Most of my friends know that I’m extremely afraid of dog: it’s really hard not to find out. If you are walking with me and see a person walking his dog coming towards us, chances are I will go out of my way to dodge that dog – regardless of the size and species of the dog. This all started at the age of four. I was “attacked” by a guard dog that managed to unleash himself and ran towards me. He didn’t really bite me or anything but that experience traumatized me. From then, my fear for dogs have been deep rooted and over time, that fear translates to other animals like cats, or even chicken in some cases. Growing up in China and living in an urban area didn’t help either. Most of us live in apartments and very few of my friends have pets growing up. I didn’t get any opportunity to spend time with dogs or cats. On the contrary, because I made it very clear about my fear to friends and family, they purposely shielded me from any type of exposure to dogs and cats. Here I am, terrified of cats and dogs 20 years after.
Believe it or not, when I was planning my move to America, my biggest concern wasn’t living by myself in a foreign country where I had no friends or relatives to fall back on. It’s not about adjusting to the local culture. Nor is it about going to a Graduate Program in a second language. It’s about the dogs – I remember asking my moms: American families raise pets, like dogs and cats, what am I going to do there?! Much to my relief, however, people only walk their dog on leash. Nothing ever happened.
During the past 5 years in the US, it’s interesting to observe how people interact with their pets. They speak of them as part of their family. They treat them with respect. They carve out time out of their busy life to spend time with them. People wept over the death of their beloved pets. All these are so new to me, and deep down, I really like it. Part of me sort of want to give it a try.
My boyfriend Steve, meanwhile, always wanted a kitten. He knows my long standing fear so never forced anything. We did go to PetsMart to look at kittens for adoption. But I just wasn’t feeling the connection. I felt like I just wasn’t quite ready.
Then everything changed on July 11, 2015, about 3 months ago. Steve and I were going to the grocery store. He took out the trash when I started the car. I waited in the car for a few minutes and didn’t see him come back. I got out of the car and saw that he was kneeling down several cars down and was looking under a car. “There was a stray kitten!” He said!
I walked over and saw a tiny black/white kitten under the car. He was so little. (by the way, at that point, we didn’t know if it’s a girl or a boy). Steve was trying to get him out of the car. He asked me to get some milk from the fridge and a box. I went out and get those stuff. After a couple minutes, gingerly, the kitten finally came out at the smell of the milk. He was so small and looks like has been starving for a long time. He sipped the milk and then put him in the box.
There, that day, on July 11, 2015, we took in Nunu! I’ve never regretted it for a second. Steve asked me repetitively if I’m certain I’m ready. My answer was, yes, let’s give it a try. This feels right. Nunu was only 6 weeks when we found him. (The next day, we took him to the vet and fortunately he’s all healthy) He was so cute, innocent, and most importantly, not threatening. And since then, I started to learn all about cats. I read about it, find myself in the cat food aisle selecting toys and debating on dry vs. wet food.
Nunu was very quiet and not active the first one week. He was probably still getting to know us and the apartment. If you put him in the middle of a room, he wouldn’t even move much. That actually turned out to be a good transition stage for me. I was able to hold him – a huge step for me. And gradually I got comfortable with his presence. This was him falling asleep next to me. He was about 8 week old by then.
Now, 3 months later, he is an very healthy, active kitten! You wouldn’t stop him when he got excited. Two nights ago, I was packing for my business trip and he jumped into my suitcase, refusing to get out. It’s like he knows I’m leaving for a few days.
Reflecting on this experience, the lesson I take away is: if you have a fear, the best way to overcome it is to face it. Running away will only deepen the fear. The fear derives from the unknown and uncertainty. Start small, take baby step, but get on your feet and face your fear.