Written by Shannon Yang
I cannot remember a time when I have been able to run up to a dog, hold it and pet it. Nor have I ever been able to give a cat a bowl of milk.
I am one of many people who have this problem, but it is often ignored. Zoophobia, or the irrational fear of animals, is the most common specific phobia.
For me, zoophobia changes my everyday behavior. For example, I sometimes cross to the other side of the street if someone is walking their dog or simply if there are squirrels or birds on the sidewalk.
As someone who is scared of spiders, I know that I have many people who feel my pain. Bugs are considered annoying and gross by almost any American you meet. If there is a spider in the room, chances are people will freak out and try to get someone to kill it, but they won’t have the guts to do it themselves. According to the Psychological Record and the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, arachnophobia is not only evolutionary, but also cultural.
One thing that particularly exacerbates the effects of my phobia is society’s love of dogs. According to fearof.net, cynophobia, the fear of dogs, is not nearly as common as the fear of snakes or the fear of spiders. Dogs are considered “man’s best friend,” and they are widely domesticated in the U.S. and in Palo Alto. Though arachnophobia is acceptable because spiders are portrayed as monstrous creatures in our society, when I scream because a dog is getting too close to me, the dog owner is offended.
“My dog doesn’t even have teeth!”
“You have a greater chance of getting killed by a shark than by my dog! He’s very friendly!”
“Will you please stop screaming? It’s so annoying!”
I remember going to a school-related activity in which we were filming a video. Other students decided to bring their dogs, and people were saying, “Aw, yay! This will make the day so much better!” But inside, I secretly wondered why they were doing this to me. I was the only one in the group who felt this way.
People assume that I am a terrible person because of my fear of animals such as dogs. How could I hate these lovely, cute balls of fur? But I’d like to highlight a distinction: I do not hate dogs. I am just scared of them. I don’t want to kill dogs. I find them very cute indeed. But I scream because my body is literally making me scream. I cross to the other side of the street so I can avoid having to scream or run away whimpering.
There’s no way I can control my phobia. I will always be scared of dogs, cats, bunnies and spiders. But I try not to let that control my life. I try to let other people understand my phobia before bringing their pets close to me or jumping to conclusions about what kind of person I am. And at the end of the day, I feel okay living with zoophobia.