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I’m at a pet store with my son looking at a pair of clown fish playing in their tank. One of the employees at the register is chewing on his hamburger as his big, mean, unleashed dog eyeballs me.

The door to the store opens, and a mother with two little girls comes in. The girls are close in age, with long hair and short bangs across their foreheads.

“Hi, Mike,” the woman says to the guy eating the hamburger. “Did you know I bought that hamster that you showed me last week?”

“That’s good, Ronnie,” he says, throwing the rest of his hamburger to his dog.

The dog quickly leaps up and grabs the hamburger. It’s clearly had a lot of practice catching food. Then I see the three-year-old girl reach to pet the dog on its nose while it licks its chops.

“Don’t ever touch a dog when it’s eating! It might bite you,” I screech at her in fear. I repeat myself: “You don’t want to touch a dog when it’s eating, it might bite you.”

The girl stopped. The dog stopped. Mike and Ronnie stopped. All at once, there was a terrible space of stopped silence with strangers. I passed out of that moment into a moment of anger. Why did I have to play this role? Why couldn’t her mother do her job?

I can see that the little girl doesn’t like me. She tightens up her face and glares at me. She is scared. She’s probably wondering, who’s this strange lady that is telling me what to do? Wouldn’t her Mama tell her about dogs that might bite, if dogs really were going to bite her?

Realizing that the teachable moment has passed, I try to regain my composure.

I wonder how many other strangers have alerted this woman to teach her daughter’s life lessons.

I see that my son is at the door, ready to leave. As we walk down the sidewalk, he turns to me and says, “I can’t believe that she didn’t say anything.”

“I can’t believe it either,” I say and put my arm tightly around his shoulder.