A Fear of Dogs and Those Who Love Them


“It came with the wind through the silence of the night, a long, deep mutter, then a rising howl, and then the sad moan in which it died away. Again and again it sounded, the whole air throbbing with it, strident, wild and menacing.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

The sidewalk is roughly three feet wide, a yard of concrete separating gardens from curbsides and then returning the favor. There is ample room atop the path for a pair of bicycles or half a stroller. It is cracked, stained and given to an awkward rise or graceless fall wherever nature has deemed the spreading of roots to hold more value than the seamless soles that would step upon them. It is a canvas for chalk and the glitter of snails, and a fine place to find worms beneath the sunlit dew of a well-sprinkled morning.

There are nods there, coming and going, the eye contact of nameless neighbors and simple smiles raised on somewhat familiar faces. Some say “Hello,” in a kind sort of fashion short on syllables and low on their breath. I tend to say it louder and as bright as I can muster, then judge them accordingly upon the strength of their reply or the long lacking of it.

If home is where your heart is then the sidewalk is an artery that leads you there, tangled and tied with the hearts of others, down the streets and around the corners. It is an invitation and a ticket out of here, judging not where you have been or where it is that you are going. After all, it is only a sidewalk.

And so it was that I stood dismayed, a boy in one hand and two leashes grasped tight within the other, as a woman I pass at least twice daily performed a suerte de capote so fluid across the walkway that even a vegetarian could appreciate the skill involved. Time froze for a moment and all was quiet but for the sound of birds singing and an inconsiderate radio in a car left running. The woman regained her footing upon the cusp of cement and then she continued onward as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t sure it had.

“What do you suppose . . .” I started.

“Maybe she’s afraid of dogs,” answered my son as he watched them both lick the tiny, sweet hands of the two small children whose mother was now fast fading into the careless shadows of tall oak trees.

“I think you’re right,” I told him.

The children pet the dogs again and then skipped ahead, home by rote, while my son and I turned toward the park and the greenest expanse it could still afford us.

“Why would someone be afraid of the dogs?” asked my son, forgetting, at least momentarily, that he had fears of his own. “They’re so cute and nice,” he added, which was clearly true.

“There are a number of reasons that someone might be afraid of dogs,” I said. “Maybe they had a bad experience or have a severe allergy. Maybe they have never had a dog or they just don’t like them. I’m not privy to everybody’s backstory.”

“But you have a scar from a dog biting your face. In fact, the whole family has scars from dogs biting them except me. Why don’t I get a scar?”

“You aren’t missing much.”

“Are you afraid of dogs?” he asked.

I let him think about it for a moment.

“What are you afraid of,” he asked.

“I’m afraid of lots of things. Most of them concern you and your brother, but some are just the fears that I live with, the added baggage of anxiety and vertigo, the pangs of being a grown-up.”

“How can you be scared of stuff? I always thought you were brave.”

“There’s an old saying about being brave. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t afraid. Being brave is being afraid but doing it anyway.”

“Who said that?”

“Some scared person I guess.”

“That makes sense,” he said.

We took the long way home, rather than the known safety of the sidewalk that brought us, with more grass than slabs and less anyone to speak of. The boy took the leads and ran a stretch with the dogs frolicking at his heel, silly, slobbering and sideways, only stopping to sniff a bit and then to promptly pee upon it. This, too, would take us there, eventually, and there was nothing to fear—no cracks, or the hopscotch bend of breaking backs, nor even a worm with what dreams to step on, just a field of things that passed as flowers and something new and brave to cling to.

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