Tom Ross: When a pocket dialer might have been preferable |

Tom Ross: When a pocket dialer might have been preferable

Tom Ross

— Nobody looks forward to a phone call in the middle of the night. But it's even less welcome when your folks are in their mid-80s. It's enough to make you pray that someone just butt-dialed you.

Oh, right. Even people who can't bear to be separated from their mobile devices don't have hip pockets in their pajamas.

My wife's cell phone (she might be the only person in Steamboat Springs with a Windows phone) rang at about 12:30 a.m. Monday. In fact, it rang twice.

And the guy on the line was not the victim of an accidental anatomical speed dial.

He claimed to be looking for a veterinarian, she told me. Luckily, I'm not a jealous kind of guy. If my wife says some desperate fellow called her in the middle of the night because his dog had a tummyache, then I accept that without question.

In this case, the caller's dog had experienced a close encounter with erethizon dorsatum — a porcupine.

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"He said his dog was bleeding and he needed to go to work early in the morning and he wondered if I could help him," came the explanation from my spouse.

I can think of several ways I could have helped the caller.

Really? People actually call their vets in the middle of the doggone night? Isn't that what a Leatherman is for? Believe me, Spot, this is going to hurt me more than it does you. Yank. "Yow-l-l-l!"

Why not call 911 and tell them to send a doggie ambulance?

Actually, I shouldn't joke about that. There are many reports of emergency dispatch systems across the country being inundated annually with thousands of unintentional butt dials. This creates a serious problem because the natural reaction of anyone who butt dials someone is to quickly terminate the call. And emergency dispatchers have to treat 911 hang-ups seriously.

If you butt-dial 911, by all means stay on the line and make your apologies. They might not thank you for it, but you'll be doing the right thing — even if the police put your phone number on a top-secret list of habitual butt-dialers.

There have actually even been multiple cases of burglars being arrested after they unknowingly butt-dialed 911 while planning a break-in, and the dispatcher hung on the line, taping their confession. Law enforcement officials don't object to that form of butt dialing.

There are apps one can purchase to streamline placing an emergency 911 call. That makes sense to me. But before you download one of them, check to see that it's at least a two-step process.

Even under innocent circumstances, accidentally hitting a speed-dial button and leaving your connection open is potentially the most embarrassing form of butt-dialing – like calling your boss while you are at a gossipy dinner party, or other things you can think of without any help from me.

I must confess I unintentionally pocket-dialed one of my sisters for a FaceTime call Sunday. I stifled it after the first ring. She never returned the missed call. Maybe I should call her and confess.

By the way, erethizon dorsatum is Latin for "animal with an irritating back." I'm not sure if there is a Latin term for "fellow with an irritating phone."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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