I’m afraid of dogs. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been, but I’m told it all started when I was three years old. An incident with a very large dog and an owner, who thought that trying to force a screaming terrified child to hug her dog was a good idea, left me physically unhurt but not without scars. To this day, man’s best friend is still capable of filling my heart with terror.
Things have got better over the years. When I was little, I went through phases of having to be dragged out of the house, I was so afraid I might meet a dog. My mother would put pepper dust onto the soles of my shoes, telling me that it would keep dogs away from me. (I’m not sure that this was a wholly practical proposition but I believed it because my Mum had told me in no uncertain terms that it was true, and it gave me the confidence to walk to school on my own.) In my teens, I’d avoid streets where I knew ‘monsters’ lived, and cross the road if I saw someone approaching me with a dog on a lead.
In my twenties, I made a breakthrough. On a long train journey I fell into conversation with a couple who were blind, each of whom had a guide dog. These beautiful, placid creatures didn’t seem so very bad to me, and after a while I gathered up the courage to ask if I might touch one of them. They agreed, giving their dogs a command to sit still, so that I could reach out and stroke them. I’ll always remember this couple, who so generously helped me face my fears and shared in my achievement.
And… it’s better now. I walk wherever I please, and if I give dogs a wide berth, and sometimes jump when one takes notice of me, then so be it. But here’s the thing. It’s an irrational fear. Annie O’Neil’s gorgeous, gentle Bernese Mountain Dog failed to scare me even slightly, even though I’m sure he was bigger than me! Another friend has a Red Setter, whose main aim in life seems to be to knock visitors over and lick them to death, and I can deal with that. I adore Kate Hardy’s and Lynne Marshall’s Facebook posts about their dogs, and have been known to reach out and stroke them on my computer screen. But at times, even the tiniest dog can have me racing for cover, and I can’t be persuaded to approach it.
The only answer I have for loving owners who push their dogs towards me, telling me that I can’t possibly be afraid of their dog, is that yes actually, I can. I have no idea why some dogs scare me and some don’t, but I’m always immeasurably grateful to those owners who allow me to keep my distance if I need to and approach their dog in my own time.
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s to respect other people’s fears. To accept that it takes courage to face them, and and that everyone needs to be able to dictate what they can and can’t do. In every other area of my life, I can assess risk and use logic to decide what I should and shouldn’t be afraid of. I’ll pick up the biggest spider from the bathtub and carry it carefully out of the house, I know that flying is statistically a very safe form of transport… and so on. But this is a fear I can’t explain, and if it doesn’t make much sense to anyone else I guess that’s the thing about irrational fear…
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that after all this I’d tell you that I don’t like dogs. But strangely enough I love dogs. I’ve always wanted one, even though I know it’s impossible. Imagine me at a puppy training class 🙂 Or in the park, when another dog wanders innocently up to make friends with mine 🙂 But if anyone’s ever wondered why so many of my heroes and heroines have dogs of their own… well they’re my dogs. The ones I can’t have in real life, but can love and look after on the page. Bruno, the retired rescue dog, who has the courage to save his master. Trader, who’s at his mistresses side when she’s alone and frightened. Jeff the faithful friend who’s been with his master through thick and thin, Maisie the mountain rescue dog, and Arthur the beagle puppy. They all mean a great deal more to me than just four-legged characters in a story.
I have to admit that it’s taken a bit just to write about my irrational fear, and I’m not sure that I understand it any better. Do you have an irrational fear? I guess that everyone has something… And can you explain it? I’d love to hear what you think!