I didn’t always love dogs. I used to be petrified of them. If one would move across my path I’d stiffen up or go hide behind the nearest person or object I could find. Fear of being bitten, I guess. A gruff bark would stir some unknown terror inside of me and I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times as a child that an interaction with a dog left me in tears. It goes without saying that I was undeniably a total wuss when I was a kid. I don’t think I had any significant attacks, I don’t think I was mauled, but I think that even the potential for injury meant I kept all canines at more than arm’s length. A few scenes I can remember:
Walking down the street with my parents, age 4 or 5. Passing a large gate with a dog behind it, hand outstretched so as to pet it. It responded violently and loudly, gnashing teeth heading towards my receding digits. Trembling, holding onto my mum.
Leben’s house, maybe 8 years old. A new little excited puppy chasing me (underwear clad) around the house while I screamed. I’m sure there was laughter.
Another friend’s house. Similar age. They kept their dog in a shed outside the house, it was pretty vicious but I was determined to face my fear. I gingerly put my hand towards it, which was reciprocated by an angry lunge. I got the merest scratch and cried like a football player.
Age 10 perhaps. Another friend’s dog chasing me around the lounge. Collie, young and excited, not violent. I’m not sure I knew the difference, but I think I was starting to.
Later that year. Same dog, Max. Sitting for a picnic in Stafford park. Multiple blankets, I chose the one as far away from the dog as possible. It was sitting down calmly eating from a bowl. Friend’s mum called me over and told me to put out my hand slowly, facing the back of it towards Max’s snout. “Let Max get your scent, let him know you’re not a threat.” He sniffed my hand, licked it, then went back to his meal.
Later that day I played my first game of catch with a dog.
It’s a strange, almost entirely alien thing to me now. Friends will know that the way I go all gooey whenever I see a dog of almost any variety, the sheer amount of love and affection I have for them is a stark 180 degree turn from my childhood views. I’m almost clucky now. I get excited hearing about people’s new puppies. I play with them whenever I get a chance. I go out of my way to meet dogs who cross my path. I’m transfixed by them whenever I drive past. Whenever I see one an inner spark is ignited and I know that whatever the future holds, I want one to be a part of my life, a part of my family.
I’ve started planning out potential breeds that I’d want. I’m pretty sure I want a big black Newfoundland, because it’s the closest animal companion I could have to a bear. They’re awesome, slobbery, huge dogs. Friendly and playful towards kids. Eat heaps, swim at any chance they get. Even thinking of it conjures images of the far off future, white picket fence with a wife, 2.5 kids, comfy but worn couches with their fair share of dog hair and saliva. Days walking in the park, playing catch, going to the beach, sitting around by the fire. Going for long jogs in the evening. Children leaving the house, wife and I left with the family pet. Swims from time to time. Jogs becoming walks. Grey hairs growing around the muzzle. Vet bills. Not quite as active as it used to be, far more naps now. Things winding down. One last nap. Tears, plenty of those. A nice little plot in the backyard. Given time, a small lemon tree just behind it.
But I’ve got years of love to give before I get there.