Workplace Wisdom

Going to the Dogs: Not Everyone Feels the Way You Do

There’s always another point of view. In old fables about whether any specific event or circumstance signifies good luck or bad, the moral always depends on your individual context and outlook. I’m interested in hearing your point of view on the following story. Do you see a definitive right and wrong? Or a “righter” and “wronger” way?

In my office building there’s a woman who’s been bringing a dog to work for years. It was a large, aging, and then ailing, but always sweet-tempered retriever of some kind. I’m not a “dog person” myself, and have actually spent years being afraid of dogs, but by the time I met this particular one, he was clearly no threat, even when he wasn’t on a leash. Various people from that office walked the dog, and the owner seemed congenial; we had a number of sympathetic conversations during the dog’s last months.

At some point the old dog was gone and a frisky puppy arrived, all friendly eagerness. He was obviously a huge comfort to his bereaved owner. Some months later, the puppy, although still technically a doggie adolescent, is now pretty enormous. When he’s standing still — which is almost never — on all fours, he comes up to my waist.

A Dog Walks Into an Elevator

The other morning I got into the elevator with the dog, his owner, one of my neighbors, and another fellow. The dog, off leash, pretty much ignored me, but he nosed both gentlemen forcefully in the crotch, and then trotted happily out of the elevator with his owner when we got to their floor.

I felt awkward for the men and was mildly relieved and grateful that I had not been subjected to the same, but neither of them said a word in protest. So I was surprised when my neighbor, who has always seemed cheerful and courteous, turned to me as soon as we were alone, and, with a good deal of force, railed about the inappropriateness of a loose and intrusive dog in the building. He laid out two plausible negative scenarios: Someone in the elevator could be allergic to dogs, or greatly afraid of them. He declared his intent to make a formal complaint.

The criticism was accurate, even though I hadn’t felt wronged myself. I actually am allergic to dogs, but as long as I don’t pet a dog and rub my eyes immediately afterward, I’m not likely to suffer. And although I may feel afraid of strange dogs, I hadn’t felt at all frightened by this one. From my perspective, the incident was merely a few minutes of awkwardness.

The Dogged Truth

But just because I personally wasn’t bothered by the dog doesn’t mean that what happened was all right. I can certainly see how uncomfortable it would be to undergo close inspection by a loose dog on an elevator — as it must have been for my neighbor — and that no one should have to experience this kind of intrusion.

Certainly, better doggie decorum and training should have been in force. The dog didn’t listen when his owner told him to sit instead of nosing around. And better owner training and responsibility would have helped too, as neither her tone nor her demeanor were particularly definitive or commanding. She didn’t seem too concerned about disciplining the dog either, especially for someone who makes it a practice to travel leashless.

A Bone to Pick

And yet, I wonder, is there really any harm in having a gentle dog in the elevator, even a dog that would tower over me (and my neighbor too) if it stood on its hind legs? Is the issue the dog or the dog’s owner’s apparent lack of boundaries? If someone were allergic to flowers and encountered a florist’s delivery in an elevator, okay, they could wait for the next elevator. But whether or not they chose to enter the elevator, they could be confident that the flowers would not lunge.

I have clients who bring their dogs to work. At one company, it was a badge of honor to be designated a dog walker, and the employees felt very competitive about it. If any of the employees were uncomfortable about the dogs, they kept it quiet. Even I got used to petting the dogs and washing my hands.

So the question is not about dogs per se. It’s about what’s reasonable, appropriate, fair and unfair. The answer might come from recognizing each individual’s perspective, and not only your own. What’s your point of view?

Onward and upward,

LK

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