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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: Am I being impolite when I leave my dog outside the cafe?

Every time I leave my dog Maggie outside a cafe so I can get a coffee, I get dirty looks from people who obviously disapprove. What do I do?

If the sidewalk is wide enough, people who are nervous around, or allergic to, dogs can easily give Maggie a wide berth. But most sidewalks are not that wide.

Ani Castillo / For Metro

If the sidewalk is wide enough, people who are nervous around, or allergic to, dogs can easily give Maggie a wide berth. But most sidewalks are not that wide.

Dear Ellen,

I take my dog Maggie for regular walks and make sure she has water, but every time I leave her outside a café so I can get a coffee, I get dirty looks from people who obviously disapprove. I tried bringing her inside with me once, and a customer complained. What is the etiquette of leaving a dog outside?

M.K.

Dear M.K.,

When in doubt about the polite thing to do in any situation, it’s helpful to consider the needs of the players involved.

Let’s start with Maggie. The dangers can be many for a defenseless dog tied up in public. An expensive breed might be stolen for the purposes of resale. A prankster might untie her for “fun,” and she might then run into traffic. If she’s stuck on a busy sidewalk, she might get her paws run over, or worse, by baby strollers, skate boarders or cyclists who selfishly use the sidewalk instead of the road. Even well-meaning passersby can hurt your dog if they give her a “treat” of xylitol-laced candy, theobromine-rich chocolate, or a cookie with raisins — all of which can cause illness and sometimes death in canines.

People who care about animal welfare might reasonably wonder how long has Maggie been sitting there in 30-degree heat, or minus-30-degree cold, and rescue her, which could be upsetting for her. Little kids who don’t know better might annoy your dog, causing her to snap back, and risk being put down for her “aggression.” There are even stories online about dogs being rounded up to sell to laboratories, which I find far-fetched. But it’s indisputable that some dogs are stolen each year to be used as bait or competitors in illegal dog fights.

Next, let’s look at the needs of the public. Some people don’t mind a peaceful mutt lolling outside a café, calmly waiting for its owner. And if the sidewalk is wide enough, people who are nervous around, or allergic to, dogs can easily give Maggie a wide berth. But most sidewalks are not that wide, and in any case, why should nervous, allergic people have to dodge your responsibility? There’s also the chance Maggie might urinate or defecate on the pavement, which is disgusting for the rest of us.

Finally, let’s look at your needs: 1) coffee; 2) avoiding dirty looks from strangers. I think you can figure out there’s only one answer here in terms of both etiquette and dog ownership: forgo the former in order to obtain the latter.

Need advice? Email Ellen: askellen@metronews.ca

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