I just read this story following up on the tragic death of a one-year-old boy in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. You don’t have to go back and rehash details, but the part that got to me was the Dad’s comment at the end that he and his family have been so hurt and overwhelmed by online commentary that blame him for his son’s death.
I thought Christopher Shahan was very brave to tell his story in hopes that he can prevent tragedies for other families, especially in a clip where he tells other parents not to make the same mistake he did – because now he doesn’t have his baby or his dog.
Hearing what happened in terrible tragedies helps other families see what they can do differently. Too often, though, I think we tend to look at what’s “wrong” with other people in a finger-pointing way and, perhaps, never learn the lessons that will pay true respect to the victims.
Didn’t Know is NOT Didn’t Care
I think there’s a big difference between families that did not know what to do for prevention and families where there are so many other child welfare issues or criminal negligence that it’s only a matter of time before the children are hurt by “something.”
And, of course parents don’t know about safety with dogs and babies and toddlers. Why should they when our society chooses to surround itself with imagery showing dogs and babies as “best friends?” You cannot pick up a children’s book with dogs in it without finding talking animals or smiley cartoon dogs who seemingly love being hugged and space invaded by babies. We have chosen to sacrifice the real to the fantasy.
The price of fantasy is being paid every day by children and dogs and the families that love them. Hardly ever does a baby or child die from a dog bite (that’s why a single incident will be news across the country), but even a less serious bite is devastating to a family. Tearful clients tell me, “If only I knew, I would have done it differently…”
Sure, we can say, “Well, you should have known better!” but that’s easy after the fact. No one purposely puts babies with dogs they think will hurt them. The more a dog is tolerant, the more liberties will be allowed. It’s human nature to believe what’s in front of your eyes (“He’s good with the baby!”), particularly when spurred on by a society that rewards and covets “cute” dog and baby interactions. That is, until it goes wrong and then you’re spurned — as if you did anything different than millions of other parents who cling to the fantasy.
Take a Look in the Mirror
Have you ever forwarded supposedly “cute” photos and videos of dogs and babies? Surely, lots of people must be doing this because I see them all the time and many of these videos have millions of views and tons of, “Look how cute!” comments.
How about reveling in how good your dog is with your child? I hear that all the time, too, when my work with dogs and babies comes up in conversation, “Oh, my dog is so GOOD with my kids. They can do anything to him.” (Readers of this blog will know how I feel about that statement.)
Do you have photos of your baby propped up next to your dog? Or huggy pictures?
Where do you think we get the idea that this is an appropriate thing to do? It’s from everyone around us validating that this is “normal” and something to strive for. We get praise and admiration from friends and family – “Look how good your dog is!” – with the spillover implication that we must be good parents and good dog owners.
Let’s just stop it already. Seriously, how is this much different than propping up the baby with a beer bottle or a cigarette in their mouth? Ha, ha, so funny – look how cute! People don’t do that because we, as a society, do not lavish admiration and attention on crazy behavior like that. On the contrary, parents may very well go to jail for child endangerment. So, why is the dog different?
Make a Difference: Speak Up!
You’ve got to do your part to change this perception that dogs and babies “should” be best friends . Risk being unpopular, being called a killjoy. Trust me, you get used to it.
If someone forwards you “cute” dog and baby photos or posts them on their Facebook page, speak up. The more people who say, kindly, “This is not cute enough to be worth endangering children and dogs,” the sooner perceptions will change and the less alone you will feel in speaking the truth. And, you will know you did your part to make other parents think twice before going along and doing the same with their babies and dogs.
All of us who know better need to start changing things for the better.
(See follow up post Should You Share That Cute Dog and Baby Photo? for examples of how you might evaluate photos and real life situations.)