Posted by: animalshelterveterinarian | November 26, 2011

Reflections on using the word “NO”

It is hard for me to say ‘no’ when someone makes a request of me.

However, I’ve had some recent experience using the word ‘no’ at the shelter and at home over the last week and it’s been interesting to me.

At the shelter, we currently have a kennel cough outbreak in full swing. To stop the public from spreading the disease, we’ve roped off the kennel fronts so that people can no longer touch dogs, but only look at them from a distance of about 4 feet.  This strategy minimizes human hand to snotty dog nose to healthy dog nose transmission of the plethora of viruses, bacteria and mycoplasma that cause this disease.

However effective this is in reducing disease transmission, this strategy also drives down adoptions, because people apparently want to be licked through the kennel bars many times by many dogs before they interact with a dog.

I had the chance to use the word NO when a woman asked me if she could go under the ropes to pet the dogs.   I felt startled by the obviousness of her question and abruptly responded, NO.  She was stunned into silence;  the palpable sting of disappointment and a pregnant pause filled with questions was what I felt coming off her.   I explained why the ropes were up and about how the disease spreads, while her daughter whined and pointed at the dog she wanted to pet.

A similar moment happened at home. My stepson was foraging for food and asked (bless his heart for asking) if he could have some of the loaf of french bread I had just bought.  I said NO without looking up from my computer and felt the palpable wave of shock rolling in the silence.  Again, I explained my reasons for refusing him bread and felt amused by the simple power of NO.

In contrast to my succinct No’s, I watched my boyfriend achieve the result of NO without actually saying it, which I admired.  My stepson asked to go on a trip and my boyfriend didn’t say no, even though I would’ve.  He said, YES, you can go if you get your two homework papers done by tomorrow morning.  Come morning, neither paper was finished, so the trip never happened.

Would that I could develop his strange power of saying no, without saying it, as effectively and as elegantly as he used it.

When have you said NO, and been amused or encouraged by the results?



  1. Such a powerful little word-NO. I have learned to use it more as I get older and not feel guilty about it.
    I remember when my boys were little, on one ocasion, Eric asked for something and I told him “we’ll see…” and Victor turned to him and said “That means NO” and I realized they were on to me…
    Good for your boyfriend for following through and being consistent with his kid-that’s good parenting!

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