Not many people know this about me, but I used to be TERRIFIED of dogs. And I even still have a little bit of anxiety around big dogs, at times.
This irrational dog-fear started when I was four years old. I watched my baby brother (2 years old at the time) get the side of his face practically ripped off by a big dog who was roaming around my grandma’s neighborhood unleashed (don’t even get me started on unleashed dogs and irresponsible pet owners!).
My brother liked dogs and thought it would be fun to go over and pet the dog and say hi. I, on the other hand, was scared. So I hid behind the hill on the other side of my grandma’s driveway as my brother bravely went over to say hi to the dog.
Not even a minute later, the dog growled, my brother screamed and blood started gushing everywhere. The dog had bit him, right on the temple, practically ripping off the side of his face.
My dad was inside my grandma’s house putting up her blinds when he heard what happened, literally dropped the blinds on the ground and ran out to grab my brother. Then we rushed him to the ER.
It was extremely traumatic for my brother, of course (and he got $10k out of the settlement). But it was also extremely traumatic for me to have watched it happen.
I was already uneasy around dogs I didn’t know, and now I had a totally irrational fear of every dog, even the small ones.
I carried that fear with me my entire life, until 2008, when I decided that the best way to get over a fear is to face it head-on. Plus, I’d seen Actress, Blake Lively, holding the cutest little dog in a photo. And I figured anything that small and cute couldn’t possibly be scary.
So I started looking for breeders who bred Red Toy Poodles, which is the kind of dog I wanted (small, gorgeous color and, best of all, doesn’t shed!).
It took me almost a year of searching before I finally found a breeder–who ended up living right down the street from me–that had a dog with a litter of red Toy Poodles on the way (I totally manifested that one!). I was excited to have found her, and I immediately told her if she gets a boy in the litter that I wanted him.
A couple weeks later, I was out in California for my friend’s wedding when I sent an email to the breeder and asked if the dogs had been born yet. She replied back and said they were just born that morning: two girls and one boy.
My boy had finally come into the world. I couldn’t wait to meet him and have the chance to hold him and make him ours.
About four weeks later my hubs and I went to visit the puppies and see the one who was to become our boy. When we arrived at the breeder’s house, she brought out this teeny, tiny little thing that literally fit in the palm of my hand.
He was by far the cutest dog I had ever seen in my life. But Joe (my hubs) wasn’t totally convinced. He didn’t know if he wanted a small dog, he preferred big dogs.
But once that little baby was in my hands, I passed him over to Joe and immediately the puppy licked his hand. Immediately he fell as in love with him as I already was.
We looked at each other and we just knew: this is our boy.
So I paid the breeder and four weeks later we got to come back and pick up our red Toy Poodle baby.
At that point I thought I had the dog fear under control. I mean, how could I be afraid of something so tiny and cute?
The first day was great. He peed and pooped all over my house, but he was adorable and fun. And he slept through the whole first night–eight full hours–without so much as a peep. I was proud of him; we got the pick of the litter.
But even though he slept, I hadn’t slept. I was too afraid that he’d pee all over my room while I was sleeping or that he’d wander down the hall and chew on something he shouldn’t or I don’t really know what I was afraid of, but I just couldn’t sleep. I kept waking up every hour to check on him.
Needless to say, in the morning when he made me get up, much earlier than I usually would, I was exhausted. But, still, I was doing OK.
We watched some Rachel Ray, played with an empty Coke can box (his choice!) and had ourselves a fun day. Until later that night when it was time to go to bed again.
This time, we made the mistake of switching his sleeping spot. The first night he slept in his bed on the floor on my side of the bed. But the next night, we put him on Joe’s side.
Total disaster. He cried all night long, kept waking up and peeing all over the place, and I didn’t sleep at all.
Another thing you may not know about me is I can’t function without sleep. I get anxiety and panic attacks when I’m not sleeping enough. And for those two nights I’d had a combined maybe two or three hours of sleep.
I was a mess. I was exhausted. My chest felt heavy and I was overly emotional (all products of me not sleeping).
And the dog was driving me crazy–peeing everywhere and now he was starting to bite, which was giving me more anxiety because it was flashing me back to age 4 when my brother got mangled by that dog.
I literally fell on the floor and started bawling. I didn’t know what else to do. I hadn’t missed that much sleep since the partying days of my early 20s. I felt like I was losing my mind.
The fear of not being able to handle this, of not being able to properly take care of or raise this dog, was weighing down on me. And the not sleeping was making it all worse.
I was so afraid at that point, I actually considered putting him on Craig’s List and selling him to someone else. (I may have even written an ad and posted it…)
But then something happened.
I was sitting on the floor, exhausted and bawling, unable to handle this little ball of fur and energy that was romping around my living room. Fat tears were rolling down my cheeks and I was hyperventilation-breathing.
I couldn’t handle this. The stress, the fear, the not sleeping, it was all too much for me. (I’d make a terrible human-baby mother! HA!)
And that’s when that little baby came walking over to me. He climbed up on my leg and then he just sat there and stared up at me. He was looking right at me, just noticing what was going on. His little eyes were peering into mine, almost to say, “what’s wrong, mom? Can I help?”
In that moment, it hit me. No matter how afraid I am or how stressed out or lacking in sleep I was, we were a family now. He was mine, forever. And in that moment I decided that no matter what happened or how bad it got or how afraid I might be, he was mine and I would never, ever let him go.
So I took the ad down and then I called my dad–a serious dog-lover–for some advice. He told me to make the dog sleep in his pen next to my bed, that way he was close by, but still protected and not able to roam around.
With him in a closed pen that he was unable to get out of on his own, I was safe to sleep without having to worry.
From that day forward, everything was fine.
I handled it. Even when his biting got much worse (until we eventually trained it out of him).
I had faced my fear head-on and came out the victor.
And even though I still have a little but of anxiety around big dogs, I’m now totally cool with small and medium-sized dogs. Even big dogs I see in a whole new way now.
Now when I look at a dog, I don’t feel fear and I don’t see an evil creature who’s out to cause harm (which is what I used to see). Now I see loving, happy souls who are just so glad to be there.
By facing my fear head-on, I was able to dissolve it. AND I ended up with the best fucking dog on the planet. I couldn’t love him any more if he was a human-baby that I gave birth to.
He is the only son I’ll ever need.
I’m so proud of myself. Not just for raising such a good dog, but also because I faced my fear. I didn’t let it hold me back from experiencing the unconditional love and acceptance that comes with owning a dog.
Today I can’t even imagine that I was ever afraid of dogs OR that I ever didn’t have this poodle in my life. It feels like he’s been with me forever, even though it’s only been eight years.
I can’t imagine life without him.
That’s the cool thing about facing your fears–even the really scary ones; not only do you get amazing lessons that totally change your life, but you also end up feeling insanely blessed and with a gift you didn’t even know would be one.
Weiland is by far the best way I’ve challenged myself in my life. And now I get to spend all day, every day with my little doggie-soulmate.
Life doesn’t get much better than that.
What fears do you have that are holding you back in your life? Which ones can you face head-on to not only dissolve them, but to bring yourself into a whole new space of experience and understanding?
I promise you, when you face your fears head-on, whatever they may be, you’ll be rewarded in ways you can’t even begin to imagine right now.
Dream life or bust,