When my older son was 8, he wanted a dog. I refused. “You’re not asking for a dog,” I’d say. “You’re asking me to pick up dog crap twice a day and I’m not gonna do it.”
My father grew up in the Bronx. He never had a dog. I never had a dog, had no experience with dogs, and sincerely believed a dog would ruin our lives. No dogs.
Besides, I argued: Who’d care for it? Not me. I’m a busy man. He, a small child, couldn’t be relied upon to help.
I thought this sealed my argument. But the future law student saw an opening. He would prove me wrong. He could take care of dogs. He would show me by starting a dog-walking business.
“Go ahead,” I said, thinking that would be the end of it.
To my vast surprise, he went ahead. Next thing I knew, he was rushing out at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning in July to call on his first customer, a family down the block.
I drifted to the street in time to see him arrive, leading Lady, a black-and-white spaniel, his little brother marching behind. They proceeded to walk Lady up and down the block for half an hour.
Nobody called the police. Which is more than Ted and Corey Widen of Wilmette can say after allowing their 8-year-old daughter to walk Marshmallow, their Maltese puppy, around their block. A neighbor called the cops.
When I tracked father Ted Widen he was, unsurprisingly, walking Marshmallow.
“This whole thing is a joke,” he said. “It’s cost us thousands of dollars.”
For lawyer’s fees, he elaborated. “To defend ourselves.”
After the cops told the neighbor the situation was acceptable, someone — the same neighbor, Corey Widen believes — called the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which opened an investigation.
Widen said they got the dog last October, with the reasonable stipulation that their two children, the 8-year-old and a son, 17, walk the dog, which both, mirabile dictu, have done. When the police came calling on Aug. 2, his daughter answered the door.
“My daughter was in shock,” he said. “She answered the door, expecting a playdate. She had nightmares all night. She thought she was being taken away. She thought she was in a lot of trouble.”
In a Facebook post, her mother said: “She cried for an hour and now refuses to go outside with her dog. … I told her she did nothing wrong – but she said she must have or someone would not have called the police on her.”
You can’t blame the police — you get a call about an endangered kid, you have to go take a look. Nor DCFS — investigating reports of neglected kids is what they do.
You do have to wonder about that neighbor, though. It seems to reflect more malice than concern.
“This is part of fear-based, mom-shaming culture we live in,” said Corey Widen.
My son kept walking dogs all that summer, racking up his $2 fees. I’d catch sight of him flying behind Sam, a big golden retriever.
Once I came downstairs to find him and Lady sprawled on the floor, watching TV. I told him he better beat it before his mom saw them.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said to Lady. “Before the cops show up.”
Meaning his mother. It’s sad to think some kids have to deal with actual cops for walking a dog. Though, I suppose, we need to remember that good kids deal with far worse going about their business beyond the cobblestone lanes of Wilmette.
Scary stuff comes at all of us faster than ever, and we forget that for the lucky comfortable, fear will harm you, and your kids, far worse than any stranger ever will.
I overcame my fear of dogs and got one a few years later. Good call. The older boy turned out fearless, which has its own downside. He spent the summer hiking by himself in Southeast Asia, eating rats, riding motorbikes and sleeping on mats in monasteries, causing his mother and myself not a little concern. He moved to New York City Tuesday.
“I’m only asking one thing of you,” I said earnestly, as we drove to the airport. “Look both ways crossing the street.” He waved off that concern as insane. You want your kids to be fearless; you also want them not to be hit by a bus.