Cynophobia, the fear
of dogs, is as crippling as any other phobia
. I am not subject to the phobia as I have been around dogs all my life, but members of my family experience the fear.
I became aware of this when I was dating my current wife. We started a relationship in the winter of 1990, going about discovering each others foibles and characteristics. We didn't discuss dogs, being busy discussing almost everything else. My romantic interest had 2 children from a previous marriage, both girls, aged 6 and 1. I don't remember when it was or what breed of dog was involved, all I remember was how the eldest child turned to stone in the presence of a dog that had decided to come around and check us out. When I encounter dogs I usually have no expectations one way or the other so don't transmit the fear vibe that they can sense. I could see my future wife tense up also. That paled into insignificance compared to the reaction of the baby. She screamed bloody murder as if she expected to be devoured there on the spot. I was stunned, totally unprepared for this display of raw terror. I'm sure I mumbled useless platitudes, said things which made no sense whatever to these people who were lost in their own personal terrorland. I held my hand down to the dog, let him have my scent as a means of becoming acquainted, then rubbed him on the head, showing them he was ok, a new friend. We disengaged from him and went on our merry way, having expressed ourselves.
I started to explore the reasons for the fear shown by my companions. I came to the conclusion that they had become infected with this fear by exposure. Not exposure to some ravening beast in their past, oh no, but by exposure to the fear of my lady's parents to dogs. Her parents weren't dog people, having never owned any dogs. Her father displayed distrust and fear around dogs and his wife reflected the same attitude. My lady had simply absorbed their attitude about dogs the same as she had learned to love garden tomatoes from them. Her kids had simply continued the family tradition. The eldest girl wouldn't go off the deep end around dogs but she wasn't comfortable either. She and dogs weren't sympatico. My lady had the same reaction, one of distrust and simply not wanting to have to deal with the four-footed being. The youngest was the one in whom all the fear had achieved its greatest expression. She would simply lock up and scream, unable to move except to visibly quake as she was exposed to a dog. I would always demonstrate that the dog was ok, wasn't going to hurt anyone by letting the dog contact me, sniff me, get familiar with me. I knew better than to force her (or the others) into unwanted physical contact with a dog. My parents had 2 dogs, which of course my new gang were exposed to when we'd visit. All this to say that while I wasn't thrilled by their reactions I could certainly understand and it wasn't a big deal to me. I was interested in helping them overcome their fear, but it wasn't a mission to me. Best let sleeping dogs lie, right? All this worked fine until we eventually married and behold, she was found with child. Things have their own pace, their own flow, their own way of getting from point A to point B. My son was born in the spring of 1992 and as he grew I could see the seeds of cynophobia being sown. I was determined to short curcuit it if at all possible. I started dropping hints to my wife that every boy needed a dog, that there were lessons to be learned by having a pet, etc. I operate on the principle that if you drop enough seeds one eventually will take root.
I was working for a company as a truckdriver when my son turned age 4. One of the dispatchers had quit, had met someone on the internet and decided to go off into a cyber sunset with her new flame. That left her husband (also a truckdriver) to deal with their 2 dogs. He couldn't care for them as he was gone all week and it simply wasn't in the cards to have 2 dogs in the truck with him. One was a very pretty black medium size dog with a front leg missing, victim of an accident. The other was a tan hound/golden retriever mix named China. I know an opportunity when I'm hit over the head with it.
My son and I went to pick up China (the tan mix) on a cold March Saturday morning. She was young, full of energy and determined to burn some of it. She wiggled and romped my son all the way home. When we got there, we went into the back yard to play with her. She promptly started circling us, got up a head of steam and bowled him over. She didn't knock this 4 year old down, she pancaked him. He looked like a rug she knocked him so flat. I wondered at my wisdom when I saw him shaking. Turns out the kid was laughing so hard he couldn't make the volume controls of his voice work. He loved it and he loved her. That started my family's rehabilitation from cynophobia.
China had been badly abused. She was fine until you raised your voice, at which point she hit the deck, cowering in her own terror. She would do the same if you picked up a broom. That dog had been beaten badly, had the spirit crushed in her by some cruel former owner. Everyone has their fear to deal with. We helped her and she helped us. My wife made friends with her, and then the oldest girl. It took some time to accomplish, baby steps toward familiarity. The youngest girl was the slowest, having been in the deepest fear before we got China. She too eventually warmed to that tan mixed breed dog, a Heinz 57 mutt with a loving heart. In showing that dog that her fear of being abused again was a groundless one, the kids and my wife also learned that fears aren't always rational.
That was 11 years ago. China is old now and almost all the bounce has left her gait. When its cold out and I worry about her arthritic old joints and how she's going to survive she surprises me by being almost frisky again. Her beautiful brown eyes are still bright and she gives me that doggy grin when I come in from the road, always glad to renew our friendship. That simple old dog has innoculated my entire family with a vaccine of love. She has won over my inlaws too. We live about a quarter mile from my wife's parents and China will walk over to their place, slowly padding her way along. When she gets there my father-in-law usually has a hot dog to give her. He buys her packs of hot dogs on their weekly grocery run.
Rewind 35 years
It reminds me of when I was a kid. My uncle Richard was a confirmed alcoholic but he didn't have a mean bone in his body. We always called him 'RB', (his initials), and Uncle RB knew a few things about kids and dogs. When I was born it wasn't too long until he came up with the notion that every boy needs a dog, so he gave one to me. He was a collie/hound mix named Brownie. I remember hearing the stories told of when I was trying to learn to walk, of how I'd grab a handful of Brownie's hair and pull myself aloft to stand beside him. That old tan dog never gave a growl, letting himself be used to teach a poor hillbilly kid how to stand on his own. The wheels keep turning in this old life, wheels within wheels, like Ezekiel's chariot.
In my teen years I read a lot of books, mainly science fiction. One of the things I read was Frank Herbert's classic novel Dune. One of the characters within the novel was the Lady Jessica, mother of Paul Atreides. She was a member of a political/social/religious sect known as the Bene Gesserit. One of the teachings of the sect goes like this:
I will not fear
fear is the mind-killer,
fear is the little death
that brings total Oblivion
I will permit my fear to pass
over me and through me
And where it has gone
I will turn the inner eye
Nothing will be there
Only I will remain.
For me that was an eye opening concept, that the fear itself is the enemy, and realizing that fact is the beginning of freedom from it. Fear is dangerous in that it paralyzes the one experiencing it. It makes us ineffectual, unable to act, makes us victims of our own selves. I spent 2 years in the law enforcement profession as a uniformed officer. Part of that experience is learning to deal with fear. Fear of being killed,of being removed forcibly from life, of being seriously messed up by some unknown miscreant. Anyone who tells you that they don't have fear in that environment is either a fool or a damned liar. Fear is a fact whether it is a rational fear or an irrational one. I learned that bravery is not the absence of fear but rather the continuing on with the mission in spite of the fear. Overcoming fear is an exercise of the will. It doesn't make the fear totally disappear but simply removes it from command.
I hate fear.
Quote from Dune by Frank Herbert obtained from: