The two most vivid memories I have of the day I changed my mind about dogs are related to smell and touch. I remember the smell of the dog that attacked me. It was not the stereotypical dirty wet smell, even though the dog in question was an outdoor dog and the day was hot and humid. It was a warm, dry, musty smell, almost like a room that hasn’t been opened in years and where the curtains had been left open. The touch is actually three sensations: the two feelings of the dog’s fur and its rough paws as it stood up on its hind legs and backed me into a corner and the unforgettable feeling of the dog’s teeth as they sank into my wrist. It was in that moment that my mind changed forever about dogs.
Until that terrifying afternoon I had actually wanted a dog. I had several cousins who had dogs that I enjoyed playing. They were friendly and seldom barked. One cousin had a cocker spaniel like Lady from “Lady and the Tramp” that was named Lady because of that. She was a sweet, nervous dog. Another cousin had a real bloodhound with the wrinkly jowls and liquid eyes. That cousin had named his dog Pluto after Mickey Mouse’s friend. Pluto was a big dog compared to me at that age. I was around 6 or 7 and kind of small for my age. But I was never afraid of my cousins’ dogs. In fact, it was because of their sweet-tempered and playful dogs that I wanted one.
I begged my parents for a dog. They said no; before they’d had me they’d owned an old pug imaginatively named Mr. Pugsly. My mother said it had been difficult to care for Mr. Pugsly between their work schedules, and the care, feeding, and walking of a dog was not something that could be left to a small, bony 6-year-old. I finally gave up asking when I made friends with the kids across the street. They had a white dog who was some kind of shepherd mutt; it had longish white fur and the insistent bark of a dog whose genetic history was imprinted with the herding of animals. I was thrilled until the kids told me the dog was bad-tempered and I should never go in the backyard without one of them.
I could not believe that the dog was bad-tempered. The only bad dog I had ever encountered was in a movie – the title character of Stephen King’s movie “Cujo.” But that was only a movie, right? WRONG. I made the mistake of going in the backyard one afternoon to play with their dog without them. That’s when I found myself backed into corner and pinned by a vicious dog that was taller than me when it stood up. And that was the day I changed my mind about dogs.