I have cynophobia, which reportedly affects 1 in 20 people. For those who do not know what it means or do not want to acknowledge it, cynophobia is the crippling fear of dogs and is a classified form of animal phobia. And it’s time dog-lovers stop trivializing our fears.
The extreme fear of dogs is just like the fear of spiders, cockroaches, lions or any other animal for that matter.
Cynophobia has extreme symptoms such as a rapid increase in heart rate, trouble breathing, anxiety, tightness in the chest and a feeling of terror, like your life could just end the very minute when you come in close proximity to a dog.
But when you tell people who love dogs that you are scared of them, they are not only condescending in their tone toward you but also ridicule your reasoning.
“Don’t do this drama, it is just a dog”, that’s the most common taunt I have heard. I know that ‘It’s not a lion, it’s just a dog’, but I am still scared of it. My fear may not match your standards of things that should instill fear, but it is real.
Tyranny of dog lovers
Dog lovers’ constant rebuke is suffocating and frustrating for people like me. Being comfortable with dogs must be a beautiful feeling, but one must learn to be compassionate with people who have a hard time dealing with the fear.
The everyday life of a dog-fearing person is already difficult, and the lack of understanding only makes it worse. I keep a check if there are any neighbourhood dogs around whenever I step out of my home. Before I walk down my lane after work, after 10 pm, I take a deep breath and pray that the dogs don’t come after me.
Stop looking at us like we are animal haters
When I say “I am scared of dogs”, I don’t mean “I hate dogs”. Please understand the difference.
Whenever I visit someone who has a dog and I ask them to leash their pet, they often hit back at me with statements like, “He won’t do anything, he is a poor little creature” or “Come on, don’t treat him like that”. I can’t begin to explain how horrible these snide remarks make me feel. Don’t call me an emotionless person just because I asked you to leash a dog or not call on strays when I am around.
Dog owners and dog lovers need to learn how to distinguish between animal haters and people who fear them. I don’t pet or play with dogs, but this doesn’t mean that I promote animal cruelty.
At a friend’s birthday party, I remember how every ‘dog loving’ guest lectured me on how dogs are loyal and loving and how cruel I am for not giving them attention. Now this dog was barking its lungs out, had bitten around 20 people so far and almost everyday leaves its tooth mark on the owner’s body, even for things like giving him a bath (the owner told me this). I asked my friend to accompany me to the washroom and when the dog ran after me, I shuddered, to which she said: “You won’t die if he bites you”. I was pained. Do I really need to get bitten by a dog to prove that I am not an animal hater?
In fact, when I move away from strays, people around me get unnecessarily emotional as if I have violated ‘animal rights’ and pass remarks such as: “How can she behave like this, it’s just an animal!” or “Don’t be mean to animals, they are cute”. I am not advocating brutality against them like the movement in Kerala where people killed stray dogs to ensure public safety or like in Uttar Pradesh where villagers in Sitapur district killed street dogs in retaliation to children dying from dog attacks.
I am not cruel, I even like to see, watch and admire dogs from a distance. But you as a dog lover, surely your empathy should extend to us too.
Note to dog owners
Dog owners consider their pets as their children. But when you don’t impose your children on our guests or force them to love and play them, then why impose the dog? When you can see that I am petrified of your dog, isn’t it too much to ask me to let it sniff and lick me for a few minutes?
What’s worse, the pet is sometimes an ultra-friendly dog and pounces on you the moment you enter. Shouldn’t the dog owner take responsibility? Stop telling us things such as “Pet him, he will be fine, he will like you”. I can’t just pet your dog when my anxiety has just shot up. You don’t ask me to pet your baby, do you? And then they even say: “Dogs can sense your heartbeat, don’t react like that!” You can’t control the dog, you can’t keep it at a distance, but you want me to control my fear?
A dog owner might be right about “he doesn’t bite” 90 per cent of the time, but this doesn’t make my situation better.
Dog lovers without responsibility
The most radical dog lovers are the stray dog lovers. Now, if you ever ask them to not feed the strays near your home or office, they react so badly. They are serious animal rights activists and they pour scorn on you. Surely, it won’t make any difference if you feed the stray dogs a few feet away where there are no people.
Most of these ‘dog lovers’ do not take any responsibility for stray dogs apart from just feeding them leftovers. They don’t neuter them or even vaccinate them.
Forget strays, in India, dog owners don’t even think it is their job to pick up the poop from the streets and parks when they take their pets out on a walk.