90: The Wisest Woman in the World

90: The Wisest Woman in the World

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

The Wisest Woman in the World

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.

~Ben Williams

The September I entered first grade, I’d just lost my beloved friend and companion of two years, our neighbor’s English Bulldog named Duke. He had died from heat stroke during an extremely hot summer’s day. The delightful, new experiences of school helped eased the sting of his passing somewhat.

Then one day not long after school started, I was walking home when a black Cocker Spaniel darted out of a yard near the corner of our street. I stopped and turned to him, and saw a side of dogs I’d never experienced. Growling and barring his teeth, he began to circle me.

Startled but deciding this dog simply didn’t want to become my friend, I once more started for home. The moment my back was turned, he seized my ankle. His teeth locked into my flesh.

I screamed and kicked, and he released me. Shrieking, I ran toward home, the black curly ball in hot pursuit. Just before I reached our drive, he gave up and set off at a gallop back up the street.

Bursting into the house, so incoherent that for a few moments my mother couldn’t understand what had caused my bloody ankle, I fell into her arms and sobbed.

Later, with my wounds cleaned and bandaged, I told her the story. “He bit me, Mommy. He grabbed me and it hurt.” By then my words reflected more my sense of betrayal than pain or fear. One of the creatures I loved most in the world had attacked me, had caused me pain for no reason. “I’ll never, never trust another dog as long as I live.”

“Never is a long time, sweetie.” My mother stroked my braids. “And that was only one dog. You can’t judge them all by one that made a mistake.”

I presume my mother must have called the Spaniel’s owners, because from that day on, the dog, Robin, was tied in their back yard whenever I passed on my way to or from school. I was still afraid though. What if the rope broke? What if he came after me again? I dreaded passing that house.

I must have had nightmares about the incident because I recall my mother gently waking me to tell me it was all right, that Robin was safely tied up at his house.

But the trauma only worsened. I refused to visit my grandfather on his farm because he had a St. Bernard/Collie mix named Buster, whom I’d formerly loved and couldn’t wait to see each Sunday afternoon.

My fear grew so debilitating that my mother had to walk with me past the dreaded corner house each morning and meet me before I came to it each afternoon. My days in school were haunted by a black horror named Robin. I couldn’t concentrate. My teacher contacted my mother.

“Gail, you have to get over this fear,” she said the following afternoon as we walked home from school together. “You remember my friend Emma who lives two houses beyond Robin’s?”

I nodded, dread already rising. Where was this conversation going?

“She has a lovely black Lab named Chips.” I tightened my grip on her hand. “She’s invited us to stop by this afternoon and meet him.”

“No, no, Mommy, please no!” I stopped and stared up at her, begging with all my heart and soul. “I hate dogs. They’re bad. They want to hurt me!”

“Not Chips.” My mother smiled gently down at me. “I promise. Have I ever broken a promise to you?”

“No…”

“Then trust me now. You know I’d never take my darling girl anywhere she might be hurt, don’t you?”

I hesitated, then slowly nodded.

“Good. Let’s go. Emma said something about baking sugar cookies this afternoon.”

Moments later we stood on Emma’s front step. My heart was pounding as my mother rang the bell. Footsteps approached, the door opened, and there stood Emma with a big black dog slowly wagging his tail by her side. Sweat broke out over my body.

“Opal, Gail, how lovely. Come in, come in. I’m just taking the last batch of cookies from the oven. Chips, sit.”

Obediently, the big dog dropped to his haunches and sat watching us, tongue lolling out of his mouth in what probably was a canine grin but which I only saw as fang baring.

“Hello, Chips,” my mother said. To my surprise he raised his right front paw. As my mother laughingly accepted the greeting, my breath caught in my throat. He was going to bite her. I wanted to lunge forward to save her but I was frozen by fear. A moment later we headed down the hall with Chips following at a respectful distance, tail still slowly wagging.

We sat in the kitchen. I had milk and cookies while my mother and her friend drank tea and chatted. Chips lay on the floor leaning against the back door. Our gazes met. His tail beat faster and his mouth opened wider. Could it be he was smiling, the way Duke used to? But Duke’s mouth was wider and his teeth were all crooked and funny looking. This dog had big, straight, white fangs. But he did appear to be friendly. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad dog after all.

I slid off the chair and stood staring at him. His tail wagged just a notch faster but not too fast. Not like he was getting excited or ready to rush at me. I took a step closer. He remained lying by the door, watching me. I took another step and held out my hand. Chips hesitated, then eased forward to sniff. When I managed to hold fast, he licked it.

My terror melted. I sat down beside him on the floor and offered the last of the cookie I held in my hand. He took it with such gentleness that I’ve never forgotten the touch of his soft, wet muzzle on my fingers.

Only then did I realize that Emma and my mother had stopped talking and were watching us. “Chips is a good dog, Mommy.” I stroked the soft fur. “A really good dog.”

“I know, sweetie, I know.” She smiled.

My love of canines was restored. At that moment I believed her to be the wisest woman in the world.

These days, with four dog books (two of them award-winners) to my credit and a lifetime of wonderful canine associations behind me and continuing, I give thanks to my mother for her clever insight. She saved me from crippling fear and from losing out on all the wonderful opportunities dogs have given me throughout my life.

~Gail MacMillan

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