According to family legend, my mother took me for a walk in my stroller on one of those dog days of summer–high humidity, flopping flowers, lackadaisical leaves. I was happily singing along with the birds when a neighbor’s demonic dog rushed my stroller and tried to Eskimo-kiss me with its snout. I screamed, the dog howled, and thus began my lifelong fear of all furry, four-legged Fidos.
Sadly, I allowed that fear to extend to other parts of my life and to affect my health. As a child, I would wake up gasping for breath. As an adult, I developed full-blown panic attacks–the kind that so closely mimic a heart attack that I would camp out in emergency rooms, convinced I was inhaling my final breath.
Then, while tutoring a new student, I met Maggie–an 11-pound Yorkie Tzu and a therapy dog. Something about Maggie–it might have been her quiet demeanor or the kindness emanating from her velvety brown eyes–motivated me to get to know her better. One day, when I arrived at her house feeling dog-tired and consumed with angst, Maggie trotted toward me and stared at me as if trying to communicate her understanding of my physical exhaustion and mental/emotional anguish. She then circled me once, lay down on her back, placed her front paws over her head, and silently begged me to rub her tummy. With a courage I did not know I possessed, I did. Maggie rewarded me with a smile and a lick of my hand.
I am not naïve enough to suggest that Maggie can solve the physical and emotional problems that still plague me, but I do know that the time I spend with her soothes me in a way that my iPod, elliptical, and favorite books cannot. Maggie’s trust in me leaves me no choice but to trust myself; her devotion motivates me to put aside my doubts and demons in order to take care of her–and to venture outside my very narrow comfort zone. I am a master at turning molehills into mountains, but with a lick of her tongue and a wag of her tail, Maggie helps me find hope in despair.
Thanks to Maggie, I now allow myself to bury my fears and to believe that I can cope with the pain of loneliness, old age, and a chronic jaw condition.