“Today I Trusted a Complete Stranger with my Child”

Hi Readers! Here’s a lovely story from reader Deborah Halliday Mills. Remember it when you find yourself between a rock, a hard place, a child and a stranger! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have always prided myself on being a common sense parent.  I don’t follow “experts,”or the latest trends or pop culture.  I believe strongly in community and that the vast majority of people are good, kindhearted and helpful.  My husband and I do what feels right in our hearts and minds.  And sometimes that means making split second decisions when it comes to safety.

Today I had to make such a decision.  My youngest of three boys, age 4, was home from preschool with a 102 fever.  I desperately needed to get to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items.  He was feeling okay for the moment, so we hopped in the car and headed out to the store.  My 15-month-old dog came along for the ride as well as she often does.

My son and I were in and out of the store in minutes while the dog waited in the minivan.  My son was hanging on to the side of the grocery cart when we got to the car.  I opened up the back of the van and within a second the dog  darted out and started running around the parking lot.  She was excited and refused to come to me, and then ran into the road.  So my dog was running in traffic and my son was standing by the car.  I was beside myself with  panic.  A woman pulled up in her car and asked if she could help.  She said she would stay by my son while I ran after the dog.  I made a split-second decision and said yes and ran after my dog.  Bringing along a sick 4-year-old while chasing a dog in traffic would have been a stupid thing to do.  So I left my son with a stranger, with my purse, phone, wallet and keys in her full view, and took off running.

My dog ran in and out of traffic and I was screaming and crying.  Numerous people stopped to help.  One man stopped traffic and ran after her with me.  It took us at least 15 minutes to catch her, running across roads, around drainage ditches, all the time me crying hysterically.  She finally conked out and laid down for a tummy rub.  (Typical dog!)  The man offered to carry her to my car for me because I was so upset.  But I declined, and mentioned that a stranger was watching my 4 -year-old son.  He smiled and said he had two sons too.  Please take care, he said,  and have a good weekend.  I thanked him profusely.

I carried my dog back to the car (a good distance away).  My son was sitting in the back of the van with this lovely “stranger,” talking about ducks and geese.  He was as happy as could be.  The “stranger” asked if I was okay, did I know where my keys were?  Was I okay to drive home?  Then she gave me a huge hug and told me what a wonderful son I had.  I couldn’t thank her enough.  I couldn’t thank both “strangers” enough for the time and efforts they had given me, my son and my dog.

I can honestly say that I not once feared for my son. We’ve never taught our kids to be afraid of people.  Instead we teach them to be kind and respectful and to use their own commonsense –- yes, even a 4-year-old.  That’s why he didn’t panic when I ran off and had a fun time talking. I’m sure there are plenty of parents that would be aghast at my decision, but I knew, thanks to you and my own common sense, that my son would be fine.

I still haven’t stopped shaking from the stress my dog caused, but I am so thankful for the strangers in my community that saw a woman in need and thought nothing of offering help.

Sincerely, Deborah, a proud, Free-Range Parent

Most strangers LIKE to help kids.

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76 Responses to “Today I Trusted a Complete Stranger with my Child”

  1. JSL June 30, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    God, I hate dogs.

  2. Dolly June 30, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Glad the story had a nice ending. I have had dogs escape too so I know how upset it can make you and mine was not even out in traffic and I was still having a panic attack! Glad some nice people stopped and helped too! You might want to rethink taking wild dog out in the car next time till she can mind better. I had a poodle who was so tiny she always slipped out of collars or doors and then would run wild. It was rough until she finally got big enough to fit into a cat harness and not escape it. Tiniest dog ever, runt of the litter.

  3. Nanci June 30, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    That is awesome! I really believe that in a crisis nice people come out of the woodwork. Just two weeks ago my kids and I were in a parking lot near a highway. I didn’t see anyone else around. Suddenly there was a horrible noise and I looked up to see a truck rolling off the highway. It rolled several times and stopped upside down on the grass. In less than 20 seconds there were several men all running to help. I have no idea where they came from. The man climbed out of the window and was alright. It was so reassuring to see that in a moment that many good Samaritans will show up.

  4. Jessica June 30, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    I would have said to hell with the dog, its not worth risking my life over my kids. sorry.

  5. Jynet June 30, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Staying on topic: What a beautiful story about community! That is exactly what a community should do!

    Off topic: We had a runner too. Our dog growing up was a Samoyed (sp?) and he would take off anytime, anywhere. He wore a harness in the car that was locked into the seatbelt. Worked fairly well. Of course at home all it took was a neighbourhood kid (or adult, we never caught whoever was doing it) to unlatch the gate from the outside and let him out and he’d be gone. Thankfully he always headed to the same place… the bakery across the river, lol. He would walk all six blocks, across the only intersection in town that had traffic lights at that time (there are 40 intersections with lights now, sadly) and show up at thier back door. They would feed him “doughnut holes” until someone showed up to pick him up… which just encouraged him to do it again of course, lol!

  6. Amie Hood June 30, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve relied on the kindness of strangers. People, on the whole, are kind and generous. I once ducked into a stranger’s garage when tornado sirens were wailing & I was in my car in a strange neighborhood. I got ‘caught’ by the homeowners, who welcomed me in, and we watched the local weather until the storm passed. Glad both dog and son are okay. Hope your 4 year old is well now!

  7. Teri June 30, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I’m more shocked that she took the dog with her to the store and left it in the van than with her leaving her son with a stranger. LOL!

  8. queenoid June 30, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    I would have also trusted the stranger. But I wouldn’t have had a lot of trouble closing the child in the car, either (assuming it wasn’t a hot day). I know that there are dangers of overheating, and I would be aware of that, but my mom used to leave us in the car ALL THE TIME while she ran some errands, and I am here to tell the tale. And I also know what everything she bought (that I could open) tastes like. Such as Milk Bones!
    Some dog training might be in order. . . . – separate thought.
    My husband has often quieted a crying baby in an airplane. Granted, he couldn’t make off with the baby. But we are, at this point, experienced parents. He knows how to calm a baby. And having been frazzled parents in airplanes ourselves, back in the day, he knows what it is like. Let me tell you, that man loves babies, and he can calm them down. What I would have done for the equivalent back in the day!

  9. Elaine June 30, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Awesome post, glad you got the pup back. As for trusting strangers?…hey we’re all strangers at first aren’t we?.

  10. FLP June 30, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    Wonderful story. Sometimes, you just have to, and it usually works out fine. While traveling to Europe last December we (my husband, 3 year old daughter and 5 month old baby) got caught up in the travel delays in France. At one point, my husband and I had to separate, and his phone battery ran out. We had a meeting point, but I was with both kids and also trying to find information on our train connection. My 3 year old had fallen asleep in the stroller. I finally asked a lady nearby to watch her while I checked on a train. She agreed. I came back a few minutes later with her protecting my sleeping daughter from a stranger who was trying to approach my daughter. It was my husband who had returned early and had spotted my sleeping daughter at our meeting point. The lady wouldn’t let him anywhere near her :)

  11. Valerie H June 30, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Even with all the fearmongering in the media, there are still nice people that help instead of calling DCFS.

  12. LRH June 30, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    I agree with JSL and Jessica, I’m not a dog person much myself, their antics can irritate the snot out of me. I am especially glad to hear Jessica have the perspective of understanding the difference between a dog’s life and a human’s.

    However, that’s beside the point. The point being, an issue compelled the parent’s attention to where they were dependent on the good graces of a stranger, and they did just that–with good results. It was just wonderful that they did that.

    I’ve trusted a stranger too a few times. Last April at the lake I had my 2 & 4 year-old kids there, I had flotation devices but forgot the air pump. Meanwhile I had met & be-friended this young 20-something couple while there. I got them to watch my 2 kids for about 2 minutes total while I went inside a bait & tackle type of shop that was there to see if they had an air pump. Later, that same day, I asked them to watch the kids (I almost typed cats, ha ha) for 15 minutes or so while I swam somewhat far out into the lake. They did fine.

    Obviously you want to teach your kids not to RUN OFF with strangers etc, but that aside, Lenore is right–people are on the whole GOOD, and trusting them is a GOOD thing. I am delighted for the original poster, Deborah Halliday Mills.


  13. Mommy Boots June 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I’m gonna have to agree with Jessica here. To hell with the dog. The result of this story ended up fine, but it very easily could have ended badly. I would never leave my child with someone I didn’t know to chase a dog.

  14. Erin June 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    It was my first day alone with my two month-old and two and a half year-old daughter. I was nervous but determined to get out and enjoy our short summer. We went to a big park and my older daughter was playing with new friends while I started chatting up another mom. Suddenly my older daughter took off across the park towards the main road. I yelled but she just kept running. I turned to the other mom, asked her to hold my itty bitty baby, and took off after my older daughter. No doubt she enjoyed holding a newbie and I was able to catch my older daughter!

  15. Cyn June 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    sounds like you’ve given your kids the tools to be Free Range, try your dog too. She’s dependent on you (just like human children) to teach her the tools to survive in our world. A basic puppy (beginner) obedience class can help. They generally teach the easy commands like Sit, Stay, Come. I can’t say it’ll be easy, dogs are very much like perennial toddlers, but it can be just as rewarding knowing you’ve taught your dog to be capable as it is your kids! Good Luck! 😀

  16. ama June 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    I’m so glad the people that helped you were so positive :) I do think the advice for some dog training is a good suggestion. It can be so stressful to have a dog that doesn’t listen well. However, a dog that you can trust to listen is such a wonderful companion :)

  17. Justin Fitzpatrick June 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    As a single divorced Dad I usually have my kids out by myself which can be very stressful when they both want to do different things. I took the plunge one day at a kids expo when my 8 year old wanted to go on one ride while my 4 year old wanted to go on another. There was a Mum & Dad lining up with their daughter & I asked them if they would mind if my daughter stood in line with them. They were lovely, my daughter made a friend & I made two new friends.

  18. This girl loves to Talk June 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    I tell myself sometimes (to ease the uncertainity of trusting strangers) basically


    Of course! I’ve helped out many people, friends and strangers alike. I’ve helped lost kids, I give other overwhelmed mothers the knowing nod or wink (having four kids myself)

    so if I trust myself I should extend the same courtesy.

    (advice I need to listen to, and I loved this story of strangers helping to remind us it is indeed true that most people do help out in a crisis (and not steal your child) – I say that if anyone stole my children, they would probably soon return them 😉

  19. FrancesfromCanada June 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    This is why we have cats.

  20. Scout June 30, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    I’m not getting the connection to the depression era photo…

  21. helenquine June 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    What a great story!

    It doesn’t matter what the reason for needing some assistance is – the point is you *can* safely rely on strangers and it helps create good moments in people’s lives. It sounds like both the kid and the stranger who helped had 15 minutes that bettered their lives. These types of interactions aren’t just what shows how good a community is, they help to create it.

    Off topic – some of you would leave your dog to run in traffic? That’s hugely irresponsible. Even if you don’t think the dog’s life is worth some effort, you have a responsibility to the other road users.

  22. This girl loves to Talk June 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    I was just about to say the same helenquine.

    I am not a dog person by anymeans ( or animal person for that matter, my poor kids, but I hate pets 😉

    but how bad would you feel if your dog ran into traffic and caused an accident that may injure people or even kill people all because you were worried about a friendly looking lady trying to help you

  23. Frau_Mahlzahn June 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    @Jessica: you’d probably have been in much more trouble for that decision — and might have been responsible for accidents and injuries.

    I mean, really, what are the odds of a kidnapper stopping by just in that very moment?

    I think this is a very heartwarming story, and shows a great sense of community! And I’m sure, if it hadn’t been these two “strangers” who happened to be there, there would have been others who would have helped. People _are_ friendly and most mean well and help, if their help is needed.

    So long,

  24. Scout June 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    The most reliable way to get my dog out of traffic was not to chase her, but to run to the fridge and grab some meat! Safer for everyone!

  25. Cynthia June 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    What? This woman wasn’t in complete control of the situation at all times? Dogs and kids have minds and wills of their own? As a mother of three small children, ages 1-5, I have had a lot of offers of help from strangers, from pushing on the swings to holding the baby, to giving the kids a sucker. I appreciate every one of them. This was a great story, and I’m glad the stranger wasn’t afraid to ask if she could help.

  26. Kenny Felder June 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    My sister recently called and shared a similar story with me–her son was flying out of San Francisco alone, and a man who was on the same flight offered to walk him to the gate–the son was quite nervous about all the chaos at the airport, and very relieved to have a friendly face, even a new one, to guide him. My sister told me “I knew you’d like that story, because you’re always talking about that free range stuff.”

  27. Joy June 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    I love that the community helped. What a stressful situation. We were in a store the other day when a little boy stopped toddling behind his mom to “talk” to my little daughter. He was so cute. But as I saw how he was toddling out of view of his mom, I got down on his level and tried to encourage him to follow mom. Then the woman turned around and gave me an aghast look for talking to her son. Really, I was only trying to help, not steal your kid! And I will continue to try to help, even if it freaks out the parents sometimes.

  28. Kacey Bollrud June 30, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Ah yes, we have a absolutely wonderful dog whose only fault is that he loves to run & will not always come back until he’s tired (and he has great stamina). When my daughter was 6 months old, he got spooked by a truck on a walk & wouldn’t come back on leash. We lived in Germany and often walked him on the farm roads & trails off leash. I put my daughter in the car & tried to find him, but there are places a car cannot go. It might not seem odd to leave my baby with my neighbor while I chased the dog, but since it was Germany, I we did not speak the same language. In reality, she was French, so we used 3 languages to communicate that she would sit with my daughter while I chased the dog. I ended up having to call my husband home from work that day. He picked up my daughter from the neighbor & then drove up to where we were & the dog jumped right in the car…. grrrr….

    The best thing I saw while living in Europe was the mother’s who would pop into a bakery after parking their stroller just outside. That is something you would never see in the U.S.

    To the dog owner in this story: Don’t feel bad about your dog stopping traffic. Our dog chewed through his leash while we changed the aforementioned baby’s diaper on the roadside of the Paris-Roubaix bike race. We got him back just a few minutes before the peleton came by. I was certain we were going to cause an international incident!

  29. Leeroy June 30, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    I don’t noramally comment but I wanted to bring this article to Lenore’s attention but (understandably) cant find an email address for her anywhere.
    Its about the outcomes of Free Range Parenting (or not)

  30. Selby June 30, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    (Mutters under breath)….Mou might mant mo methink making mild MOG mout min mhe mar mext mime mill mhe man MIND metter…

  31. Donna June 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    This makes me a little sad. It’s sad that the default of stranger danger is so ingrained that it’s notable when we trust strangers and they live up to that trust. The stranger that is bent on doing you harm is far, far rarer than one who will be helpful.

    For those who say she should have left the dog: really? I would understand that sentiment if both the 4 year old and the dog were running in traffic – of course, you go after the child and leave the dog. But the boy was safe. There was a miniscule chance that something was going to happen to him with the stranger and a huge change the the dog was going to get injured or cause an accident.

  32. Elizabeth (Foodie, Formerly Fat) June 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    I like to teach our kids that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet. I also teach them to trust their instincts and that there are nice strangers and mean strangers and that if they stay calm they will be able to tell the difference.

    A few weeks ago my 3 year old son was at Karate class. His teacher was sitting with the class talking to them about safety and was telling them not to talk to strangers, but if they got lost to talk to a police officer.

    I tried to politely discuss with him afterwards that it was not recommended to tell children not to speak to strangers and that fear based strategies don’t actually keep people safe. He kept focusing on the idea of talking to a police officer instead of a regular person and acted as though I wanted my son to get lost! I tried to politely explain that a police officer won’t always be around, for Pete’s sake! It was so frustrating.

    People are good and helpful when they are given the chance. The one’s who aren’t are the exception to the rule and should not be the default assumption.

  33. Denny Corsa June 30, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    Erin, I’ve been scared of similar things happening. I sit for a family with a 10-week-old and a 2-year-old, and I’m worried the older boy might bolt from the nearby park, but they are usually enough people around that I feel I could hand off the baby to someone there – there are often many parents and kids playing at this park.

  34. Elissa June 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    I’m glad that the story has a happy ending with the dog being caught, and I agree that most people are basically good and nice. I myself would probably trust a stranger to keep an eye on my daughter if by some necessity I had to leave for a second.

    What I don’t understand is why you would bring a dog to the grocery store in the first place. Dealing with a sick child at the grocery store isn’t quite taxing enough and you also want some annoying puppy sitting in the car while you shop? Get a nice crate for when you take short trips away from home. The dog will be much safer and you won’t find yourself having to dart out in to traffic to retrieve it.

  35. pentamom June 30, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    “but it very easily could have ended badly.”

    How? I hope the answer isn’t, “The woman could have harmed your child.” Because that isn’t “very easily,” that’s “highly unlikely to the point of not worth worrying about.” Do you realize how few actual human beings want to hurt random children? And how unlikely it was that such a person would just happen to appear just when you needed someone to help?

  36. pentamom June 30, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    Elissa, that kind of second-guessing is all very nice, but it’s beside the point. Even if we all agreed that Deborah could have done things differently and better and avoided the situation (which may not be the case because we don’t know the circumstances), SO WHAT? People’s lives are not a series of perfect prior decisions. Stuff happens as a result of the decisions we make, whether good ones or bad ones. That’s reality. The point is, given the situation, she coped with it in a way that most of us, because of a certain kind of cultural conditioning, would have feared or at least hesitated to do. But it was the right decision *at that moment.*

  37. Taradlion June 30, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    I do like the story both that the mom saw leaving her child with a stranger offering to help as an option, and that the child was comfortable (no “stranger danger”)…

    I get that some people are not dog lovers, and some don’t like dogs at all. However, this mom did not put her dog’s life over her child’s life. She didn’t chase the dog instead of the child when both ran in to traffic. The child was okay.

    @Larry, you said you were glad to see Jessica’s perspective “understanding the difference of a dog’s life and a human” … But when you left your kids with the friendly beach stranger was it putting the need for inflating the flotation devices over the life of a human? Of course NOT. Your kids were fine. Full disclosure, I am a dog lover, but I do agree that some can get carried away. If my child and my dog were in an equivalent situation (need for food, medical care, rescuing from REAL danger) of course I would choose my kids. I hope anyone would. This mom put the very real danger to her dog over, not her child’s life, but leaving him in a situation that was depending on a stranger. I don’t want to argue. Think we see eye to eye on it being completely fine to accept help from a stranger.

    For those that could only think of the possible unlikely risk to the child by leaving him with a stranger, I think it would probably have been traumatic for the kid to have his dog run over. My kids would have been horrified if my dog ran into traffic and I didn’t do anything.

  38. Kara June 30, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    I too have made the decision to go after a dog and I would have done the same thing. When I first moved to our current house my daughter was two and I had a huge dog who was not used to the area. She opened the door and they both went out the door and down the middle of the street while had turned my back to her in the kitchen for just a minute. I had to decide which to go after, and as I recall I told her to sit on the sidewalk and ran after the dog. Unfortunately, I did not have a kind stranger to sit with my kid. You make decisions, maybe they aren’t perfect. There are certainly lots of people out there ready to yell at you for letting your dog out too. I think those of you that are being critical need to appreciate that this is a responsible women who did her best in the situation. Period. That is frankly all we can ask of anyone.

  39. Iva @ This Side of Perfect June 30, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Wonderful story about the kindness of strangers. I once had a stranger stop and help me get my flat temporarily fixed so I could drive to the service station to get it plugged. He even offered me money to get it done!

    We fear strangers not because they are to be feared, but because the media has made it so.

  40. CaraCara June 30, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    Great story! Most people really are good and nice.

    I have a tip about your runaway dog. My dog used to o that too (nearly gave me a heart attack when he got out of the car and ran across four lanes of highway traffic!) When I took him for dog training, they taught us a technique for an “emergency recall” for just these situations. When you absolutely have to have your dog come right that second.

    It’s counter-intuitive, but what you are supposed to do is run the opposite direction of the dog screaming your head off like you are being murdered by an axe-wielding maniac. Then throw yourself on the ground and roll around, still screaming, like you are dying right that second. The dog’s instinct is to come help you (a member of his pack) out of whatever danger has befallen you. It also immediately takes the game away (many dogs, mine included, like to escape and then make you chase them).

    I luckily haven’t had to try it myself, but maybe it will help if your dog gets loose in traffic again.

  41. dmd June 30, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    Been there. Done that. Really, we have a dog who is an escape artist, so this is a very familiar scene to me. Of course I’d trust the stranger to watch my child while I ran off. Sad that this is even remotely considered unusual.

    And to the person who hates dogs, I feel sorry for you. My dog has caused a lot of trouble in her penchant for running off. But she’s enriched our lives in so many ways. I’m blessed to have her. You are missing a lot.

  42. Sarah O June 30, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    I’ve watched tons of kids at the playground while their mom/grandma took another child to the bathroom. Sometimes it’s because I offered, and sometimes it’s because they asked. It’s not a big deal. I managed NOT to steal them away or abuse them. My husband once even took a posse of seven unknown kids off to get hotdogs for their families at the stand across the park so the moms could sit with the babies (or babies to be) at a community event. And he’s a MAN.

  43. Jeanette June 30, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    When our boat was sinking, I handed our 2 y/o son to a “stranger” standing on the dock w/her teenage son. I yelled “go with that lady” & literally threw him out of the boat at her. She took him away from the dock & commotion while her son helped bail the boat & our friend got the truck & trailer. In an emergency, people are good 😀

  44. Stephanie - Home with the Kids June 30, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    I’ve had to trust a stranger in the past too. Not for my kids, for me. It was a number of years ago, when my car broke down a few miles out of town in an area with no houses for a few miles, no call boxes and pre cell phones. Ended up accepting a ride with someone who turned around to help me. Of course, from my perspective, accepting his offer of help made sense. Go with someone who sounded like they really meant to help or take my chances with the next one, or take the chance that someone wouldn’t give me the choice. Admittedly, that last wasn’t too likely, but certainly a concern when you’re out there all alone. And it turned out fine. He took me to a gas station with a pay phone and waited until I had reached someone who could help me.

  45. fbeausoleil@ftml.net June 30, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    Reminds me of a time I was at the top of the stairs and a woman, child in a stroller, was looking at the stairs. I offered to bring the stroller down, and she countered with “Would you watch my kid instead?” I immediately agreed. She was in the grocery store a few minutes. No harm done, cute kid. I’m a man, not some monster.

  46. queenoid June 30, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    I drive through Mexico with my kids quite a bit. A couple of years ago, I had an emergency appendectomy a day and a half after I got home from the drive. For a while I tormented myself, scaring myself by thinking “what would have happened if I had gotten appendicitis a few days ago, during the drive?”
    Then I calmed down and reminded myself that everything would have been fine. They have hospitals in Mexico. And NO Mexican hospital is going to leave a 15 year old and a 10 year old to fend for themselves. If they didn’t stay in my room with me, some of the nurses would have taken them home. They would probably have had a fiesta for the kids and the kids would have had the time of their lives! (This is part of what I love about Mexico!)

  47. Rayna June 30, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    I’d recommend checking out Louie (starring comedian Louis CK), the first episode of the second season. It just aired last week. He had to rush his pregnant sister to the hospital but his daughters were asleep at home. He had to decide to leave his daughters to be watched by a neighbor he’d never met before. And imagine that, everything worked out fine, even though he wasn’t sure he should do it (especially in a place like NYC).

  48. Uly June 30, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Oh, that comment always makes me seethe. It’s not your fault, but do you know that NYC is one of the safest large cities in the nation? And we’re a REALLY large city!

    Obviously we have our less safe neighborhoods, but most people, most of the time, are pretty safe in the city. We have just less than two murders a day, which, given the population (and the daytime population is higher what with all the tourists and commuters) is pretty damn low.

    I tried to politely explain that a police officer won’t always be around, for Pete’s sake!

    Our rule if somebody gets lost (that is, separated from the group) is that the child STAYS PUT and the grown-ups will double back and find them. It’s okay to ask for help, but YOU do not go ANYWHERE with ANYBODY (not even a cop!) because it’ll just make it harder for us to locate you.

    Somehow during the school year the nieces got told that if they get lost they should ask a cop for help. I’ve spent the better part of the last ten months trying to get them back on track here. If they get misplaced in the train station, for crying out loud, the LAST thing I want them to do is wander around looking for a police officer! Why on earth would anybody teach them that they can’t be trusted to stand still for a few minutes alone? Pain in the butt….

  49. EricS July 1, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Nice Deborah. I think you should start training your dog like you do your kid. 😉 I recommend The Dog Whisperer. Not only will you have a smart, intelligent kid who can deal with most situations, you also have a dog that’s obedient, calm, and listens to you. The pay off…you have peace of mind. When people do the right things, everything happens as it should. People should look for the outcome before they can even deal with the situation. Deal with the current situation the right way first, and things will work out as they should.

  50. Taradlion July 1, 2011 at 12:15 am #

    I agree Uly. The population in NYC just means there are even more people willing to help too. Kids can always find someone.

  51. gap-runner July 1, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    @ Uly, I was in NYC in 2005 and the people were very nice and helpful. The people who were the rudest were the tourists! I found that the NYC subway was very clean compared to public transportation in other cities around the US. My husband was last in NYC in the ’70s and he still thinks it’s something out of “Fort Apache The Bronx.” I felt perfectly safe on the subway, walking by myself in Central Park, and walking around my brother’s neighborhood in Harlem. I’ll be in NYC for a few days in September. If my son gets separated from me, there will be a lot of people who can help him out. Fortunately, he never developed a fear of strangers because my husband and I taught him that most adults are good people. He knows what to do if a person doesn’t seem “quite right” and also not to go off with a stranger.

  52. Phil July 1, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    Always treat dogs the opposite of what you want:

    Want him to come? Run away from him.

    Want to keep him from coming? Run at him.

    “Keep running after a dog and he will never bite you.” — Francois Rabelai

    “When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.” — Henry David Thoreau

  53. tdr July 1, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    In this scenario I definitely think quickly sizing up a stranger and asking her to watch my kid is preferable to leaving the child alone. If you’re worried about strangers interacting with your child, I should think you’d prefer one you picked out yourself to one who just wandered up on their own.

    And who knows if the child would have stayed in the car if left on her/his own?

    Or which well-meaning citizen would have called the cops when spotting a child left alone in a car?

    I’m a dog lover and my dog is normally well-behaved but would not miss an opportunity to taste freedom when given the chance. I could easily have found myself in this same situation and would have done exactly the same thing.

  54. spacefall July 1, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    I’m not a dog person, but my cat’s a bolter, and if I had a choice between leaving a child with a (perfectly safe, by all likelyhood) “stranger” and rescuing my cat, or leaving my cat to die because, as we know, “anything could happen” to the poor child, I’d choose to save my cat’s life every time. Of course I would never choose a cat’s life over a child’s life, but I would think it deeply immoral to sacrifice a cat’s life to appease a ridiculous notion of childhood safety. Just because the cat’s life is subjectively worth LESS doesn’t mean it’s worthless. The same, obviously, goes for Deborah’s dog.

  55. walkamungus July 1, 2011 at 3:08 am #

    Er…not the Dog Whisperer. Try Ian Dunbar instead — “How to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.”

  56. Jen July 1, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    To those of you who commented that she should have just let the dog go, how would you explain that to your children? As a parent who has had to break the news of a beloved pet’s demise to her children, let me tell you it is one of the most heart-breaking moments – even if you feel NOTHING for the pet.

  57. John Rohan July 1, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    I do strongly wonder if she would have done the same thing, if the stranger was a man instead of a woman.

  58. Sky July 1, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    “…but do you know that NYC is one of the safest large cities in the nation?”

    Did you know that Chubby Hubby is one of the healthiest highly caloric ice creams in the nation?

    “We have just less than two murders a day,”

    My county has just less than 17 murders a YEAR. Granted, we have fewer people, but even accounting for population, New York’s homicide rate is over 20 times higher than ours. It’s not that I think New York is a terribly dangerous place (I don’t), but I do think people can be forgiven for suggesting it is more dangerous, on average, than many other places, which is all that was being suggested. Actually, I think the commenter was just making the point that if someone can safely leave a kid alone with a stranger in NY, surely you upper-class subruban moms can manage it.

    But, yes, people have distorted views of the OVERALL dangerousness of cities based on the excessive crime in some neighborhoods. Throughout the U.S., most of the time, in most places, in most circumstances, people have little or no reason to fear violent crime.

  59. Staceyjw July 1, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    Something similar happened to me! We were visiting my MIL, and she had a little dog that needed to be walked during the day. One afternoon, I put the dogs collar and leash on, grabbed the plastic bags, and off I went with my then 7 month old son in his stroller.

    No one told me that this dog was scared of the sound of skateboards. Next thing I know, a kid on a board skates past, dog freaks, pulls out of his collar, and is running away- fast! Uh oh, I thought. I sure didn’t want to be the one to tell MIL I lost her dog, or that is was hurt during a walk we took. What to do? Can’t chase him with a stroller!

    There were several teens in the parking lot, so I rolled my son over and asked “can you please watch him so I can catch that dog!” Not only did these TEENS watch him, 2 of them helped me catch the dog, which we managed to get back on leash a few blocks away. I took the dog home, them went to retrieve my son. NO PROBLEM! And boy was I thankful.

    As for those who commented to say “forget the dog”, “dogs aren’t human”, etc, you are just being mean. I don’t like dogs anymore, not one bit, but when you own one it is your responsibility to make sure it doesn’t get hurt, or cause an accident. Pets are a part of the family. Just because they come after your kids doesn’t mean they are not valuable or deeply loved. Anyone that could let any pet run in the street without trying to catch them, with no regard for their safety, is just being cruel. I don’t care who’s pet it was, if I saw one in danger of being run over, I would try to help! Domestic animals depend on humans, you know.

    And so what if she took the dog to the store? When I lived in a mild climate, I use to take my old dog everywhere and leave him in the car too, windows open. He liked the ride, and I liked the companionship on errands. I’m pretty sure she did this all the time without incident- many trained dogs still have a streak of wild in them. Assuming she let’s the dog run loose, untrained, is unfounded.

  60. michelle July 1, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    When my kids were about 3 I took them down to the lake with our young dog. When the dog started swimming out too far and not coming back, I left the kids on the dock with orders not to move and swam out to the dog. Some nice lady in a boat rescued us (we were out pretty far by then) and a neighbor came down from his house to watch the kids and bring me a rope for the dog. If it came down to it, I’d have left the dog to save the kids but luckily, I didn’t have to make that choice.

    Then a couple weeks ago I locked the un-key to my new car in it at a strip mall about a mile from home. I could have called AAA and waited 45 minutes or walked home but I spotted a young woman with a young child walking out of the physical therapy clinic and asked her if she would drive my 13 year old son to our house to get a car key. She happily agreed and came back telling me what a great young man my son was and how he had been so kind to her 3 year old Downs son telling him how he used to get therapy too. We parted feeling like friends and me promising to return the favor to someone some day.

  61. Dave July 1, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Community is our future and our salvation as a society. We were made to serve one another. This is a wonderful story of community. This fills me with hope.

  62. olympia July 1, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    As others have said, I find the idea that we must protect our children at the risk of others, even if to protect others means putting our children at only the tiniest risk, completely insane. If the OP’s son was, say, suffering an anaphylactic reaction at the same time her dog was dodging traffic, of course concentrating on her kid’s needs would be the essential thing to do. But that wasn’t the case. She was leaving her kid with a concerned stranger, so she could save her dog from getting hit and people in cars from having to dodge said dog. Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean that your kid’s needs are all that matters. We’ve all got to look out for everyone, including (at a proportional level, of course), our animals.

  63. Uly July 1, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    “Throughout the U.S., most of the time, in most places, in most circumstances, people have little or no reason to fear violent crime.”

    And most violent crime, no matter where you are, is committed by somebody known to you. People get killed and raped by their family and “friends”, strangers are rarer.

  64. Magpie July 1, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    When I was about 8, our car broke down on the road. It was me, my 3-year-old brother, and our mom. Years before cell phones, of course, and we were way out of walking distance of any gas station or other building (rural east Texas).

    A man stopped in a rust-colored little car to ask if we could help. I remember he showed Mom his ID – he was a social worker or something – and offered to get help for us or drive us somewhere. So we all piled in his car and he drove us home. On the way, he told us his car was named Frodo.

    We made it home safely, Mom called the mechanic, and all was well. And a few years later, when I read some Tolkien, I almost fell out of my chair. :)

  65. Kate July 1, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    If you’re a dog owner, you need to go reread CeraCera’s post. That advice on how to recall your dog saved my dog’s life when he was a puppy and escaped.

    Now my 4 year old golden retriever and I are a therapy team, so he’s now obedient and mindful. In large part, we’re a team because of this incident. My dog’s response to me during that incident taught me that our relationship is less about commands and obedience and more about communication. I can tell him what to do until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t make a lick of different if I don’t understand his body language or attention to me.

    Learning that revolutionized my relationship with my dog. People stop us all the time (we voluteer in hospitals, schools, military bases, and foster homes) and say, “wow! How’d you ever train your dog to be so good?” Honestly, we’ve never taken more than the $90 Pet Smart intermediate class. It’s communication.

    That said, people are generally good and want to help. I’m glad the situation worked out!

  66. LRH July 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    The dog’s value and one’s dislikes of dogs is somewhat beside the point, really. The point is, the person posting felt compelled to go after it–an understandable reaction–and a stranger did a great thing helping out watching the child, and the poster realizes what a great value this was.

    THAT’S the main thing.

    I will chime in though. I’m not a big dog person so much, so it’s easy for me to dismiss concerns about them. I do think, besides that, that there are persons who value dogs–or cats, ferrets, etc–a bit too much. That’s not any of my business really if it doesn’t effect me, but at times it has. I’ve had issues before–although not lately, thank goodness–with people having noisy dogs living next-door to me. That is a noise I can hardly stand. I also don’t care for people not controlling their dogs running out into the street when I’m bicycling. Leash law or not, I shouldn’t have to deal with some yapper flapping their gums in my ear barking at me as if I give a rip what they think of anything–they’re a dumb idiotic dog with intelligence far below mine, what are they to me but an inferior living object bothering me under false pretenses? It’s irritating.

    I can put up with SOME of that sort of thing from a person’s child, but that’s because they are little humans being trained to do better as they get older, and because their needs as a human (the benefits of free-range) are FAR superior to a dog’s needs (or cat’s, etc). I think my child’s “right” to free-range around the area in general is FAR superior to any pet’s “right” to do the same.

    But a lot of dog owners don’t have that perspective. They actually talk as if their dog running around loose is no different than a child’s doing it. They don’t realize–a child’s needs as a human in doing that is superior to your dog’s for one reason–the child is a human, your dog is an animal, and thus on a lower level of importance & relevance. I also encounter many dog owners, when their dog barks and makes a noisy environment or trespasses into your yard and ransacks it etc, making excuses for it, sometimes even saying it’s the property owner’s fault for not spending the money on a fencing system to keep their animal OUT. My goodness–if I can be expected to train my kids to not trespass into someone’s yard if they don’t want that, surely a dog owner should be expected to.

    Here I go again, going off-topic.


  67. Donna July 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    “And most violent crime, no matter where you are, is committed by somebody known to you. People get killed and raped by their family and “friends”, strangers are rarer.”

    This is true. I rarely handle a case of a violent crime involving a stranger. An occasional armed robbery but they are more rare and usually involve a store cashier, bank teller or a drug deal. The vast majority of the assaults, murders and rapes are between people who know each other. In 2010, every single murder in my home city (different than the one I work in) was domestic violence related. There was not a single stranger or even acquaintance murder. And this is not a low crime area. That was a slight anomaly as we usually get some murders that are not domestic violence related but they are still predominantly between people who know each other.

  68. Emiky July 2, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    As a pet owner, I can’t blame her a bit for going after the dog. Why not? It’s a beloved puppy, and the kid was reasonably safe. I would not have risked the life of a beloved pet by assuming my child would have been abducted/molested/sold into slavery/etc.

  69. baby-paramedic July 2, 2011 at 7:43 am #

    When I was 12 we had taken our numerous dogs out to an unleashed area for a run. My brother (11) was riding his pushbike over to meet us (mum, baby and I took the car).

    My brother didnt turn up, and so mum decided it was time to go look for him. As we were loading the dogs into the car a 16yo boy turned up on a motorbike, asking if we were my brothers family.

    Turns out he had been in an accident (he was going to fast and lost control on some gravel, and hit a tree).
    Some strangers going pass had seen the accident, pulled over and helped.
    Some other people whose property he was near were travelling along, turned back to their house to call an ambulance, and sent their son to find us.

    Our dogs took off in the confusion. So, we left them. The ambulance was just leaving, and going quickly to hospital – turns out you can have a serious potentially fatal accident on a pushbike.

    Mum parked halfway between my grandparents place and the hospital. She sprinted to the hospital whilst I took the baby to the grandparents. They werent home, but the cleaner was and she offered to look after the baby until they were back.
    I then grabbed mums wallet etc and took it up to hospital for her, seeing if she needed anything else.
    I then returned and looked after the baby until my grandfather returned home from work (never occurred to me to ring him from work, he wasnt needed). Then we got someone else to look after the baby (someone at my grandfathers work I think) whilst we went to catch the dogs.

    Okay, we lived in a country town. Apparently every single person involved in this was somewhat known to my mum, but still. As my brother spent time in intensive care almost everyone was great.

    And yes, once he was better he was back on his pushbike exploring the neighbourhood again. I think that when he started doing that again we were excited that he was finally ‘healed’. He may have some deficit still, but it was the return to exploring that we celebrated.

  70. Dani July 2, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    There was a time when people would never even bat an eye at this story. Sadly this is not the case these days. I sincerely believe in a mother’s intuition. If this stranger was (by very very small chance) someone dangerous, the mother would likely not have felt comfortable with this. Clearly she made the sane, practical choice so often frowned upon today.

  71. Hayley of Australia July 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Haha. I’m all for free range but seriously? Running after a dog over looking after your child. Weird. Doesnt prove that she’s a great free range parent. Just proves she’s a bit of an idiot. Why take the dog to the shops in the 1st place?

  72. Tryna July 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    Loved the tip about “emergency recall” I may need it someday. My Australian Shepherd failed obedience school 3 TIMES, and my rescue Husky-mix got kicked out after the first day ’cause all he did was drag me around the room to sniff-well, you-know-what. My dogs are more embarassing than my kids. And as soon as this adoption goes thru and I don’t have DCFS looking over my shoulder, my kids are going to be so free-range!

  73. Ann July 3, 2011 at 12:16 am #

    @ Elizabeth (Foodie, Formerly Fat) :

    Good for you for saying something to the instructor! Besides, the chances of a police officer causing MORE problems for your kid/family, than a complete stranger might is pretty high!
    I teach my kids if your life is in DANGER (ie being chased by someone, in event of a serious injury, etc), it’s okay to approach an officer for help, but if you simply need assistance, ask people around you!! The idea of one of my kids asking a cop for assistance with something simple (like getting turned around in directions), and ending up in a foster home at the end of it gives me far more nightmares! Yipes!

  74. Martin July 3, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    I agree with. Hayley on this one.

  75. Mary July 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Hey, that’s the “Cincinnati Kid” picture from the Shorpy website.


  76. lynn December 15, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    You left your kid w/ a stranger for a few minutes in a public area to get your dog- I get it- its ok. In only in those circumstances, I ‘m sure its safe. But all of those people making comments like- strangers hardly hurt kids, its usually relatives or people you know- are very naive. Anyone will take the opportunity to take advantage of an innocent person like a child and yes family members. I dont think your story can be compared to other situations where children are left unnattended with strangers. You just went after your dog for a few minutes, seriously- no big deal! That doesn’t mean its ok to leave ur children alone or with strangers all the time, that would be really stupid.