Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How an Animal Lover Suddenly Becomes Dog-Phobic

Since I was very, very young, I have always had special relationships with four-legged friends.
I would confidently approach any kind of animal on the street, and knew when one was unsafe to approach by some strange instinct that I still experience today.
The kind of animal didn't matter, if it would stand still at my approach I would pet and play with it... dogs, cats, raccoons and squirrels, and even the occasional bird would all let me introduce myself, and seemed to enjoy my attentions, at least for a few seconds, or minutes.
I always have, and always will love animals, certain types more than others, of course, and dogs are still at the top of the list, despite what for a while was debilitating phobia.

When I was about 4, there was a german Shepperd bitch living next door to my grandmother.  Nanny was on friendly terms with the woman who owned the dog, and they often sat together for tea and conversation of an afternoon.  While they sat and chatted over their teacups, I would play with the dog.  I was always careful and well able to judge the dog's moods, despite being so young.  I was well acquainted with this dog from before I was out of diapers, and usually felt quite safe with her.
We even had a ritual for saying goodbye when the time came for Nanny and I to head back home...
She would sit at the threshold while Nanny and her neighbour said their good-bye and got in a last bit of gossip at the door, and I would hug her around her neck, then give her a gentle kiss on her nose which she would return with a doggy grin and a quick swipe of her tongue across my face.  It was an important ritual to us, and we never separated without it.

On the last day that I was to play with this particular dog, things didn't go quite the way I was used to.

Nanny and her friend sat down at the kitchen table, and shoo'd the dog and I away to the living room.  The dog wasn't in her usual good spirits that day.  She was cranky and out of sorts, and was very particular about where and how she wanted to be touched.  She growled at me for the first and last time that day, but when I expressed concern to Nanny and her friend, the shush'd me and sent me back to play.
I was extra careful that day, the dog's attitude being just a little distressing.

By the time it was time for my grandmother and I to leave, everything seemed to be OK, and we began our good-bye ritual.  I hugged her, and gave her her kiss, and she licked my face, just like always, but then it happened...

As I turned away, the dog lunged without a sound, and attacked me from behind.

Suddenly, I was no longer in my own body.  Instead I was floating at the level of the ceiling watching while the dog chewed on what I took to be a doll, not recognizing myself in the bloody mess that I had unexpectedly become.

Nanny and the dog's owner tried desperately to get the dog to let me go, but they were unsuccessful.  The woman's daughter came running from upstairs and tried to help but seemed to be afraid of getting bitten and was quite ineffectual.  I believe to this day that I would have certainly died if the woman's son hadn't arrived at that opportune moment.  He was able to wrestle the dog off of me, but not before she took a large chunk out of my scalp and ate it, hair and all.

Scalp wounds, as most people well know, bleed profusely.
And the human body has only so much to spare.

There was a large puddle on the floor where the dog had mauled me, my clothing was soaked, my grandmother's clothing was soaked long before she got me to the hospital, as was the back seat of the car that transported us there.  More than half my blood volume leaked out of that scalp laceration and the various other claw and tooth marks that were on my neck, chest and arms.

I was rushed into a room where a doctor and two nurses worked to stop the bleeding, and I can remember hearing them talk about how I had lost so much blood that I was hardly oozing anymore.  They stitched and stitched... 300+ sutures to close the gaping wound caused by a 4 inch square piece of missing scalp... it kept tearing because of the need to stretch the remaining flesh to cover my exposed skull. 

To this day, I am forced to explain to hairdressers how I got the scar because it is so large and jagged, and requires some skill to cut around.

Immediately after, as soon as I was on my feet again, I continued my old ways of approaching strange animals much to my grandmother's fearful chagrin.  And as always they accepted me like an old friend.

It wasn't until 15 years later that my phobic fear came boiling to the surface of my mind.

It was winter, and I was hugely pregnant with my son, my due-date only a couple of weeks away.  The sidewalk on my street was slippery and my tread careful as I headed home from my job in my neighbourhood pet shop. 

Just next door, the neighbour had a large husky who was kept chained in the front yard.  He was prone to barking whenever someone walked by, viciously lunging and quite intent on attacking of only he could reach them.  I knew better than to engage the dog, and as Cesar Milan is fond of saying "no talk, no touch, no eye contact" was the rule I followed.  Every day on my way to or from work, I kept a wary watch from the corner of my eye, on this vicious animal just in case he might someday break his chain.  Stranger things had happened in my life.

On this particular day, just days before we were set to move to a larger place to accommodate our growing family, I found that the dog wasn't on his chain.  In fact, the chain was laying curled next to the front door of the dog's home, and I was momentarily relieved to avoid his nasty barking.  I quickened my pace for a step of two, before I found out that the dog not only wasn't on his chain, he was quickly trotting around the side of the house, head down, ears forward and tail down.  There was no sound from him at first, but his lip curled, and I saw his hackles raise as he crouched menacingly, and began to try to creep around to get behind me.

Immediately, I turned to face him, full on and puffed myself up to make myself appear larger and more menacing.  I knew damned well that if I let him get behind me, I was dead, and so was my unborn son.

He stopped the creep and held his ground, and began a low, horrible growl in his throat. and he bared more of his teeth to me.  I tried to scare him... intimidate him into leaving me alone, but he was having none of it... I was prey and he was determined to have me.  I called for help, holding my purse ready to jam into his mouth if he lunged for me.

I called and called.  2 minutes passed... then 5... and then 10... finally someone in the dog's house looked out the window at me for a moment, and then they walked away, leaving me to the mercies of their vicious dog.

I kept calling, yelling, and trying desperately hard to keep from allowing my voice to turn to a shriek which would give the dog more reason to see me as prey... he advance an inch at a time, coming closer and closer every minute.

My voice was hoarse and my legs shaking with desire to simply turn and run, 40 minutes later when my husband got home from work, and seeing what was happening to me, he jumped out of his van, a crowbar in hand, and went for the dog like a mad man!  I'd never been so happy to see him.

Finally, the dog's owner deigned to come outside, but only to threaten my husband with the law if he touched the dog which was now barking and backing away from us.  The man called the dog to him several times before it responded, and they both went inside, but not before my husband told the guy that if he ever saw the dog again, he was going to kill it, but the man ignored the threat.

We called police, and were told that since the dog didn't hurt me, there was nothing they could do.
Thankfully, we never did see the dog again... and I found out years later, that my husband made regular trips down that street just to see if he could see it.... he was not usually a violent man, but that dog had threatened his wife and son, and he wanted to see it dead with a rage that I never experienced in him again.

From that day onward, I have been terrified of large dogs, and even a little dog that barks can send me into a mini-panic-attack if I am not prepared for it. 

But I still love them.  Large or small, dogs are wonderful.  Even though I am still afraid.

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