If you saw me with my dog Lotus today, you would never guess that I used to be terrified of dogs.
Actually, terrified is an understatement. Ever since I can remember, I had a deep phobia of pretty much all animals. Cats freaked me out and rodents made me squirm. Birds and reptiles … forget it. Fish were the least offensive, but I still shied away at the thought of touching one.
It was embarrassing, but my reaction to all dogs was to pull back in primal fear. Even miniature dogs, and yes, even when my body was fully grown and much larger than any dog.
In contrast to me, my childhood best friend Maddie was a dog person to her core. Her black lab Mollie was her pride and joy. I remember one day, as we sat on the swing set at the playground, Mollie kept nuzzling up against me. My body was stiff and my heart thumped painfully.
For Maddie’s sake, I wanted to pet Mollie, or at least pretend that I wanted to. So I gingerly put my hand out toward Mollie’s wet nose. But despite my effort, my arm jerked back uncontrollably. I felt guilty. What the hell was wrong with me?
Maddie could read me like a book. “It’s okay,” she said, “I know you’re not a dog person, and you don’t have to fake that you are.”
So that was it. I accepted the truth: I was officially Not A Dog Person.
A few years later, my younger brother got a rambunctious little puppy named Roxy. Close proximity to a dog started to heal my fear. My anxiety morphed into cool neutrality. I no longer cowered around dogs, but I still did not like them at all.
Christmas 2019 was the next major turning point in my evolution. Sung and I stayed at my employer’s house for a week to look after her two dogs. One was a tiny pomchi named Princess, and the other was a huge American bulldog named King. They were complete opposites in disposition, but both endearing in their own ways. And because I was responsible for taking care of them, I began to feel a connection to their canine minds.
Then in the summer of 2020, Sung and I lived with my grandparents for a few months. They have a boisterous labradoodle named McTavish. He has the honor of being the first dog I cuddled with. He would curl up against me on the sofa while I watched TV with my grandma. That’s when I agreed with Sung that the two of us should adopt a dog.
This brings us to the fateful day at Wags and Whiskers Rescue. In one moment, my entire attitude toward dogs changed. The shelter worker carried out a shaky puppy: brown all over except for her front paws, which were both white. It looked like she was wearing a pair of socks.
My immediate reaction was to start sobbing from joy. I’m not typically much of a crier, and certainly not over animals. My tears surprised me. But I felt something shifting inside my heart.
Adopting Lotus changed me for good, and the way I approach animals has not been the same since. Shortly after we brought Lotus home, a friendly stray cat started visiting our porch every day. I named him Smoky. He’s very independent, but loves to come by for pets.
I’m still afraid of birds and rodents, but at least I’m on good terms with dogs and cats. That’s a huge improvement. I never pictured myself sitting on the front porch, petting a dog with one hand and a cat with the other. But here I am. And I’ve never been happier.