But when you have a son who is afraid of them—or believes he is afraid of them—you start to view the sidewalks and the beaches and the parks of America as hostile territory. And you view owners of those dogs as who to blame.
We could tell that he wanted to like them. When he met a dog who was too old (or blind) to bark at him, or to make a sudden movement, he would follow it around with fascination, trying out scripts he’d learned about how to talk to dogs.
But typically when he spotted one, whenever we were walking—even if it were on a leash, on the opposite side of the street—he would cry out, and duck behind my legs in fright.
“It’s a nice dog,” we would tell him.
“It’s a quiet dog,” we’d say.
But still he’d shout, and hide, or bolt away.
He stopped visiting our neighbor’s house a year ago. The boy he’d grown up with on our block, the house whose door was always open to him, since he was two years old. Because they bought a black lab pup. An energetic, unselfconscious, large-enough-to-knock-you-over “puppy”. Who’s gotten bigger over time but no less joyful.
For months he tried to like the black lab puppy, until he couldn’t keep pretending that it didn’t scare him witless.
And then Olive’s human Donna came for dinner Saturday night.
Donna told him that Olive was in her car, and that she could stay in the car. And that if he said it was okay for her to come inside, he could change his mind, and she could go out to the car again.
She told him Olive was a quiet dog, and not too excited, except that she liked children, so when she met him might feel a little bit excited.
He told Donna he felt nervous. She told him that was okay.
He told Donna he felt scared she might go to the bathroom in our house. She explained that when Olive needed to go she would go scritch-scratch on the door to say she needed a walk.
So he said it was okay for Olive to come inside our house.
And he held out his hand to her.
And he whistled for her to come.
And he got close to her to pet her.
And he took her for a walk.
And he picked her up and carried her through the house, describing each room they entered as if he were her tour guide.
And then, true to form, he let her rouse him from a chloroform-induced unconsciousness.
And he had her chew through ropes that bound his wrists.
And he had her join him in a photoshoot for the cover of his DVD.
I could credit The Adventures of Tintin (the movie, the videogame, the comics) with helping him to imagine a world in which a dog could be his friend.
And then I see these photos and I start to cry again, and I remember—just like last time—that I need to credit him.
For deciding for himself that his fears and his failures do not get the final word.