My grandmother and cult leader raised me to hate men and dogs, as she did. It was easy enough to discount dogs, but I objected to the way she took out her hatred of men on my boy cousin and brother, both children. I resolved not to be like her.
At eight I began a support group for girls 7-9 who’d been sexually abused by teen boys and grown men. I still thought they were the bad apples , the rare exceptions.
At 14 I met my first friend who’d been seriously attacked by a dog. I knew her well after, when she was still getting plastic surgery to hide the scars on her face. By that point I knew dozens with scars from sexual assault.
I dated and dated and dated boys, even as the offender list stacked up. I’d go to therapy for domestic violence only to have my therapists consistently put “trusting men again” as a goal.
The last five men I dated abused me, including the father of my child who I’d married. But my therapists wanted me to trust men anyway, and considered doing so a sign of healing.
For all that this culture loves dogs, no one pathologized me for not wanting to welcome one into my life and take on all the expenses and responsibilities involved. You know. The way everybody did if I tried to take so much as a breather between abusive men.
I came to appreciate dogs in my own time. First online pictures, where a dog’s bad behavior couldn’t hurt me. Then in person. My son wants to greet every dog, so I’ve taught him the safety rules: how to ask permission, how to approach the dog, and what the dog’s body language communicates.
There are no rules that work so consistently to keep girls and women safe from men.
After a few years of greeting every dog we see, I’ve learned that the ratio of good, friendly, safe dogs is much higher than I’d assumed. Now I love dogs, though I still don’t want to share my home with one or be tasked with cleaning up after one.
If I see a doggy while I’m out and about, I will say hi and smile to the dog before acknowledging their human. I feel like I can probably trust dogs and most of my interactions with them are positive.
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