea specifically request Kits beach because they know it is a dog-free beach. They know because they have seen the signs. The dog-in-a-circle-with-a-line-through-it is pretty clear, even for toddlers who can’t read. Each time Beatrice sees the sign she says, without fail, ‘sign say no doggies on a beach.’ Reinforcing this, Abi will point to a nearby dog and say: ‘good doggie on a sidewalk. No go on a beach.’

If a two year old can understand the no-dogs-on-the-beach sign, other dog owners must get it too. This leads to a more likely explanation: they trust their dog.

‘My dog would never hurt anyone!’ I hear this a lot. To which I respond, ‘maybe, but I don’t know you and I don’t know your dog. More importantly, I don’t trust your dog with the safety of my children.’

This is usually where the altercation ends. The dog owner is often indifferent (‘hey man, what’s your problem?’) or abusive (‘f*&k you, a&*hole. You want me to f*&k you up?’). Only once has someone actually looked at my crying children and said to me, ‘I can understand why you might be concerned. Sorry.’

This is what I want to say:

‘Where the well-being of my children is concerned, I follow the precautionary principle, which in this case means I am not interested in giving your charging dog the benefit of the doubt. If you can’t respect the law, perhaps you can at least respect my request to keep your dog away from my children. We specifically avoided entering the off-leash area to avoid encountering dogs; now please respect our choices and keep your dog away from us and off the beach.’

I spin a version of this rebuttal in my head for hours after leaving. Reflecting on this often overshadows what would otherwise have been an enjoyable day with my children, watching them play and laugh and learn.

Some dog owners may feel I am unfairly profiling their dog as vicious. But I am willing to bet nearly all of us would all follow the precautionary principle in such a low-reward/high-risk situation.

If I walk down Granville street juggling swords, could I fault people for moving out of the way? It is unlikely that shouting, ‘don’t worry, I’m really good!’ would assuage their concerns, because this is a situation where not much good is weighed against a whole lot of bad. If I fail, it is they who are disproportionately harmed.

If my children were in critical condition in a hospital because a dog mauled them, I wouldn’t feel vindicated if that dog was put down and the owner faced charges. I would hate myself and feel that I should have done something more to protect them.

I am not asking for much. I am not even asking dog owners to follow the law. What I am asking is that dog owners keep their dogs away from my children in a place where dogs are not even legally allowed to be anyway. I’m sure if I took up fire-twirling, you wouldn’t want me anywhere near your children.

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