I don’t hate dogs. But ours is one of the 56% of American households without one. You’d never know we were in the majority, we non-dog-owners, as we are surrounded by dog homes in my neighborhood. I have nothing against dogs per se, it’s just that my husband is very allergic to them, I am a little allergic to them, and I am also not interested in cohabitating with a furry animal that sheds hair onto the butter.
My ten-year-old son has been bitten three times (that I know of) by our next door neighbor’s dog. The bites happened when he was about 4 or 5, then again at 6 or 7, and most recently, last year. Because of these interactions, he is afraid of dogs. When they come barking and jumping at him, he does the one instinctual thing he knows, which is ironically the one thing you are NOT supposed to do, he runs. And so dogs chase him. It sounds funny I am sure, but he is absolutely terrified.
It happened again this week. A couple of tiny dogs got loose at a neighbor’s house and my son bolted. They chased him all the way around the block to our house until he jumped up onto the bed of his Dad’s pickup truck. As humorous as this scene sounds, imagine the humility a ten year old must feel, to be running, terrified, of two objects no bigger than footballs, at his feet. But the fear is real. The bite memory is raw. And the humility, I am guessing, is overwhelming.
He’s so ashamed of his fear he can’t even talk to me about it when he comes inside. He runs into the playroom and punches a mat until he breaks the skin and bruises a knuckle. That’s embarrassment, for being afraid. I take responsibility for teaching him to freely feel his feelings without judgment. And, I take responsibility for teaching him how to deal with dogs, and his Dad and I do both. But pardon me if I don’t feel this job is solely ours.
I share responsibility with the owner of the dog that’s bitten my child. This situation is tough. We like this family a lot and the children are my son’s favorite friends. You’d think being neighbors on real good terms would make this conversation easier. It’s not. I had avoided having it, and that’s on me. Now, I realize I have to have it.
So for now, my son’s knuckles are healing, though I am sure his ego is still a little bruised. I told him it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t feel ashamed. We reminded him not to run next time. We’ll see whether that works.