26: Saved by the Dog

26: Saved by the Dog

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

Saved by the Dog

Fun fact: Small dogs like Chihuahuas, Maltese and Shih Tzus are often referred to as “toy dogs.”

I’d always been an intense neat freak. When people wanted to enter my room, I would force them to wash their hands and put on hand sanitizer. Oh, and my famous book problem: I had started my own little library and I love books, but I wasn’t very good about sharing them. If my brother asked to borrow a book, I’d have him wash his hands four times and put on my favorite lotion. Also, I prohibited food around my books because I didn’t want crumbs stuck between book pages.

When my friends came over, I wouldn’t let them in my room because I didn’t know what they had touched before coming over. Eventually, I prohibited everyone from entering my room. I took many showers and constantly washed my hands.

I wouldn’t play with my brother because he was “dirty.” My mom said my obsession with cleanliness was abnormal. My dad just shook his head and said it would pass. But it didn’t pass. I was caught in my own little world, terrified of the myriad bacteria around me.

Then, after two years of this, along came Teeny, a Chihuahua–Shih Tzu mix with a lovely coat of black, velvety fur, as well as white paws and a white nose. She was playful, energetic and adorable. On the one hand, I was extremely happy, but on the other, I was horrified and disgusted. A dog was a bacteria machine, always slobbering and shedding. Whenever Teeny started licking me, I’d panic and get mad. She was covering me with bacteria! I loved petting her, but I taught her not to kiss me, even though she found that confusing as no one else prohibited it.

We brought Teeny along with us to my aunt’s house for her first Thanksgiving. She jumped all over my aunt’s family with kisses and joy. I was jealous of the affection that Teeny was giving my cousins, and jealous of her playfulness around them. Teeny jumped and played with my cousins more in one evening than she ever had with me. That evening was a long one, and I remember every little bit of it.

After that Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to retrain Teeny. I tried everything. I sat down on my knees and begged her to come to me. I held treats on my lap hoping she would sit there. I even imitated my cousin’s voice calling for her. At first, Teeny hesitated, but slowly she started paying more attention to me, and the feeling of acceptance was beyond amazing. Little by little, Teeny started becoming more comfortable with me. I realized she had been scared of me.

I stopped thinking of Teeny as a “bacteria machine” and realized that she was a true treasure. It took a while, but my obsession with cleanliness disappeared.

I hadn’t realized how mean and rude I must have been to my mom, dad and brother. I felt so guilty. What kind of daughter was I? How could a big sister be so mean? What kind of friend wouldn’t let her friends into her room? What did my parents think of me? I wondered how I could show them I no longer cared about bacteria and dirt.

I decided to act as I did with my dog. Little by little, I grew more and more open-minded with my family. I no longer complained when they entered my room. I made no more remarks about washing hands or using hand sanitizer. My mother no longer commented on my “mental illness,” and my brother and I built a great brother-sister relationship. My father, in his corner, even smiled at the progress I made.

Teeny taught me a valuable lesson about acceptance. By reaching out to her, I overcame my obsession and learned how to reach out to everyone who matters in my life.

~Laura Yoon

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