This isn’t a perfect post, but what post is? Take a minute to learn about fear.
Many people don’t understand my “irrational” fear of dogs. So I’m going to take a little bit of time and give some back story on the childhood of a sheltered little girl.
I was raised around animals. My parents lived with my paternal grandparents until I was five and a half years old. It was an old farm that my great-grandparents had started. Much of the family either lived on the property, near-by, or visited often.
This might sound like a tight squeeze, but my great-grandparents did fairly well for themselves. The house we were all living in was the first house that great-grandpa had built for his wife. He later built another house and left the first house to his children. My grandfather later added onto the house. In total there were 8 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, 3 living areas… etc.
My aunt and uncle kept several types of animals: dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, chickens, rats, mice, guinea pigs, snakes, etc. (and my dad had a llama for a while). I was not a stranger to animals. I was taught to respect living creatures. I loved taking corn husks out to feed to the horses, Laying with the family dog out on the front lawn, and chasing the cats around the barn. (As a note, it is NOT safe to run behind horses. I was very lucky.)
I am getting off track. Point is, I loved animals. I cared a lot about almost all of the animals that I was around—even wild birds.
One day my life changed.
My dad liked to go up to the point of the mountain (near Lehi, Utah) and paraglide. I don’t remember his instructor much, but I do remember goofing around with my little brother and my mom while my dad was goofing off doing dangerous things.
One windy day I was standing right outside our car eating a banana. I was a good car length or so away from the stack of paragliders that the instructor brought to teach new students with (or to rent out to practicing gliders). He would leave his large dog to guard his bags while he was out teaching so that they would not get stolen.
Up until this point in my life, I really hadn’t met any malicious dogs. There were a couple mean dogs and I was always a little nervous around new dogs. But I was never mean to dogs at all, so I didn’t really fear them.
As I took a bite of my banana a good chunk fell off and rolled towards this large dog. He took it as a threat and leapt at me.
Now here is where things get a little fuzzy. I remember the banana. I remember a streak of fur in my vision, then pain all over my face. My vision was dark red and I was screaming. People were yelling in the distance but I don’t know what they said. I don’t remember if I went to the hospital or how I got cleaned up. I’m sure I was in shock. My next memory, the instructor is there yelling. I thought I was in trouble. I found out later that the dog was the one in trouble.
The dog was trained to guard the paraglider bags against theft. He was trained to be safe around children, and I had not done anything to provoke the dog.
Now, I am going to pause right here and make something very clear before I move on. I am not telling this story to bring about fear of dogs. I am not telling this story to condone the putting down of dogs for provoked attacks. However, there are some cases when dogs attack unprovoked and it is unsafe for them to be around people. I feel the same way about cats. If a cat came out and attacked a child unprovoked, and it was my cat…
My parents insisted that it must have been a misunderstanding and that they would just keep me away from the dog in the future; however, the owner of the dog felt that it was safest if the dog was no longer around people. In the end, after more aggression, he was put down.
This isn’t a proud story.
At the age of seven I became deathly afraid of dogs. I developed a phobia from my traumatic experience. Knowing that I had PTSD, it took me several years to realize that this is probably one of my “episodes”, but it is something that I have been working on for a very long time. From the time of the attack until just over four years ago, I could not go near a dog without being so afraid that I would go into panic mode.
A friend started working really hard with me to try to help me have less anxiety around dogs. She would place herself between the dogs we came across and me. Slowly, we would find dogs that were very calm and we could work up to me petting the dog for a few seconds. But every new dog the battle started again.
October 2013 I moved in with the family of one of my oldest friends. She is on a mission but both she and her family are very accepting of me and who I am. They had a very old dog in the house. (He died in December.) I spent a little over a year with this dog, and in the end, tried to help him be as comfortable as possible in his last days.
One of my new friends has a couple dogs and was shocked to find out that I am so afraid of dogs. (One of which is a pit bull.) On the way to her house she kept telling me just how much I was going to love her sweet dog. I had a fairly bad anxiety attack that night. She had given me a treat to give one of the dogs and as he jumped up to get the treat from me, suddenly I was seven again and a huge dog was jumping for my head.
I dropped the treat and jumped backwards. The second try she held my hand still while he jumped and took the treat from me. I was almost crying. I was so terrified I was shaking and nauseous. Yes, I have been working on my fear, but bygods that was hard. Several more times at her house and I can pet both dogs, but only if they are facing away from me. If either of them has their face towards me I start to shake.
This is a fairly choppy post, and I am not really going to bother with fixing it. My hope here is that people can understand more clearly that my fear is based on a traumatic event from my childhood. I am trying to work through it, but it is a slow process and trying to make me acclimate faster is not going to do anything.
As a side note, my mother was shocked the other day when I was with her in the car with my window down and not freak out when a dog without a leash ran by. So I am improving. Just be patient.
**Update almost 2 years later: So about a year and a half ago, I met a dog with human eyes, she looked into my soul and my fear was washed away. I still have some issues with dogs getting too close to my face, but I am relieved to find that most of my fear is finally gone.