A Cynophobe Goes to the Dogs

By William H. Grignon, Member of PAGDUS

All my life, I have been afraid of dogs: a confirmed cynophobe. When I was very young, my parents got a dog; it promptly jumped on me, knocked me down, and, evidently, created a lifelong phobia. To this day, I don’t really trust dogs; after all, they could suddenly turn on me, leap at me with slathering jaws, and rip my face off! However, my general fear has given way to a most particular love – a love for a dog – a dog named Percy.

Before Mary Ann (then Alexander) became my wife, we talked of sharing a home. I loved this woman and the prospect of sharing my life with her promised something warm, sassy, and beautiful. One problem – she had a dog — a service animal named Percy — a two-year-old English Yellow Lab —- sixty-four pounds of muscle, fur, and canine enthusiasm. Alarm bells clanged. A dog! I could feel the fear seep into my bones, the adrenaline flight-or-fight response kick in, the existential angst cloud the beautiful promise.

Swallowing my fear and rationalizing that our love will overcome any obstacle, I moved to Fort Myers to be near Mary Ann… and Percy. Mary Ann, knowing of my dread, took great pains to introduce me to Percy (and Percy to me), placing him in harness and letting me pet Percy and letting Percy sniff me. After a few encounters, the harness came off and Percy was only on a leash. He seemed nice enough…

Now, Percy must be one of the gentlest of goofy cuddle-bugs in the world. I soon realized that he wasn’t going to turn on me and tear my face off, so the leash came off… and there I was face-to-face with an unleashed Percy. And something amazing happened, I fell in love with the goofball.

Oh, I still cringed when Percy barked or growled, feeling that old dread of imminent attack but rationally knowing that he was just expressing himself and, as Mary Ann kept assuring me, that Percy would never hurt me. And so, my initial aloofness gave into games of tug-of-war, wrestling matches, and extended love-ins, where Prince Percy received his due of scratching and petting, all the while lying on his back in a most indecorous spread-legged catatonia.

I soon learned just how smart Percy was, how a total goofball could be transformed into an all-business guide when the harness was donned, and how much more confident and free Mary Ann was walking with Percy than she ever was using the cane. On walks around our neighborhood, in stores and restaurants, and especially at conference hotels, Percy constantly amazed with his focus, his quick learning, and his endless patience. It was a treat to let Percy lead the way out of a restaurant (not having to bang a cane against fellow diners or ask for help from staff) and it was simply astounding to see him know where the elevator, meeting rooms, and relief area were just after a few times visiting each location. And, I must admit to a semblance of parental pride, when Percy would act the perfect little gentleman, tucked under Mary Ann’s chair, while other guide dogs were snapping, wandering the room, or snatching food off people’s plates.

Percy just turned nine years old. People tell me that he is getting a little gray in the muzzle, but that he still an amazingly gorgeous dog. Oh, please, we can’t go anywhere without someone, anyone, from a two-year-old girl to a retired Marine officer, coming up to us and gushing about how beautiful Percy is and can they please, please, please pet him: he is still a rock star. He is our rock star and I can’t imagine life without him. He pretty much has the run of our house and I can’t describe the warm comfy feeling when he turns three times and thwumps his furry bulk against my side and rests his big English Lab head on my leg. It’s like a part of my heart is being filled with sunlit honey – and when he falls asleep in that position, I don’t want to move for fear of breaking his peace.

And Percy has taught me that not all dogs are sudden face-rippers. I have come to know and like some dogs other than Percy. There is Sadie, a black lab that might be an even bigger love-bug than Percy, and, of course, there was the time Rick came up to me during a PCB conference and nuzzled my hand. And I still have my face!

I suppose the greatest compliment I can pay Percy is that I, a wavering cynophobe, am considering, pondering, let’s say thinking about getting a guide dog of my own. Of course, if I could be guaranteed that I would get a dog like Percy… But over the past seven years or so, I have seen that Percy, while blessed with many doggy gifts, is the dog he is because Mary Ann is such a wonderful handler. At home, she showers him with love and affection, but when the harness comes on, she is all business and Percy knows this and performs his service almost flawlessly. Between the two, Percy and Mary Ann, I have received a wonderful lesson in bonding, mutual respect and affection, and a dedication to a truly effective team. Maybe I will get a dog, maybe not – either way, my life is infinitely richer, warmer, and happier with Percy in it.

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