There are only two conditions that cause me to become naked in public. One of those is my daughter, Claire, who has no inkling of what I go through to keep myself decent when she is around, and the other is the introduction of someone’s small, furry dog. The combination of the two is highly embarassing. It is also very difficult to wrestle my skirt back down over my head while trying to pry Claire’s foot out of my mouth as she desperately clambers up my body in an attempt to escape what she considers is certain death.
Julie, being visually impaired, has never had any exposure to pets other than the sensations of soft, warm, and furry. She’s heard us yelling at goats trying to eat her wheelchair, deer trying to consume her science projects, and seagulls divebombing her sandwich … but has considered this a wonderful joke. When she was younger she happily experienced hippotherapy (believe it or not, this involves horses not hippos) and has a soft spot for dogs. Unlike her calm, collected older sister, Claire’s relationship to canines is tentative at best. I have assisted her to overcome her fears – mostly in a gentle way – but have failed miserably! After all, she’s still scared of dogs. I’ve tried almost every technique I could think of, including persuasion, rational emotive therapy, and a Rogerian approach whereby I encouraged her to “just talk” about her fears. The only technique I haven’t tried is “flooding.” I will describe flooding for those of you who have never taken Cognitive Psychology, but please, please send all children out of the room while you read – it’s nasty and you may scar them for life …. are they gone? … here goes …
If, for example, you’re using flooding to cure someone who is arachnophobic, then your goal is to expose that individual to spiders. You may start off with introductory visualization exercises – ie., “Picture a spider on the opposite end of the football field.” Eventually, though, you may progress to locking that poor harmless innocent in a room with hundreds of spiders until she calms down enough to realize that she is still alive. (Honestly, though – do you think a person would appreciate this type of therapy?????) If I were locked in a room full of spiders I’m sure I would say a lot of things I would later regret. I might even fake a heart attack to teach that nasty therapist a lesson!
Strangely enough, Claire’s fear extends to dogs but not to other animals. She is the self-proclaimed “guardian” of the garden, watching vigorously for errant squirrels, crows, racoon, and deer. Fortunately for our little animal-lover, we live in Crazy Camera, Canada – which is teeming with wildlife. Today, alone, Claire managed to stalk a squirrel, “rescued” five slugs from her murderous mater, and stood sadly by the grave-site she had built for “Alice” – a young squirrel who had died in a windstorm. (I’m rather glad Alice is still there, actually, as she wanted to dig her up to show to a friend last week). Claire is also the “protector” of Julie’s strawberry and tomato plants. Bounding up the rocks yesterday and screaming the blood-curdling scream of a five-year-old banshee, she charged an adolescent stag at full tilt in order to save Julie’s greenery. She was completely oblivious to the fact that this badly-behaved beast sported adult-size antlers. Apparently he was too, judging by the expeditious rate at which he turned and bolted!
While Claire may not appreciate canines, she is very aware of the wildlife around her and our role as protectors of the environment. For Claire, this fragile balance was never more obvious than this weekend when we went for lunch at an outdoor beach cafe. She watched impatiently while crows and seagulls dive-bombed our platters of saturated fat and then decided to chase them away. After running around and screaming, “Caw! Caw!” at the top of her voice she managed to scare all the crows and seagulls for miles. She soon realized that she had made a big mistake – birds are much more interesting than going for lunch on the beach yet again! For the next ten minutes we were relegated to the sight of Claire running round and around in a circle, waving her arm in the air and trying to tempt the birds back with a large, crispy onion ring!
As a parent I find it difficult to understand why a child would be comfortable with most animals and be terrified of dogs. I suspect that because we warned Claire at a young age to be careful of strange dogs that she may have mistakenly assumed all dogs were vicious. Julie, being confined to a wheelchair, received no lessons in fear as she was unlikely to run after any little dogs with the intent of pulling their fur. Our lives aren’t exactly fraught with danger at every turn (ok … I’ll admit we sometimes have cougar sightings in amongst our picturesque rose bushes), but we often feel the need to protect our kids from their natural inclination to explore and experience. Unfortunately for me, I will now have to “undo” the damage that has been done – which means that our future might well contain leashes, walks with Daisy-belle, and pooper scoopers. Until then I will have to embark on my obligatory duty to protect Claire from all public beaches, parks, playgrounds, friends houses, schoolyards, tv shows, and internet sites that have been exposed to snarling coal-eyed canines!
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