I was terrified of dogs when I was young and felt like I was the only one, as if I were a rare mammal—genus: Canis terrifidis. In my house, the only creatures I grew up with were fish, the worst pets of all. They belong in the freezer section of your local supermarket. I’m not sure why they’re anywhere near the puppies and kittens in pet stores other than to rip people off since most last slightly longer than a carton of milk. Shop owners should really line up the merchandise in death order: cockatiels and turtles on one end, hamsters and guppies on the other.
I couldn’t blame my parents for denying us; they had a houseful of kids and couldn’t imagine also nurturing a face-licking, Frisbee-fetching, foot-of-the-bed-sleeping, kibble-nibbling, trick-learning, honest-to-god pet. But there were consequences.
I was walking home from elementary school one day along my usual route. The sun was rich with vitamin D, the smell of honeysuckle creeping through a chain-link fence perfumed the air, and the sugary songs of Donny & Marie played over and over in my head. But my attention began to shift elsewhere. I heard the tinkling of metal somewhere behind me growing louder and louder. I turned around and saw a Doberman coming up the block, galloping like a horse, tearing across lawns, muscles shifting gloriously under a shiny dark coat. I let out a yelp and took off running.
I moved as fast as I could in my Toughskins until the sidewalk rose up in my path from a tree that had busted through. I soared over it like a hurdler and kept on. The beast was now barking. A lady stopped short in front of me, pressing her grocery bag against her chest for protection. I saw my house just down the street: sanctuary.
Books inside my backpack lumbered from side to side, and pencils jiggled like crazy. The thing needed to go. My life depended on it. I leaned to one side and wiggled an arm out, but I lost my balance. I tumbled onto the ground in a floppy somersault like a blown tire.
The barking gargoyle jumped me, the force making us skid across the lawn. My little arms went flailing, its jaws went digging, and we wrestled. It was chomping and pawing at my head, my ears, my backpack, making gurgling sounds, licking me and lightly growling. I waited to be ripped from the inside out. How sad for my parents, I thought, although they still had two boys.
Snarled in my own hair and tears, I caught a glimpse of the Doberman’s owner, a kid no older than I was, whose face was a mess of freckles or dirt. He had been watching from his bike, bored.
“Get him off me!” I squeaked.
“Doogan,” he called, and miraculously I was free. The barbarian and his dog vanished.
Huffing and crying, I looked around for witnesses. Nobody. I checked my arms and pants for blood. I touched my neck and face. Nothing. My hair seemed like it was all there, albeit a new style. How could I not be mincemeat? No matter, I was eight and in a hysterical groove now. I wept in the grass for a solid five minutes until a neighbor came out.
“Get offa my lawn, you damn pussy!” he called to me, slamming his mailbox shut.
I felt pretty stupid once I gathered some perspective. I soothed my ego by reminding myself that I didn’t know dog behavior; I had no direct exposure. Fish breathe underwater; snails are goopy; bees are flying devils—that’s what I knew of animals.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions when you’re eight. I wish I could tell that girl that the giant dinosaur-dog was simply running down the street, enjoying some exercise.
As I venture into new territory as an editor and writer in a new city, I’m reminded to be unafraid of the unknown or beasts that may not even exist. What’s the worst that could happen? A roll in the green grass with a playful dog perhaps.