Growing up, I’m a little ashamed to admit, I’ve always been scared of dogs. Not because I ever had any kind of negative experience with any I’d known, rather, I used to be particularly fond of one from back when I wasn’t old enough to have long-lasting memories of what and who I loved. I have only pictures and stories of people who were. Instead, we were warned as children that you shouldn’t go near something if you couldn’t tell what it was thinking. This list consisted, neither exhaustively nor pointlessly, of strange men, strange men in white vans, strange men offering things you liked, and animals.
Dogs, being the most common, or rather, most easily identifiable of all, often ended up being the live examples used to point out the horrible things the world comprised, and the horrible things it could do to you. This was done not with any kind of distinct malice against man’s furry friends, but as a way of fulfilling duties in teaching someone new to the ways of the world, ways of shielding themselves from any plausible harm.
Phrases like ‘a barking dog seldom bites’ did not help, either. Making me extremely wary of street dogs who were silent, probably hungry (but not for me), it made me passively dormant and distant when thinking about those who usually mind their own business and not really even make eye contact with me. I embodied the beliefs of people around me who I trusted, felt safe around, and who I therefore thought knew better about things I figured could only be looked at from one point of view. Looking back, I am not sure unlearning which of those beliefs has had the most impact today.
As I grew up, met with different kinds of people with different definitions of love, of priorities, of ambition and of goals; read more books and understood that the world at worst, and strangely at its best as well, is a crazy hodgepodge of truths that can never be universal, facts that can only be relative, and feelings that can only be fleeting and everything subject to each other, I came across priorities in which you could love animals the way you could love humans, too.
Never before had I understood the concept of having pets for anything other than selfish reasons, least of all with people referring to the state as ‘owning’ a dog, cat, fish, turtle, or whatever suited their fancy. But now I opened up to a world of wonder where words weren’t needed to express yourself, the ability to vocalize thoughts didn’t always require knowing how to read and write, and that love and comfort can also come from an understanding that wasn’t exactly human, but maybe more humane than any of us could ever be.
However, I digress. Recently, I had the ultimate privilege of petting a dog. He wasn’t aggressive, he wasn’t feral. He was a little shy, he was exceedingly gentle, and as we both comically tried getting to know each other while exhibiting peak introversion, I wasn’t sure who was more scared of whom.
All I knew was at least in that moment, while we did have someone in common (who was the reason for this encounter in the first place), we were looking to find another common thread that would just be ours. In that moment, we were simply two living, breathing creatures who were looking for a connection, even if it lasted until he promptly eased himself onto the rug, because I had dared disturb him just before his morning naptime.