Don’t let fear stand in your way

Published 7:45 pm Friday, April 12, 2013

I have never been a dog person. In fact, I’ve never been an any kind of animal person. While my family did own multiple pets growing up — a handful of goldfish from my grade school’s fall festival, a cat named Peaches and three small dogs named Buster, Precious and Buddy — I tried to be their best friend, I really did, but I could never fully embrace their smell and the fact that they pooped and peed everywhere and it was somehow my job to clean it up. Long story short, my childhood is full of animal horror stories — attacked by dogs, falling of a horse, a raccoon that ate my cat … the list goes on.

Being the oldest kid in my neighborhood I assumed the role as the neighborhood babysitter. So in addition to watching the wild hooligans who lived next door to me (who on more than one occasion managed to cut off a good 6 inch chunk of my hair) I also had the terrifying duty of dealing with their pets.

I remember one family in particular that had two big dogs — a Rottweiler and a German Shepard — dogs that considered playtime to be a growling fest of wrestle mania. I’ve always been told that dogs can smell fear, and after the experiences I’ve had, I believe it.

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I remember asking the parents to put their dogs in the basement before they left, because I knew if the dogs started “playing” and the two little rascals I was supposed to be watching tried to join in — I would be paralyzed in fear, unable to save them. (And yes, I realize that is just how dogs play, but as a 12-year-old who had just become a certified babysitter by the American Red Cross, I took my job very seriously and couldn’t handle what I perceived to be an additional threat to the children’s safety.)

Of course the children knew that I was terrified of their giant dogs, that of course were just sweet dogs that enjoyed drooling and jumping up on babysitters who were half their size, so as soon as the parents had pulled out of the driveway, they gleefully ran down to the basement to let them out. With the dogs on the loose I did what any 12-year-old babysitter would do — I hid in the closet, shouting orders to “Take them outside right now or I’m calling your mom!”

As I grew older I’ve continually tried to love dogs and other animals, but most of the time I still get nervous around them. However, this week when I met Little Bear Linden, a 15 pound, honey-colored toy poodle-shih Tzu mix and winner of the 2013 Pet Idol competition, I was not once afraid or even nervous.

Little Bear is known for his 44 tricks, which include walking on his hind legs and playing the piano. As I listened to his “mother,” Shannon Linden, talk about all of Little Bear’s accomplishments and volunteering, I realized he’s really not a dog at all and definitely not something to be afraid of. Linden described Little Bear as a “little person dressed in fur,” and is convinced that he understands English, and I’d have to agree

Little Bear travels to nursing homes and kindergartens performing his tricks, bringing joy to people young and old. And I have to admit he brought joy to me, someone who is normally very unsure when it comes to animals, no matter their size. When I left their home I thought to myself, if I had been too nervous or afraid to cover the story just because it was about a dog, all that I would have missed out on.

Don’t let fear — whether it be of animals or of chasing your dreams — stand in your way of learning something new and doing something great.