I don’t have a dog. I don’t even like dogs. I fear dogs.
My fear and dislike of dogs stems from my childhood. A neighbour’s Miniature Dachshund, a gentle old sausage named Cindy, inexplicably panicked one day and bit me. Cindy gashed my pants and my leg, and shredded my attitude toward dogs forever.
From that time, I’ve given dogs a wide berth. I choose walking routes that are dog-free. Nothing grips my innards with icy fear like the approach of a strange dog or even the jingle of a chain. After all, if I couldn’t trust a friendly neighbourhood dog, what dog could I trust?
Over the years I’ve managed to grudgingly accept a few dogs. I’ve tolerated the dogs of friends and family members, gradually getting used to their presence?under close supervision by their owners, naturally. I’ve scratched Taffy’s ears, let Max sleep on my feet, and even dog-sat Noble (his owners promised to give me substantial compensation if their dog ever bit me, which made it worth the risk.) I remained aloof, however, and generally avoided dogs?and dog owners.
Then I met Rocky.
It was after I moved to the country several years ago. I received permission to walk on a neighbour’s property, a mix of forest and crop land. When I expressed my city-bred nervousness about wild animal—coyotes especially, who are just nasty wild dog relatives—my neighbour said, “Take Rocky.” I wasn’t convinced Rocky—a large mixed-breed dog with the body of a German Shepherd and the colouring of a Golden Retriever—would reduce my general animal anxiety, but I was willing to give him a try.
We didn’t get off to a great start. Rocky barked menacingly at me as I walked up “his” driveway, his standard reaction to unfamiliar people or vehicles. But, once I got close enough to be recognized and to call his name, he switched from guard dog to pet dog. He grinned apologetically and swished his tail to wave away ill will.
“Wanna go for a walk?” I asked. Oh yeah, he did. Rocky led the way to the trail, casting glances over his shoulder to make sure I was following. With the energy of three dogs, he ran up the trail, back to me, then zig-zagged from side to side to inspect—and sometimes contribute to—the scents of nature.
As a protector, he excelled. The faintest rustling sent him into chase frenzy. Whatever animals could possibly threaten surely had second thoughts when Rocky was on duty. Even non-threatening animals were flushed from the forest. Rocky routinely treed outraged squirrels and drove off perplexed partridges and panicked turkeys.
After a few walks, Rocky and I were friends. Now when I go up the driveway, he does not bark. He wags his tail and bounds over to greet me. When I ask, “Wanna go for a walk?”, Rocky bounces and twirls in his enthusiasm.
Rocky has become my devoted friend. He is always upbeat and enthusiastic, and happy to let me make the decisions on which trail to take and how far to walk. He’s become a confidant, never judgemental or prone to interrupting; he never tells my secrets to a soul. He walks when I walk, stops when I stop, and—mostly—comes when called. Rocky answers to “Rocky”, “puppy”, and, his favourite, “Rock Star.”
Rocky is patient, too. He understands that my walking schedule is subject to whim and weather. Sometimes we walk daily and other times, in the deer fly season especially, not for weeks. Rocky waits patiently on his front porch, ready to swish his tail in recognition the minute he sees me walking up his driveway.
My relationship with dogs is still complicated. I don’t think I’ll ever be a dog person or completely shake my deep-rooted fear of dogs. But I’m devoted to one dog and I’m grateful to be one of Rocky’s people.
Since I moved to the country, I’ve never encountered a menacing wild animal when out walking. Perhaps that’s because there aren’t any out there. But I think it’s because I’m walking with a Rock Star.
Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.