It never occurred to me that loving dogs could be considered an accomplishment of sorts until, when talking to my neighbor recently she said, “It’s amazing you like dogs at all.”
I grew up with cats and definitely considered myself a cat person. But I loved all animals and relished every encounter with a new critter until I was 11 years old.
I played the piano as a child but when I first started taking lessons, we didn’t have a piano at home. However, my great aunt who didn’t live far from us did. I would ride my bike to her house to practice. They had a dog I’d never met. He was always locked in a different section of the house before I arrived.
One day, I parked my bike in the yard like always. As I walked up the porch steps, I saw that the big front door was open and through the screen door I could see the dog lying on the floor.
As soon as the dog saw me, he bolted, kicked open the flimsy screen door and was on me. The only thing I had time to do was turn my back as he lunged. He caught me by the right tricep in his strong jaws and held me with his paws on my back.
I managed to stay on my feet against the brick of the house. I was pinned as if this is what the dog was trained to do. I do not know the history of this dog other than my cousin who was in the military had brough him home.
I screamed and my bladder emptied with fear. My uncle came running out to pull the dog off of me. When I think of this incident, I often wonder what the dog would have latched on to had I not turned my back.
After that, I was apprehensive of dogs. To this day, dogs loose in the neighborhood make me nervous. When I walk, I’m constantly on the lookout for dogs. I do not trust a dog I have not been introduced to.
But I love dogs and I’ve worked hard to try not to judge every dog by the behavior of one, especially dogs that are the same breed. I believe that, as with parenting kids, dogs need training and guidance. I’ve consistently had a dog in my house for the past 15 years.
My sweet pup, Eliza Hamilton, is sleeping next to me as I write this. She’s my car ride buddy and is my slow-to-warm pup.
She’s not one to run up to you to lick your face if she doesn’t know you. I’ve had her since she was just weeks old, so I know it’s not due to a negative experience. She’s just a pandemic puppy that is apprehensive until she knows you.
Like me with dogs, Hamilton gets nervous when humans are loose in the neighborhood. I can relate and I give her that space to question and assess. We work together, we trust each other and above all we lean on each other.
I did not bond with the first dogs I ever had. Falling completely in love with dogs happened slowly over time in my adulthood. Now, my heart is easily stolen by all four-footed pets. Both cats and dogs are welcome and loved in my house.
I’m grateful that my neighbor acknowledged what I had overcome. It’s an accomplishment that has brought more joy and affection to my life than 11-year-old me could have ever imagined.
— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother of three kids, and the opinion editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisville Courier-Journal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, followed through her YouTube channel and on Twitter: @WriterBonnie, or click here to learn more about her. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.