It has been a long time since a 21-month-old child called me Daddy. Still, I shuddered when a story from Germantown reached me recently. May it never happen to you or your toddler.

"This afternoon, I took my 21-month-old son to the playground down the block from our town house," writes a mother named Alison. "My son was playing on the swings when a large golden retriever came running across the field adjacent to the playground."

The dog was not leashed, and it didn't appear sick, agitated or violent. But its owner was "at the other end of the field," Alison reports, so there would have been no way to restrain the dog if that became necessary. As soon as the dog arrived, Alison scooped up her son and began to make tracks.

But before she could, the dog "began to jump up on me and sniff my son," Alison says. The owner called to the dog to stop. But the dog kept sniffing and making a nuisance of itself, and Alison kept trying to leave.

By this time, the owner had reached dog-side. He asked Alison why she was leaving. She told him that she prefers to keep her son away from unleashed dogs.

"He said I was a `sorry' person if I was afraid of his dog," Alison writes. "At that point, I simply left the playground.

"The more I think about this, the angrier I get," Alison says. "He was probably just an overfriendly dog, but how was I supposed to know that?" She asks whom to call if it happens again, as she is sure it will, since the man "thinks that I am the one with the problem."

The police are whom to call, Alison, for the simplest and best of reasons: It's illegal to let a dog run around without a leash anywhere that's public.

Dog owners have bent my ear about this law since I began writing this column, which was back when dinosaurs roamed the parks of Montgomery County, too. To say the least, the law isn't very popular with dog folk.

They say it's good for a dog's personality to run loose once in a while. They say it actually protects toddlers, because dogs get tired (and thus less confrontational) when they get a little romp time. They say no conscientious dog owner would allow a vicious dog near a toddler, because dog owners are parents themselves.

Sorry, gang, but the law is the law, and it exists for an excellent reason. You can't always predict or control what an unleashed dog is going to do.

A tiny nip may turn into a bloody disaster, especially when a 21-month-old is on the receiving end. And what about psychological scars if a dog that's twice as big as a child growls at him and knocks him down? Still think that's a playful pooch, and a seamless incident?

In fact, Alison, I've gotten so charged up by writing this column that I'm going to make a suggestion. Don't wait for a next time. Call the police right now and report what happened, even though it'll be two weeks old by the time you do. The dog owner you encountered is so obtuse and so arrogant that he deserves a little attitude-adjusting visit from the Blue Crew.

Marion Murch, of Silver Spring, knows how much I love tales of over-the-top courtesy. She brought one home this month from England. The star of the show is Marion herself.

Heck of a way she picked to star in a show. She was involved in two traffic accidents in one day. We seldom arrange that much mangled metal in such a short time, even in the land of Beltways and lane-jumping madmen.

Marion's accidents happened as they might anywhere. In the first, she was a passenger in a car. A van immediately in front of the car braked suddenly. The driver of the car could not stop in time and plowed into the van. Marion was not hurt, but the car was disabled.

Marion and her companion got a ride to the town they had been trying to reach, Brockenhurst. They met the person they were scheduled to meet. They hopped into his new Peugeot (it had only 500 miles on the odometer) and headed for somewhere-or-other. Suddenly, two men following in another car smashed into the Peugeot.

This time, Marion suffered whiplash and shock. She was taken to a nearby hospital by ambulance. She was kept in the emergency room for five hours before she was released.

Marion's first inkling that she wasn't in Kansas anymore came when she asked for a bill. She was informed that in Britain, there is no such thing, because that country has socialized medicine.

Marion spent that evening convalescing at the home of a friend. As she nursed her wounds, she received three calls -- one from the ambulance driver, one from the doctor who had seen her in the hospital and one from the chief of police. All were calling to check on her. If you think it would ever happen in America, you must have a case of whiplash yourself.

But the best was last. Marion had a tourist-class airplane ticket back to the United States. She requested an upgrade to business class, because it's so much more comfortable, and she requested that the upgrade be free.

Marion figured she had no chance. But an American Airlines representative in London handled it, smooth as silk. The difference in fare: more than $1,500.

Marion is still giggling about the call from the police chief. When he got her on the line, he said he was calling to see how "the lady from the Colonies" was doing. In fact, as he helped prove, the Old Country isn't doing badly itself.