A woman who posted about a recent encounter with a child who approached her service dog in public said she never thought sharing her story online would spark a ferocious debate. Or that she — and her dog — would get death threats.
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But on Saturday, after Lynne Schmidt shared the anecdote on X about her dog Zoë being approached by a 3-year-old at a dog-friendly sporting goods store, the floodgates opened online.
“Small child runs up to Zoë,” Schmidt, 35, wrote with an image of her pup. “I body block and say, ‘Maybe we don’t run up to dogs we don’t know.’ The parent: She’s three[.] Me: If she isn’t on voice recall, maybe she should be leashed?”
Debate between dog owners, parents, animal behavioral experts and vets about how pets and kids can safely interact stretch back years. Many have shared similar takes across Reddit and TikTok.
Schmidt’s post reinvigorated the discourse. By Tuesday, thousands had responded to the post, marking yet another instance in which people online used someone’s personal anecdote to fuel outrage.
“When the tweet first gained traction, my sister texted me and was like ‘Whoa, your tweet has almost been seen by 1 million people’ and then it kept climbing and we were both like ‘Huh? Well. This is strange,’” Schmidt wrote in a Facebook message to NBC News. “Now we’re both just baffled at the violence and vitriol aimed at me and Zoë.”
Some agreed with Schmidt’s actions, while others accused her of being anti-child. Several criticized Schmidt for apparently suggesting to the parent that their child should be leashed. Schmidt clarified that part of the interaction didn’t actually happen — it was something she later thought would have been a clever retort.
One person wrote: “this was very rude of you.”
Another person wrote, in part, “Kids and dogs are both allowed to exist in society and maybe try giving grace.”
As the post gained traction, the response escalated. Schmidt said some people wished harm on both her and Zoë.
“Here’s the thing,” Schmidt said. “All I know is that she clearly was not taught how to approach a dog, and that is enough for me to assume that though she was three years old, she was a threat to my dog. … I have said multiple times since the tweet that my dog was not the threat — the child was, which is why I blocked them from having access.”
Schmidt attributed some of the backlash to misogyny and her username, which is “AbortionChat.” She has used social media in the past to share her own abortion story.
She said she’s “literally laughed” at people online saying she’s anti-child.
“I enjoy hanging out with kids and teaching them when appropriate,” she said, “but if a child is way out of line and puts any of my animals at risk, my priority is to my animals’ safety first and foremost.”
In the initial post, Schmidt, who has post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, did not note that Zoe is a service animal. Schmidt said she began making it clear in subsequent posts and responses to users that Zoë was a service dog after some people began accusing her of taking her dog into places animals don’t belong.
But Zoë’s status as a service animal is beside the point, she said.
“The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter that Zoë is a service animal. That was never the issue here or the focus,” she said. “The issue was a child running up to a dog it did not know and was not familiar with, which puts everyone at risk.”
Some animal behavioral experts and vets have echoed Schmidt, arguing that children of all ages should never pet dogs they’re unfamiliar with.
The American Veterinary Medical Association notes on its website that “children are the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.”
“Don’t ever pet a dog without asking first,” the guidelines for dog bite prevention state. “Both adults and children should always ask the owner for permission to pet their dog, even if it’s a dog you know, or that has seemed friendly toward you before.”
Jennifer Shryock, a certified dog behavior consultant, described it as a “safety issue” when children run up to dogs.
Shryock doesn’t know Schmidt. But when asked for comment surrounding the discourse around Schmidt’s viral post, Shryock said children can learn not to approach dogs they don’t know. She recommended kids instead blow a kiss or wave to the dog.
“I think that it’s important that they [children] learn that we give dogs space,” she said. “Dogs need space.”
There are safe ways for children and friendly dogs to approach one another, Shryock said. When kids are given permission to interact with a new dog, they should use the Pat, Pet, Pause technique: pat their own leg, pet the dog on the body for three seconds, then stop and pause. If the dog doesn’t walk away, the child can continue to pet it.
“We want to make sure that the dog is invited over and is wagging its tail and relaxed and looking comfortable,” Shryock said. “So that requires that people pay attention to the body language of the dog. And then if the dog opts out, you know, we’re saying, ‘Thank you, all done.'”