Dogs on the Periphery
I have a confession to make; I’m really a cat person. Or was. I would now describe myself as an animal lover. Growing up, you could say my mother was an animal tolerator. We were allowed to have cats—outside cats. We didn’t actively seek them out, they were strays we adopted. Or, to be more accurate, adopted us. They lived very comfortably under the front porch, where they were out of the way and didn’t require too much attention. No litter boxes, no cat hair, no interruptions to our household life.
I had limited experience with dogs for the first half of my life, and sporadic, not-particularly-pleasant memories of various interactions with dogs as I was growing up. My first real memory is of a summer evening when I was eight years old. I’m running down a path to The Chalet, where my parents were visiting their friends. It’s that just-before-completely-dark time where I can still sort of see. The path stretched along the woods, and as I was running, I felt the sudden grab of a dog’s mouth on my leg. It was Duke, a German shepherd and neighborhood dog who roamed around the old boy scout camp where we lived. I screamed and kept running and made it to the house. “I was attacked!” I yelled as I pounded my way in. Crying and frantic, my wound was wiped cleaned with a washcloth. “I’m bleeeeeeeeeeeeeding!” I wailed. Now, truth be told, it was more of a tooth grazing than an actual bite. And one of the well-meaning adults had tried to explain that I had probably frightened Duke. But when you’re a child and get a surprise leg grab from a dog in the dark, it might as well be a mauling from the neighborhood wolf.
Thus began my fear of dogs.
Duke was allegedly given away to a family down the hill from us, except that he still roamed, so it didn’t really matter which family had him. When I was ten, I was walking home from a friend’s house. At the time, we were living in a dome and were drilling our well. There was a massive ditch that had been built to catch the flow of thick, oozing mud. I was wearing my new favourite dress, which I’d gotten for my birthday. It was a warm spring day as I walked along the path. And there came my old nemesis, Duke, trotting along side me. I was cautious and nervous and just wanted to make it home. “I don’t want any trouble, here, Duke.” The path narrowed to single-file as I made my way along side the sludgy ditch. There wasn’t room for me and the dog, and as he was staying at my side, I lost my footing and fell into the ditch. Fortunately it was only about three feet deep— but enough to get completely submerged when I fell. Have you ever seen those fancy foreign mud baths, the consistency of cake batter? Imagine that, only in the bright red of
clay. Duke continued on his merry way, I suppose. At that point I was less
concerned with him, and more concerned with clawing my way out. I walked up to
the house, wailing. My younger brother was the first to see me, and ran into
the house calling me the Mud Monster. The whole family came out to greet me. Surprised.
And then laughing. Hysterically. Which made me cry even harder, sending streaks
down my face to expose skin underneath. Now the question was how was I going to
get de-mudded? We had been going to the main lodge across the street to take
our nightly baths, while we were waiting for the well to hit water. My very
British mother was very practical about the whole thing. “Well,” she said,
standing there eying me with hands on hips. “You cahn’t get in the car like
that. You’ll just have to walk over.” It was about a mile walk, which I had just
made before the unfortunate Ditch Incident. I think my sister took pity on me
and walked with me, as Mum drove over to meet us on the other side of the camp.
That part is hazy. What I do remember is having a further dislike for German
Shepherds, which really translated to dogs in general, and this would not
change for several years. Virginia