In grade 3, my primary school arranged for us to visit the police academy.
It was a wonderful trip filled with many events, including the mounted police demonstrating their horseback maneuvers and, the one that stuck with me, the canine team.
The demonstrations took place on a patch of land that was set up to look like a street setting. The police dogs were so well-behaved and would help locate some hidden items under boxes and in trash cans.
Then came the part that wowed the crowd. One policeman dressed up as an assailant attacked the dog’s owner with a knife. The dog jumped up in the air, bit the attacker’s arm, and brought him begging to the ground.
The actor playing the criminal had a very obviously padded arm, but we didn’t care that we could tell it’s an act. The drama and viciousness of the canine were enough for us nine-year-olds.
Little did I realize how that day would change me for decades.
It happened very gradually. I started exhibiting small signs of fear around dogs. At first, I would just be around them without touching them. Then it got to where I would be extremely afraid of any dog within eyesight.
Then, as I grew older and could analyze my internal dialogue, I discovered a teeny tiny belief that I had acquired at the police academy years back: I was convinced that the police used dogs because dogs can smell your guilt. They just know when you’ve done something wrong.
This lasted with me for two decades. They say opposites attract but my ex-wife was also afraid of dogs. And she had it way worse than me. A real phobia.
One day in 2010, we were walking into a supermarket in Spain. Outside the supermarket a giant dog was chained to a pole while its owner shopped inside.
My ex-wife was paralyzed with fear. She couldn’t walk past the dog into the supermarket. So I told her I would hold the dog while she went inside. I approached the dog and, with trembling hands, started to pet its head. “You’re gonna be fine,” I reassured myself.
Nothing happened. The dog couldn’t smell my guilt (and by then I had done so many bad things in my life).
From that day onwards, I would continue to place myself between my ex-wife and dogs everywhere, or distract them while she passed by. Over the next couple of years, I got over my fear of dogs.
I guess you can fake it till you make it.
Also, could teachers please take better care around children’s imaginations?!