My family has never been too keen on animals, but as a young girl, I loved all critters: horses, fish, puppies, kittens – if it swam, crawled, or galloped, I doodled pictures of it all over my notebook. Unfortunately, even though I am fascinated with the gestation cycles of seahorses and the unusual mating rituals of jumping spiders, when it comes to actually interacting with animals, I’m afraid of everything.
I think some of my irrational fears stem from childhood trauma. When I was in kindergarten, I sprained my ankle on the jungle gym, so I was stuck at home for what seemed like FOREVER. Nagymama said I looked too “pale and horrid”, so one day, they took me outside to get some sun and propped my leg up on our picnic table.
No more than five minutes after I started reading one of my “Berenstain Bears” books, the neighbor’s German Sheppard saw me, jumped over the fence, and ran over. I had never actually pet a dog before, so I was a little cautious but still curious.
Anyu was in the front yard, chatting with Nagymama and vehemently pointing to some photos in the “The Weekly World News”. I called to get her attention, “Anyu, look a doggie! Can I pet it?”
Anyu looked over at me and screamed in horror, “NO, STEPHIE, HE’S GONNA EAT YOU!”
As my mom continued to scream and panic, Nagymama chased the dog into the front yard with a broom. The neighbor must have heard the commotion so he hopped over the kapu to apprehend his dog. Anyu made me promise never to talk to strange dogs again.
A few months later, we went over to our neighbor Gustaf’s house and to see his new Chihuahua. At this point, my mother had bred so much fear into me that I dove behind her and clung to her legs every time that stupid dog yipped.
Gustaf’s wife, Olga, found this hilarious, “Stephie, he von’t hurt you, jus go over and say, ‘Hi!’”
“Anyu said I wasn’t supposed to talk to strange dogs.”
“Oh, Peppy isn’t a strange dog. He’s basically a cat.”
This was pretty confusing to a sensitive six-year-old. The dog barked at me a dozen more times, so I just cried so we could go home.
I don’t think I really came in close contact with another dog until high school. I started dating a guy named Bob that had a large black Labrador named Xena. The first time I went to his house, I just about jumped on the couch to get away from this thing. One day, he finally convinced me to pet the dog (he promised to distracted her with a treat and tightly grip her chain). I lightly brushed the side of her fur, and after a few minutes, I was comfortable enough to pet her on the head.
“Okay, I guess dogs aren’t so bad,” I said, as I scratched my forearms. And my neck. And my face.
Anyu was right all along. I shouldn’t talk to strange dogs. I’m allergic.