They can bite me, can’t they?

I am afraid of dogs.

I don’t think I’m alone. Many people perhaps have this fear, certainly in other parts of the world, and that has now led me to think about animals in my life moving forward.

Living in India until the age of 4 was not the best introduction to dogs. India is home to 30 million stray dogs that pose a public health risk as carriers of rabies, and the virus kills as many as 20,000 people a year in the country.

During the early years of childhood, my parents warned me about the dangers of free-roaming canines, which may have pushed me away from dogs. If it wasn’t that, it must have been the stories about kids being bitten by dogs and the detailed description of rabies symptoms.

These vivid descriptions of humans experiencing symptoms such as excess salivation, agitation, and disorientation formed an image in my childhood mind that resembled a zombie.

Although my memory of these conversations is sparse, the seeds of fear that were once sowed in my childhood brain have flourished into a fear that drives me to go out of the way to avoid any contact with not only dogs, but cats, too.

My meager experience with pets does not come as a surprise but was also exacerbated by other circumstances.

A conversation with my mother uncovered another potential reason for the fear. She revealed that our family did have a small rescue dog, but I was too young to remember. She recalled that my older brother and my aunt were both terrified of the little Pomeranian. Adults running away from a small dog is a major catalyst for a fear of dogs.

Moving to Kuwait did not alleviate the fears, since many streets of the small Middle Eastern country were overrun by stray dogs at night and few people had pet dogs, but England and America turned out to be quite different.

After moving to England, and later the U.S., it became clear that in these cultures, people view dogs as their best friends or family. But in India, if a family has a dog, its primary purpose is to protect the household from intruders. Although there are pet dogs, they are not very common.

These negative attributions from childhood and stories have not scared me away from wanting a four-legged friend in the future. Nevertheless, being in a partnership with someone who loves dogs and grew up with a beloved family dog involves some negotiation.

Recently, after much nagging, I was in close proximity to our neighbor’s Labrador retriever and even managed to pet him after significant internal turmoil. It was a big moment for someone who refuses to step out of his own apartment when there is a dog on the lawn.

The experience was not any less scary, but it helped relieve irrational fears that have slowly spread to include all canines, not only stray dogs.

After a long and heated negotiation with my partner, we agreed on adopting a small poodle or Labradoodle, in a year. One year to overturn a lifetime of fear.

I am terrified but excited.

Terrified of renegotiating with my partner in a year, but excited to experience the joy I have only seen in other people.

The feeling of missing out is loud when people look happy with their four-legged friends. The daunting fear is nowhere close to gone, but I recognize that it is something that can be solved with time and patience.

Sherwin Francies is a student in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and a summer intern with our regular columnist, Charlie Powell, who is on vacation. Tooth and Nail is provided by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine as a community service.

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