When I was young, I was terrified of dogs. All dogs, all sizes, absolutely petrified. I didn't have a traumatic experience or anything, I was just always afraid. I remember thinking they were unpredictable, that they were like wild animals. Even if there were a dog on a leash on the other side of a soccer field, I would not be able to relax. It was this way from childhood all through middle school, and probably would have continued all my life. Had it not been for Penny.
Penny showed up on our front lawn when I was in sixth grade - about thirteen years ago. She ran up to my dad, and was friendly and happy and excited. She had a collar, and tags stating that she had shots, but no other information. We brought her inside, and got her water. She seemed excited and eager like a puppy, but also very obedient. My family started asking our neighbors if anyone knew where she came from, if anyone recognized her. At first, no one had. So we had no choice but to hang on to her for a bit.
Oh, what was I doing, you ask? Freaking out. She was barricaded in the kitchen as we ate dinner and I had a panic attack. I wanted her there, because I could tell she was sweet and needed our help, but I was still deathly afraid. My Grandma and Poppy were over for dinner at the time, and my Grandma made a now famous statement in my family:
"Don't worry, if she comes near you, I'll stab her with a fork." That may seem harsh to some people, but this was my grandma saying that she didn't care what would happen, she would protect me first. We all started cracking up and I was put at ease for a bit.
Later that night, our neighbor recognized her as Penny, a dog that lived in a house near them. Or rather, a yard near them. They said she was left outside all the time, in all weather, and that they family did not care about her at all. They said she constantly jumped their six foot fence to get away. Reluctantly, we contacted the family and told them we had their dog. When the owner came to our house, he was not grateful. He was not happy or excited that his dog was safe. And when Penny was let out of the kitchen, she ran right to my Dad. Not her owner. Needless to say, my family (all except me, of course) was sad to see her go. But we had to, after all.
For the following weeks, she continued running away. And continued showing up at our house. My Dad would bring her back, and every time inquire as to if they still wanted to keep her. At first, they insisted that they did. At this time, it was January and quite cold for her outside all the time. Finally, after one last run away, my family all went to bring her back. I stayed home. I had a feeling that they might be returning with her, and I stayed home and prayed. I don't really remember exactly what I was praying for, because I didn't want her to stay in an abusive home, but I couldn't imagine her in our home. I just remember praying continuously while watching Full House. While my family was there, the owner said the sentence that change Penny's, and our, lives:
"Have you gotten a dog for your kids yet? Cause if you want her, you can have her."
The nonchalance in his voice as he gave away such a sweet dog still breaks my heart. It's amazing what they didn't even realize they had in Penny. But nonetheless, my parents brought her back to our house with heavy, hopeful hearts. Hopeful, because they wanted me to be able to love her as much as they did. And heavy because they knew that there was a good chance that I would never get over my fear, and that Penny would not be able to stay.
When I heard my family come to the door, I also heard that they had a dog with them. So I did what any eleven year old with a phobia would do - I locked myself in the bathroom. And cried. For 2 1/2 hours. Every member of my family tried to talk to me and coax me out. My mom stayed in there with me while I declared that I was never leaving. My mom came out and whispered to me Dad, "I'm not sure this is going to work. I don't think we can keep her." [Meaning the dog, not me. :) ]
Somehow, with pinky promises that my Dad was holding her and she was barricaded in the kitchen, I came out of the bathroom and went into the den. Then my whole family came into the den and we all sat on the couch. Well, everyone else was on the couch, I was sitting behind them up on the back of the couch. I was all about the barriers. Then Penny came in, unaware of my fear, and began walking around the room as I semi-panicked.
And my Dad said, "Penny, sit." And she sat. And then he said, "Penny, come here." And she came. And then he tapped the floor and said, "Lay down." And she lay right at his feet.
Then I reached down, over my Dad's shoulder, and let her lick my hand.
Everyone asks me how I got over an eleven-year long fear that was so strong. How is it possible that now, not only was I not afraid of dogs, not only did I own a dog, but I'm not afraid of any dogs? Not even loose, giant, strange ones? Well, I can't exactly explain it. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Penny is the dog that she is. But I have a distinct memory of being struck by how she listened to everything we said. If I said stay, she stayed. That made me feel safe. She was an animal, but she wasn't wild. She listened. She understood things. And I already knew that she loved us. I could feel it.
As the story goes, which is now classic family legend, a few hours later I was laying on the kitchen floor next to Penny as she slept. The fear was lifted instantly, never again to return. Not only was my life changed, but Penny's as well. She went from being abused and neglected, to positively spoiled with love.
I know that everyone says this about their dog, but Penny is amazing. People who are uneasy or afraid of dogs walk in our house, and love Penny. She is calm and affectionate. She is cuddly and loving, but playful if you show that you want to play with her. She waits at the door as soon as she comes in from outside for her paws to be wiped, and then sits by her treats anxiously. But she barks a ferocious bark when she has to - if you are a stranger coming up to our house, she is not liking you very much until we tell her it's safe. If we don't tell her it's safe, she'll keep going till you leave.
My Poppy used to say, "In my next life, I want to come back as Penny." We always laughed at this, he was very silly. He didn't want to come back as a dog, just as Penny. He always commented on the how relaxed she always was and what a great life she had. And he was right.
Part 2 coming soon - Penny's Golden Years. Don't worry, it's a happy conclusion - Penny is now spending her golden years at what we like to call "Dirt Road Retirement Home". :)
(Update: Part 2)
Love & Penny Lane,
Dirt Road Mama