I have a dog. Her name is River, after River Tam, because the pun was too good to resist. Here she is, I’ll get the cute puppy picture out of the way first:
When I was very young, I was attacked by a German Shepherd, who jumped over a fence to knock me down and bite three-year-old me. Not growing up in a household with dogs, or having any close friends or family with dogs, this initial experience instilled a deep phobia that stuck with me for a very long time. Throughout grade school, I would actively avoid visiting friends’ houses who had dogs, and I grew to deeply dislike and distrust people who would force their dogs on me, claiming that they were “harmless” or “just wants you to say hi”.
This lasted for more than twenty years. After I left Austin, I met a co-worker who would become a close friend of mine. He and his wife were incredibly friendly and welcoming and I loved hanging out with them, even though they had a pair of dogs. One was a large mutt, and the other was a friendly beagle. Both were perceptive and immediately recognized that I was extremely uncomfortable around them, and generally stayed entirely out of my way, either motionless across the room or in another room entirely. This suited me fine, and I enjoyed hanging out despite the dogs.
Over time, I became more familiar, and while the larger dog continued to be ambivalent towards me, the friendly beagle developed a need to make friends with me. As my friend’s wife later put it, “he didn’t understand how there could be anyone in the world who didn’t want to pet him”. Over the course of almost a year, the beagle would sit a little bit closer every time I’d visit. First, across the room. Next, on the floor near the TV. Next, at the far end of the couch. Then, on the couch. Then, a cushion closer to me. Finally, after about nine months of this slow indoctrination, I looked up to see my friend’s wife taking a picture of me and beaming. I had been idly patting the beagle for several minutes without having noticed it. It took some reinforcement after that, but I’d slowly been broken of my intense dog phobia.
River, my shih tzu above, is the final step of puppy therapy. I got her as an eight-week-old puppy and have raised and trained her myself. I am, I think, finally over my dog phobia.