I’m going to try and convey something in as balanced a way as I can.
Imagine someone had a child, but not quite a normal child. Let’s name him Liam, since everyone else is.
Imagine Liam, aged about four, did the following:
- Went about nude most times, urinating and defecating in full view–outdoors if possible, indoors if necessary.
- Considered it fairly normal to step in his own feces.
- Cleansed his posterior regions with his bare left hand, without washing afterward.
- If not restrained, would leap on all adults, wiping his left hand on them with vigor.
- Made a significant mess while eating or drinking.
- Was prone to vomit what he ate or drank, with minimal preamble.
- Stank, and left his odor on everyone and everything he touched, which was everywhere he could arrange.
- Had a primitive enough understanding of sex that he attempted it with all other children, no matter how public the setting.
- Had breath that could–if he got close enough–make an adult physically ill.
- Consumed vomit and feces at times.
- Carried a small spiked club in his right hand, knew how to use it, and threatened its use when frightened.
- Demanded constant attention and companionship, acting out when he didn’t get it.
- Could and would, without apology or thought, pump out astonishing clouds of intestinal gas.
- At the slightest sense of excitement, began to yell full throat.
- Spat upon people as a form of affection.
- Destroyed random pieces of valuable property and considered it a fun game.
- Was immune to physical discipline, as a child, by anyone but his parents, who would be moved to violence should anyone smack Liam.
- Would not learn much from being smacked anyway, even if smacking a child weren’t on the ‘stuff we don’t do’ list.
Now, suppose that Liam’s parents:
- Adored him, thought he was the cutest thing, and did not know what they would do without Liam.
- Talked baby talk to him, quite frequently, whether he understood it or not, in the middle of otherwise normal conversations with other adults.
- Considered Liam an excellent judge of character, and disliked anyone who recoiled from him.
- Told those who recoiled from Liam: “He just wants to love you.”
- Let him frolic at random in public, heedless of his effect on random strangers.
- Knew that Liam would never hurt anyone, ever–even when threatening someone with the spiked club.
- Could not grasp why some people did not adore and embrace their wonderful Liam as they did.
- Expected these people to adjust their inner feelings and desires to correct this failure to adore and embrace.
- Carried out almost missionary-like efforts to teach them how they could learn to enjoy Liam, invalidating the true inner feelings of Liam’s non-enthusiasts.
- Were incapable of grasping, on any level, the reality that the best thing for Liam was that he and anyone who did not enjoy him should not be caused to mingle without urgent need.
- Without knowing or caring how many Liam-like children an individual had helped or been kind to in the past (in spite of the ick factor), condemned that individual simply for trying to avoid Liam and his smells and secretions.
Liam is a typical dog. The above is how this particular dog-phobe experiences him. Thus:
- I grasp that you love your dog, and perhaps all dogs.
- I grasp that s/he is a family member. I do not understand it, but I do not expect you to justify the logic. I accept it without debate, partly because I know it’s how you feel, and partly because I hope you will not reiterate it to me one more time. You do not need to. It is understood, not questioned.
- I grasp that, to you, your dog is not dangerous, but is loving.
- I grasp that you find failure to love dogs inconceivable.
- I grasp that you think your dog is the special exception whose pure love and goodness can convert me.
- I grasp that you think the cure is for me to change.
- I grasp that you wish to help me change, so that I too can adore dogs.
- I do not want to change how I feel.
- It has gotten more pronounced over my lifetime.
- I do not ask you to change how you feel, either.
- The #1 thing that made it worse was uncomprehending dog owners who pushed dogs on me, or treated me unkindly, as if somehow my standpoint were fundamentally wrong and bad.
- If that had never happened, so many times, who knows what might have happened to my perspective. But it did, over and over, adding conditioning and accumulated frustration to a fundamental aversion. It was cumulative.
- Yes, my wife has dogs. I treat them humanely and endure them in my home. If you are absorbing this, you probably grasp that this is a supreme manifestation of my adoration for her.
- I do not want your dog to suffer. If someone were harming your dog for no reason, I would stop them. If your dog got loose, and wandered onto my property, and I recognized it as your dog, I would make sure it was safe, and you got it back safe and sound.
- I do not blame your dog for being a dog.
- I am only trying to put distance between me and the dog.
- I accept that this is not 100% possible.
- When it is not possible, I try very hard to maintain.
- Considering how I feel, that requires enormous discipline on my part.
- If I am visibly uncomfortable, I would be grateful for your understanding and patience.
- If I can maintain when I feel like most people would feel if someone threw a used diaper at them, I hope that you look on the positive side and see me as trying very, very hard to meet the situation more than halfway.
- I accept that my aversion does not constitute urgency or requirement on your part.
- I would value your kindness and understanding.
- If I can humanely avoid your dog, and you can accept that I wish to without deciding to hate me, then we have a good understanding.
That’s all I want: the right to back away, to gently detour the dog with a foot, to avoid the feeling of being grossed out. And not to be judged a bad person, or someone in need of dog immersion therapy, which is the attitude that got me to this stage.
One dog owner once told me she felt very sorry for me, because there was a wondrous love and joy I’d never know. Fair enough, from her perspective. I love Stilton cheese, but if the fact that it smells like slippers worn too often with bare feet revolts you, also fair enough. I won’t pressure you to eat it.
After all, it smells like slippers worn too often with bare feet.