There is one particular silly question that seems to often be asked during job interviews: Can you describe yourself in three words? I’ve always been tempted to reply “Sure. Dont. Like. People.” Yes, human beings are complex creatures, but if there is one thing that really gets to the core of who I am it’s my dislike for my own species. Not only am I misanthropic, but as you may have guessed, I’m also very introverted. I’m not comfortable with small talk and often avoid people so as not to engage in it. I live in my own world where animals and my favorite human, my husband, are at the center. I like to keep it this way, so please don’t rip me out of it by asking if the weather is hot enough for me. Jeez.
When we first adopted Sam, we wanted to socialize him as best as possible. Not just with other dogs, but so that he wouldn’t be terrified of humans to the point where he seemed aggressive. That presented a challenge for me. After meeting family, we took Sam to the dog park to play with other pups. As it turns out, the dog park is “a great place to meet people!” Read: my nightmare.
We needn’t have worried about Sam’s reaction; he LOVES people. He likes other dogs just fine, especially the little ones, but his adoration of humans stands out and is in stark contrast to my worldview. Not only is Sam adorable, but so very friendly. As soon as he sees someone or even hears their voice, his tail starts wagging, his ears go back and he’s wiggling a happy path in their direction to say hi. And there I am, at the other end of the leash, thinking “Thanks, Sam. Now I have to interact with someone and here it is MY DAY OFF.” But as it turns out, I am glad to see when someone stops to coo at him and love on him. They inevitably look up and start asking questions like, what kind of dog is he? How old? Where did you get him? Normally, my brain would be shouting “WHAT’S WITH THE THIRD DEGREE, LADY?!” But as it turns out, I don’t actually mind telling them all about my baby boy. And seeing him being happy to get attention from someone else makes me happy. It is a wee bit of evidence that if a person stops to gush over this guy, they can’t be all bad. So when at the dog park, I may not introduce myself or hold eye contact for very long, but I will talk to you about my dogs and ask all about yours. I’m like one of those parents who shows everyone at work baby pictures and talks about the latest, most amazing thing her kid said. And when the conversation turns to the last episode of Game of Thrones I lose interest and walk away.
When out on our morning walks, Sam attracts our neighbors like a magnet. They’ll stop what they’re doing to come over and say hi. I’ve gotten used to this, so it’s not that bad. The most uncomfortable encounter was when Sam stopped the walk, dead set on saying hi to the UPS driver before moving any further. The guy got out of his truck, started walking up the street our way, looking not at Sam but at me, and my first reaction was “He’s coming right for us! What does he want?! Finish yur jerb!” Then, he just asked “I love dogs, mind if I pet him?” Whew. The direct eye contact from a complete stranger made me realize I reacted more like a threatened, cornered dog than a social primate. This is why I find working with dogs comes more naturally than trying to fit in with the social structure of a career focused on people. I don’t talk much, I often use my body language to communicate. But Sam has taught me that instead of viewing all people as potential threats, there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who like dogs and can’t be so bad, or those who don’t and are obviously evil.
It’s important for Sam to have the opportunity to greet people. He thrives on it, so my discomfort must come last. My girl Thisbe, however, is just like her mum. She doesn’t trust you as far as her stumpy legs can throw you. But she’ll play with your dog all day long.