Today I exited my house through my garage to get my checkbook out of my car, parked behind my garage. I heard the jangle of a dog's collar and tags. This is a sound which historically has struck fear into my heart.
Twelve years or so ago, my friend Donna decided it was time that I get over my fear of dogs. A fear which I came by rightly. I had been nipped at and bitten by a number of dogs in my childhood. One of the more terrifying dog events was being chased on my bike and bitten on the shoe by a large Heinz 57 terrier mix. I was in the fifth grade. I cussed out loud for the first time in my life as that dog ran into my bike and threw me off. The dog's owner quickly retrieved him and yelled at me for hurting her dog (he did not appear hurt to me). I, however, was bleeding profusely. My foot was scraped to the bone and even left the shiny covering of the bone exposed. I was terribly shaken. Refusing even to go to the emergency room to have the road rash scrubbed out of the wound. "I'll do it myself" I told my mom, and proceeded to spend an agonizing hour or so in the tub with a scrub brush and tweezers. Unbelievably, I was chased by a few more dogs over the next two years as I had a paper route, and my town didn't have leash laws.
Since then, I have been nearly incapable of being in the same room with a dog. It took me a long time to get to know a dog well enough to be able to let my guard down enough to share the same air.
So, Donna had three dogs. BIG ones. A yellow lab, a chocolate lab, and a German pointer/Weimaraner mix. I'd go to her house, and I would make her put her dogs outside and lock the dog door. I could never fully relax when at her house. I KNEW those dogs were nice, and that would not bite me, but my fight or flight response did not. Because I KNEW those were nice dogs, I decided I'd let Donna help me not be afraid of them. She started with the oldest and most gentle dog, Sadie. Sadie was too old to jump up on me. We moved on to Mocha, and to then to Gracie. It took about a year of intermittant visits, but I got to the point where my heart stopped racing, and I'd even play with and pet and scratch them. I didn't like being jumped up on though. Nothing ever feels good about having a dog at face level with me. But I learned to be able to give the dog commands, and learned that trained dogs will actually follow them!
In the years since then, I have gotten more and more relaxed around all kinds of dogs.
TODAY. I heard that fearsome jangle of old, and assumed it was my neighbor's very nice, small, friendly, white dog. I turned to greet it, and was met by the liver nose of a very very very large Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
(Not the ACTUAL dog that visited me.)
I know it was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, because I like to watch dog shows. As the dog loped towards me, I made a conscious decision to not be afraid. My only other choice was to try to outrun the dog to get back into my house (door closed), or to try to outrun the dog and get into my (door closed and locked) car. I swallowed hard and stood up straight and waited to see what the dog would do to me. And I spoke to the dog like he was my buddy. And amazingly, he was. In fact, he would not leave me alone. I tried to close my garage, but he would dart in and make "wuhwohwohwoh" sounds. I knew he was asking me to play. But though not afraid, I wasn't exactly BRAVE! I had to leave the garage myself and close the door in order to keep him out. I went and got the mail with my new friend bounding next to me snuffling and "wuhwohwohwoh"ing, inviting me to play. But it was raining. And I was fresh out of dog toys. So I went around to the front door to get back into my house, and actually had to put my foot on this dog's chest to keep him from coming in! He looked disappointed, but after a moment he walked off.
He was a nice. For a dog anyway.
Next I tackle my fear of heights…