Rounding the corner, I tried to pick up speed as I sprinted through my neighborhood, afraid for my life. I leaped over bushes and felt my bare feet scrape the concrete, too scared to scream. Without looking back, I heard heavy breathing and four legs barreling after me. The muscular black dog was not stopping.
After about five minutes, perhaps having figured out I was in no mood to play, the dog eventually gave up the chase. I darted back to my house, and despite being only 10 years old at the time, I can still remember the wet tears dripping off my chin.
While most people think of dogs as endlessly loyal and cuddly, I grew up believing the opposite. To me, dogs were ferocious beasts eager to maul me to death. For most of my life, I lived with an intense fear that stemmed from several bad experiences as a child. I wasn’t alone in my fear either.
My very first bad-dog encounter happened when I was just 4 years old. I stood waist-deep on the steps of a friend’s pool when the family dog came rushing in, knocking my face onto the concrete edge. I cracked a tooth and sank into the water until an adult pulled me out.
Two years later, while my parents were house hunting, I wandered into a backyard. Two Dobermans came rushing toward me, knocking me to the ground as I cried out in terror. Although the dogs did not bite, they snarled and snapped in my face as I screamed underneath them.
My fear of dogs was very real and, at times, crippling. I’d freeze anytime I heard a dog’s collar jingle and avoided houses of friends with dogs. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I couldn’t get past it. During an attempt at overcoming my fear, I had a panic attack at a dog beach (like an insane person). It was beyond embarrassing but totally real to me. My best friend joked that if I had a choice between staying in a haunted house or a house full of dogs for one night, I’d immediately opt for ghosts over puggles and poodles.
Thankfully my life began to change by my mid-20s. At 25, I met my now-husband, who owned and loved an 11-year-old Rottweiler named Mandy. Rottweilers are known for their dominating power and booming bark. Thirty-two people were killed by the breed from 2005 to 2012 in the U.S. So needless to say, Mandy and I didn’t hit it off right away. I hated being left alone with her and asked my husband to put her outside while we ate (so cruel!). Although she showed no signs of aggression and spent most of the day snuggled up in bed, it took months before I started to let down my guard.
When my husband and I moved in together, he began to travel more for work, which left me and Killer Mandy alone in the house. Each day, I’d feed her and take her out, but my nerves were always on high alert. When I worked from home, she’d come into my office and place her head on my lap while I wrote. At first I cringed as her slobber slid down my leg, but slowly I started to feel comforted by her gentle nuzzling. The house was a little less lonely with her around.
Mandy and I began to develop a bond. When I came home from runs, she’d hop around our living room to entice me to play. My intense fear soon became no match for her floppy ears and wiggling nub-tail. At night, she’d charge to the door whenever she heard an unusual noise, and it became clear that if someone broke in, they’d have Mandy to deal with. (Take that, burglars/murderers!)
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all puppy love. There were moments when Mandy made me jump from a loud bark or quick movement. Over the next few years, instead of being the source of my fear, Mandy calmed me in a very real way.
In December, my husband and I adopted another Rottweiler-mix named Ruby, and I love her more than any sane person should. I have become one of those crazy people who ask strangers about their dog’s breed and pay way too much money for sparkly collars. May I also say I feel even more badass walking two Rottweilers down the street (it’s like being in a dog gang). Amazingly, loving dogs was something I never thought possible, but damn it if those dogs don’t have my entire heart.