Responsibility, part 4: Unforeseeable circumstances

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Even when all parties involved have taken proper precautions, something unfortunate still can happen. Someone, for example, could fall into an unfenced yard belonging to a dog that has never threatened anyone yet sees the person who falls as an invader. A feral dog or dog pack could attack a child on the way home from school or a man taking his evening jog.



Parents in a pet store with their children asked a German Shepherd owner whether the children could pet the dog. The dog owner agreed after first making the dog sit. The older children petted the dog by rubbing its head and back; the dog loved the attention.


The little girl, who was about 2 years old, however, patted the dog by smacking the palm of her hand on the dog’s nose. The owner and the parents spotted the situation and moved to intervene on the correct assumption that most dogs being smacked on the nose, quite understandably, would bite the girl.


Before any of them could actually take a step toward the dog and girl, however, the dog had ducked its head under the little girl’s hand and proceeded to lick her ear. This stopped the objectionable nose smacks while also positioning the girl’s hand right into the dog’s soft cheek fur.


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What is happening here?

This situation could not have been foreseen. The child was too small to know how to pet a dog, but no one would have realized it until she was observed. The owner and parents were alert to the situation and intended to act quickly. In this case, the owner and parents were fortunate this dog made intervention unnecessary by being very intelligent, very gentle and very motherly toward children. Most dogs would have attacked, and it would have been normal behavior to do so. Had that occurred, probably the dog owner would have been responsible for the child’s medical bills, but unless the dog continued the attack after the behavior was corrected, the incident likely would have been judged an accident and the dog allowed to remain with its owner rather than being put down.

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