So, pets. In a nutshell: I am afraid of them. Very afraid, which is difficult for several reasons, the first being that there are ANIMALS EVERYWHERE. My backyard butts up against a patch of woods; at any moment you might turn around to find a bunny sizing you up from across the lawn. There are the hamsters in elementary school classrooms, the petting zoos, the friend’s new puppy. The neighbor who doesn’t like leashes. Pigeons. I am telling you it is a minefield out there for people like me, and animal lovers will never truly understand it.
And I mean, they really don’t. Some go so far as to hate me, if not blatantly and outright, then at least covertly and on the internet. In their minds, “she is afraid of animals” gets translated to “she hates animals,” and from there it’s only a small leap to “she is a cold and heartless individual with no love for anything adorable.” This is not me being paranoid. I submit as evidence Exhibit A:
And Exhibit B:
In the haters’ defense, I guess it does seem kind of weird to be like, “Back the fuck off with your precious fluffy kitten!” But, I don’t know. I am forty-four years old and it is what it is, at this point.
Which I guess is what I really need to tell the rest of the pet owners out there. Not the ones who know me well enough to just deal with me, and not the ones who hate me. I speak here of the ones who believe they can cure my fear in much the same way as those Christian Fundamentalists aim to “cure” homosexuality. Following are some of the things they might say, with the best of intentions but always, always with the worst of results.
“He won’t hurt you.” It is as if these words get scrambled on their way into my brain, so that what I actually hear is, “He hasn’t bitten or viciously mauled anyone yet today.” I mean, look up the word “animal” on thesaurus.com. Some synonyms: beastly, brute, feral, wild, untamed. Antonyms: gentle. Mild.
“They can smell fear.” Oh, well that’s fucking perfect. Let me just take my fear off and stick it in my purse, then. Or better yet, I’ll run out and leave it in the car. I can’t imagine why I brought it in with me in the first place!
Listen, I am perfectly aware that animals can smell fear and why do you not understand that this makes me even more afraid?
“Just pet him!” This one usually only comes from dog owners, and I hate it because either way, no one wins. If I don’t pet the dog, then I am snubbing the person’s four-legged baby, which I do understand is just as offensive as snubbing a person’s human baby. Not only that, but I have also shown myself to be inflexible and uncooperative and generally no fun.
On the other hand, if I do pet the damn dog I risk offending its owner just as much as if I’d refused. Mainly because of the way I look while petting a domestic animal, which is similar to the way anyone else looks while petting a pterodactyl, which is to say, hesitant and with absolutely no trace of affection. Plus, I have heart palpitations, plus, I have now led the animal to believe I want to be its friend; that further petting might ensue at any moment. And now little Spike or Sammy or Sunshine will not leave my side. It gets awkward very quickly.
“You’ll like my dog.” I feel bad about this, I do, but – no. I will not ever like any dog. Still, it also makes me kind of mad. Because, I wouldn’t find out you are violently afraid of heights and immediately say, no, no, no, you’ll like the rooftop terrace of my skyscraper! Oh, you say you’re agoraphobic? Come on, what’s to be afraid of, you’ll have fun at my party. Terrified of clowns? That’s just because you haven’t met the ones at my circus!
Which leads me to David Sedaris, and yes I know this doesn’t really follow, but stick with me anyway because what the heck, you’ve come this far and I’m almost done. David Sedaris has long been one of my idols, but he reached new heights at a 2014 book signing in Pittsburgh. Here, I will share with you the most important part of our conversation. It went as follows:
David Sedaris: Do you have pets?
Me: Oh, no. No pets.
David Sedaris: Good for you. Who needs pets? We have nature; that should be enough.
Me: You are my idol.
David Sedaris: Oh, well, thank you for that.
No, thank you, David Sedaris. THANK YOU.