A cartoon of a viscous dog
I do think that as a society we need to re-evaluate the level of freedom dogs are given and the privilege of owners (Picture: Getty)

‘Don’t worry, he’s friendly!’ a kind stranger shouted as their dog bounded over excitedly to greet my two boys, Greg, five, and Finn, two, as we walked along the coastal path.

Despite his kind, and no doubt meant to be reassuring words, I watched in dismay as our whole day out was ruined in the split second it took for the enthusiastic dog to arrive, nose-to-nose, in front of my toddler.

Because I knew exactly what would come next. Tears and inconsolable screaming from a petrified Finn, as he tried desperately to climb up my leg to get away from the panting animal who was the same size as he was.

Even when the owner had sauntered slowly over and casually clipped the lead on his spaniel, he didn’t apologise for distressing my son. Instead he repeatedly parroted that his boisterous cocker spaniel ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’.

Michelle Morgan Davies and one of her sons on a pebbly beach.
Why do so many dog owners assume everyone is happy to have their pet invade their personal space? (Picture: Michelle Morgan Davies)

As if our understanding of the temperament of his dog was more important than the comfort of my son.

And after another child was attacked by a dog this weekend, I can’t help but think that owners need to do more to control their dogs and prioritise the safety of children.

While the dog behind this recent attack is thought to be an XL Bully, resulting in calls from Home Secretary Suella Braverman to ban the breed, I do think that as a society we need to re-evaluate the level of freedom dogs are given and the privilege of owners. 

One of Michelle Morgan Davies' children on a sandy beach, with two dogs walking along in front of him.
Dogs on a lead or at safe distance are fine. It’s those running free and bounding here, there and everywhere that scare Michelle’s young boys (Picture: Michelle Morgan Davies)

In the case of my sons’ interaction with the spaniel, I’m sure the dog was lovely – he certainly looked it, with his sweet curly fringe and soft long ears trailing behind him – but I was unhappy that this man, like many dog owners, assumed we were happy to have his pet invade our personal space.

As a family, we delight in seeing dogs at a safe distance or even in close proximity when they are controlled or on a lead. ‘So cute,’ Finn will beam as he toddles along.

But when they’re running free and bounding here, there and everywhere, it’s a totally different story.

Michelle Morgan Davies' two sons out having fun on a green lawn, with buildings in the background.
‘I’m fed up of doing the mental maths to keep my kids safe and confident’. Pictured, Finn, age two, left, and Greg, five, right(Picture: Michelle Morgan Davies)

On this particular occasion, our walk had to be cut short as Finn wouldn’t calm down. ‘No dogs, go back to my car, Mummy,’ he repeated fearfully on a loop.

And no wonder my kids are petrified in those moments when half of the hairy beasts that approach us are just as tall as they are, usually heavier, and the owners are slow to act and defensive.

You might argue that my son needs to toughen up but his fear is the result of countless inappropriate, frightening and infuriating encounters with unruly dogs and their useless owners while we explore our hometown of Barry, South Wales.

Michelle Morgan Davies outdoors, standing on grass with a beach in the background.
I feel like I am in the minority of finding dogs a nuisance (Picture: Michelle Morgan Davies)

There was the dog that barrelled onto our picnic blanket, knocking over 10-month-old Finn over. Then it came back for a second time and stole my wrap. That was when I lost it. Never steal food from a hungry breastfeeding woman.

When I confronted the owner and asked her to put the dog on a lead, she just shrugged. ‘If you leave food out, he will eat it,’ was her only reply.

Is that really the point? In a public place every person’s comfort is equally as important. But a greedy dog’s whims shouldn’t be considered. It should be on a lead.

Then there was the time our friends came to visit us for a walk on the beach and their son had his hand nipped by a shih-tzu stealing his sausage roll.

And another afternoon after school that ended in tears when a lurcher bolted from his owner and ran full speed towards us across a wide open meadow.

Michelle Morgan Davies' two children standing on a sandy bank, with the sea behind them.
It’s galling to see dogs treated better than children (Picture: Michelle Morgan Davies)

Quickly assessing how I was going to protect my children if this dog was aggressive was so stressful that I roared for the dog to ‘get back’, which scared the boys. I had to pick them both up and hurry back to the car.

In hindsight maybe I overreacted but I can’t switch off my protective instincts.

Leaving the house in a dog-friendly coastal town like Barry, where there are countless wide open spaces, it feels inevitable that we will encounter a dog at some point and I’m fed up of doing the mental maths to keep my kids safe and confident to be out and about.

Yet despite the obvious issue of how animals are being prioritised over children in society, I feel like I am in the minority of finding dogs a nuisance.

One Michelle Morgan Davies' on a sandy beach.
The experiences we have had mean my children are very uncomfortable around canines (Picture: Michelle Morgan Davies)

Everywhere I go, there is a friendly dog bowl or tub of biscuits for dogs. Lots of cafes allow them entry, often sectioning off the restaurant for everyone’s comfort.

Meanwhile my kids are unaccommodated. Hardly anywhere independent offers a colouring book or a few toys to encourage families. There are few places to park a buggy or breastfeed in private.

You feel like you have to spend the whole meal shushing and cajoling children to behave appropriately for the adult setting, all while a dog can sit licking its balls opposite.

Michelle Morgan Davies at a restaurant, with her arms folded on the table.
I find it intimidating to be approached by strange animals while I’m in protective mum mode (Picture: Michelle Morgan Davies)

There is a doggy accessory shop on the seafront but no park.

At service stations, there are always dog toileting zones but rarely family-friendly loos where you can comfortably and hygienically take two kids in a cubicle with you – as I often have to do when we travel.

It’s galling to see dogs treated better than children.

In a cost-of-living crisis, free access to our local beauty spots should feel like our right but so many places feel out of bounds for us as galloping, slobbering mutts come at us from every direction and their owners are miles away. 

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It is also a constant battle to avoid poo on the pavements with my buggy wheels. People even take their dogs on the school run, which crowds the narrow pavements where we queue, creating a terrifying barrier for my toddler to get through. 

And he isn’t the only one who is frightened. I find it intimidating to be approached by strange animals while I’m in protective mum mode. Who can blame me? It feels like there is a news story every week about a dog attacking a child or vulnerable person.

Do you agree that dogs are being prioritised over children in society?Comment Now

I’ve always considered myself a dog lover and for a long time, we dreamed of having a family dog one day but as it stands, the experiences we have had mean my children are very uncomfortable around canines. Plus, I’m reluctant to engage with the idiot owners I encounter daily.

Our parks and beaches should be safe and comfortable for everyone to enjoy but a minority of irresponsible people prioritise their pets over children, making it impossible to relax as a parent.

It is becoming normalised that dogs are accommodated in society and I’d love to see the same measures taken to welcome my children in shared public spaces instead of being made to feel intimidated and unwelcome.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.

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