Canine Cure? This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 20, 2013
By , Naples, FL
For as long as I can remember, I have been deathly afraid of dogs. Certainly, I’m not the first to exhibit a canine caution, as many share this fear. But my fear was no ordinary fear: when faced with the long-toothed creature my only thought was survival as my life, as short and uneventful as it has been, quickly rushed before me. I don't know why I always had this trepidation, but it was always in me, genetically predetermined, like my eye color or hair. It's easy for someone else to calmly claim: “Just relax, the dog is not going to do anything to you.” But this fear was purely visceral and I had about as much control over it as I have over the weather. Whenever I visited a friend’s house, the first thing I did upon my arrival was to search for clues or signs of a family dog.

“Bruce, why are we crossing the street?” my father would often ask.

“Because I do not want to walk down a street containing a dog!” I would say gasping for air.

“Bruce, that dog weighs only 6 pounds!”

“It can still bite!” Blinded with fear, I was absolutely petrified, and there was no solution. My sisters, quite remarkably, did not inherit this same dog fearing gene.

“Bruce, your sisters desperately want a dog,” broached my mom.

“That’s neat, I want to be 7 feet tall and play in the NBA. That’s what we refer to as dreams.”

“Bruce, it’s not fair to your sisters that they cannot have a dog because you say NO!!”

“Mom, I wish it were up to me, but it is not. In fact this irrationality may well be from your side of the family.”

“Bruce, we are going to get a dog whether you like it or not!” squealed my sister Sofia. My sisters Sofia and Cecilia usually were not much of a match in my anti-dog campaign and so I paid little attention.

“Get a dog and I will move out; you will never see me again.” The “never see me again ploy” usually ended the conversation. Normally I would take great joy in ending the discussion, however, this time I actually felt bad for my sisters … fortunately the feeling of guilt passed.
For a while, I thought I had dodged the bullet: the talk of a dog seemed to have waned. Swarming with school, bemused with activities, the preoccupation with a pooch perished. I’m in the clear. Or so I thought, until our annual family trip to Argentina last June.

Every year after school finishes we make the pilgrimage to Buenos Aires for my mom to return to her roots. The natives of Buenos Aires are a group of soccer-obsessing, steak-consuming, Spanish speaking Italians. One more thing I forgot: THEY ARE OBSESSED WITH DOGS! Professional dog-walkers walk 6-8 dogs at a time, while their mutts monopolize the roads and desecrate the streets (which are never picked-up.)

“Let's go to a dog show!” my overly energetic grandmother screamed. My sisters, having never attended one, thought it would be a great idea. They departed for doggy heaven early one gray and gloomy winter morning.

“Bruce, you coming?”

“No Sofia, I thought I would read the Complete Works of Plato … in Spanish”. They unfortunately returned with even more excitement.

“That was awesome!” screamed Cecilia.

“We have to get one!” proclaimed Sofia. OK, so they had a good time.

“We could not possibly get a dog and then leave for 6 weeks of summer vacation in California. That would be inhumane.” I claimed, grabbing the moral high ground. I was safe, I was secure, or was I?

“Guess what?” exclaimed my grandmother Rudi, “I bought a baby golden retriever!” She was going to have it for her house in Uruguay.
“Great!” I screamed. “I'm not going to Uruguay.”

“Bruce it won't be that bad, you'll only see the dog once or twice a year. You’ll love the dog. You love the dog more than anyone else!” claimed my mother, who, like everyone else, could barely control her elation.

“Yeah right, that’s unlikely to happen.” But I soon forgot about the dog as our summer in California evaporated and we had school commencing the following week with all the delight attached to that annual ritual. As time passed I would intermittently hear stories about Max, the dog (not the student just to be clear). With time I would overhear my sisters claiming to have a dog named Max. I guess technically that's true; he is our dog that my grandmother owns, who lives 3000 miles away and who I see only once or twice a year. Maybe I could survive this.

I did not give Max much attention as the first semester flew by. That was until I realized that this Christmas was to be spent at my grandparents’ summer home in Uruguay. Living with a dog, are you serious? Suddenly all of my fears and anxieties returned. What a Christmas gift!

After final examinations we flew to Montevideo, Uruguay and then drove to my grandparent’s home. Upon arrival we were greeted by a small bundle of excitement, still quite small, furry, full of fun, … and immediately irritating.

“Get him off me! I don't like dogs. He’s trying to bite me! I hate him. This is going to be the worst trip ever.” Nausea, cold sweats, palpitations, I had them all.

“Okay Bruce, control your anger and your fear. It's only for a couple weeks and then you'll be rid of this dog for at least a year.” With that thought in mind, and with strategic planning, I actually survived the encounter quite uneventfully. With time I actually didn't mind him so much. Of course I was irritated whenever he hurdled himself onto me while I was trying to eat or licked at my ankles when I was trying to study calculus, Greek, or Latin but at the same time, it was a welcomed distraction. Sadly, the final day arrived.

“Bye Max!” I screamed as we drove off to the airport. “We're all going to miss Max,” I told my sisters with a smile on my face.

“What do you mean Bruce? Rudi is bringing him to the United States next week. He's going to move in with us. He's our Christmas gift.”
“What?” I screeched. “You've got to be kidding me. I'm not going to have a dog in my house!”

Or so I thought. But now, two years later, Max is my best friend: the solution to my greatest problem. Every morning he greets me with a bark, a hug, or a drool all over my clothes and at the end of every day he recounts, moment by moment, the events of his day. Sure he still struggles with understanding the classics, but who does get Aristotle, Socrates, and Shakespeare. As expected, my mom has been instrumental in disciplining Max. The only command he follows is to sit in anticipation of food with drool spilling from his mouth. Nonetheless he is my dog, and he is my friend.

We all have irrational fears. Mine was a fear of dogs. Overcoming this fear has been a momentous event for me. I make light of the encounter but I cannot understate the absolute terror I felt whenever approached by a dog. This no longer exists for me. I have a deep appreciation for the slobbering idiot who I fondly call Max, whom I now love.

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