I learned something new about myself recently that doesn’t make me proud. However, it is definitely worth examining. If I lose friends over it, so be it.
A friend and I visited a local rescue when we heard tell of four-week old puppies afoot. She had met them before but thought a little puppy time would be the perfect ending to a long week. I agreed. When isn’t puppy time a good idea? Especially when I’m not responsible for cleaning up after them.
But I digress. Off we went to visit five pudgy little puppies. And they were pudgy. At this age I believe they were just learning to walk so they fell all over each other in the most adorable fashion imaginable. Even if you weren’t a dog person you would have started to coo. They looked something like the photo to the left. Only cuter.
Did I forget to mention they were Rottweiler puppies? Because they were. Or are, I guess I should say “are” as they are still alive. At least as far as I know they are. Alive, I mean.
Anyway, to end this completely awkward diatribe, I will now talk about the thing I am ashamed to admit.
These utterly charming and delectable puppies were snuggled up next to Mama Rottweiler when we walked in the door. Mama was very calm and sweet-looking herself. She didn’t growl or bark or give any sign our presence annoyed her. When my friend bent down to scoop a puppy into her arms, Mama slowly shifted to nuzzle her hand. After a few seconds she stood up, not to warn us to leave her babies alone, but to shove her large, gleaming head underneath my arm. She was making it clear she wanted a little loving herself.
In that moment I think my heart stopped. It started again as I lifted my hand to stroke her ears, but I noticed my fingers were shaking.
I wasn’t cold. I was afraid.
Why was I so fearful? I wish I had an answer that doesn’t sound totally lame-ass. If you had asked me ten minutes before, I would have denied being afraid of Rottweilers. Though I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with dogs who belong to that particular breed, I didn’t believe I could ever be scared of one. I know better. I inhale the anti-BSL rhetoric with my morning coffee. If Mama Rottweiler had been Mama Pitbull I would have been making just as much a fuss over her as I was her puppies. To put it simply, I don’t believe in judging dogs based on breed. You know this. I’ve made sure the world knows this. And yet…
I was unquestionably scared. Nervous at the very least. It’s a horrible thing to own up to but there it is.
By the time we left, Mama had won me over. It was amazing how calm she was while we handled her offspring. All she wanted was a little affection for herself. Gradually, my nerves faded and I was able to provide this without inhibition. At that point I was more shaken by my instinctive reaction than I was by her rippling deltoids. Mama was a true cuddler. Whoever ends up adopting her once her puppies are grown is in for something very special.
Now that some time has passed since the event, I am struggling to find some sort of explanation for the whole misadventure. I’ve never had a single negative experience with a Rottweiler. I’ve not had really any experiences at all. I think they are gorgeous dogs and can make wonderful companions. The only thing that sticks in my brain is my father’s voice saying “never trust a rottweiler.” But could something so minor, something heard decades ago in a context I can’t even recall, really affect my current emotional state? Perhaps, but it’s no excuse.
As part of my Year of Zoomery I am doing my best not to beat myself up about things. Instead, I am trying to figure out what I would tell someone else in the same situation. Feeling fear doesn’t make me a bad person. Just because I was a little uncertain about a large dog approaching me doesn’t mean I am going to start lobbying the government to have all Rottweilers banned. In fact, maybe the whole episode happened for a reason. Just maybe I can turn it into something helpful for others.
Last week Aleks of Love & a Six-Foot Leash fame wrote a post about judgment that beats all other posts about judgment. I am sure you have read it already but if not I highly recommend clicking the link. My thought is that my Rottweiler fears may fit in to this somewhere. I know this post is already far too long, but hear me out.
I spent most of 2011 feeling like I was banging my head against my desk when it came to fighting breed prejudice. Every time I had a conversation with someone about pitbulls or dobermans or rottweilers, I felt I was getting no where in educating them. Why, I hollered to the world at large, why can’t people just stop hating the breed and start seeing the dog beneath? I got frustrated. And angry. There was a point I just gave up. If I heard someone say something stupid about all pitbulls being evil, I let them keep their beliefs and walked away.
Now that I’ve felt a smidgeon of this irrational fear for myself, I realize what an ass I was. You can’t fight fear with anger. It only serves to make others even more defensive than ever before. If my friend had noticed my shaking fingers while petting the Rottweiler (I hope she didn’t) and yelled at me for being dumb, I probably would have left feeling like crap and missed out on what became a very positive experience.
Consider this a formal apology to all those who felt my wrath last year. I’m sorry I wasn’t more understanding. Fear doesn’t always make sense and being scared doesn’t make you a terrible, dog-hating freak. What’s important is how you respond to the fear: if you let it take over or if you seek to conquer it. This year, I pledge to do my best to help you achieve the latter.