The dog, Pearl, a pitbull, licked SJ’s pant leg. SJ’s eyes met Pearl’s, and a moment later, the dog wandered off. SJ went back to playing as if nothing had occurred.
This innocuous moment was a long time in the making.
This year before my family and I became dog owners. BR, SJ’s older brother, loves dogs. For three years, he begged my wife and I to get a dog. While both my wife and I like dogs (she had one growing up), neither of us wanted one (I was more interested in being a grandparent to a dog. Less obligations.).
Yet, we cracked.
Her name is Leila, and she’s a rescue. A mixed breed of Shitzu and Bull Terrior, Leila is 12 pounds. She has white fur with a brown spot near her butt and black fur mixed in on her ear.
She looks sweet. People walked up to her expecting her to be friendly. But she’s a barker. We learned this early.
A few days after we get Leila, SJ was talking to my wife, “I didn’t ask for this.” The tears come gushing out. The conversation takes place in our bedroom. It’s a room where SJ goes to watch television, and it’s one of his happy places. Despite the tears, his voice carries downstairs, where I am sitting on the sofa.
I can’t hear their conversation, but I know why he’s crying. Leila barked at SJ. Despite her size, SJ feels threatened.
It’s no surprise, since he is not a dog person. At all. In fact, he is petrified of dogs.
SJ has never been bitten by a dog, never been chased by a dog, and never been barked at excessively by a dog. He has no reason to fear dogs. A talk about irrational fears did nothing to quell his negative feelings.
Despite SJ’s fear or even because of them, we got a dog. We considered SJ’s dog issues when selecting a dog and made him part of the process of picking out Leila. Big-and-in-your-face dogs were out. Our dog would be small and calm.
SJ met and pet the dog (with much cajoling) before we got her. He did not approve the decision, yet he did not scream ‘no’ either.
During the ensuing days and weeks, Leila acclimated well, and we developed patterns. Who will walk her, who will feed her, and who will let her sleep in their bed.
And SJ stayed away as much as he could. He spent enormous amounts of time in his room with the door shut. SJ’s lack of interest in Leila led her to perceive him negatively. When the boys would play fight, Leila would bark at SJ. She believed she was protecting BR.
As time went on, my wife and I encouraged SJ to hang out with Leila. We had him pet the dog. We even had SJ feed Leila. Despite Leila’s uncertainty about SJ, she was more than willing to take his food. She is a dog, you know.
And the barrier began to melt. SJ was soon giving Leila food without prompting. He would say hello and goodbye to her. He would even pet her
Recently, I overheard SJ having a conversation with a friend who was over our house.
“Why are you so afraid of Leila?” SJ asked his friend from across the street.
His friend said, “I’m afraid she’s gonna bite me.”
“She’s just barking because she doesn’t really know you.”
“I don’t want her to bite me.”
“She won’t bite you.”
“So, why won’t she stop barking?”
“She just has to get used to you. Don’t be afraid.”
Upon hearing SJ’s counsel, I smiled.
Getting Leila has meant more to SJ than it did to the rest of us. While SJ may never be a full-fledged dog person, he has changed. Even a friendly pitbull won’t send him running.
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