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 November 2008 - Nr. 11

My Dog Teaches … About Fear

Hunny by David McKagueWe tend to be naturally wary or nervous of the unknown. In fact, that may be all that fear is – uncertainty of what might occur mixed with the dread that the worst will happen.

Fear can be a useful survival tool to keep us out of dangerous situations. It can keep us from irrational actions like jumping off rooftops or jumping into the shark tank.

But fear itself can become irrational, at which point it becomes detrimental. To someone in fear, actual danger or risk is irrelevant. It does no good whatsoever to tell a person with a morbid fear of sharks that there have never been any spotted at this particular beach; no matter how rational the argument, his fear tells him that the moment he enters the water, one will appear and want him for lunch.

The 1975 movie Jaws was notable for the fact that seaside resorts around the world experienced a dramatic decline in the two years following its release. Many people were even afraid to go swimming in freshwater lakes; for these people, the knowledge that sharks don’t inhabit these waters provided no antidote to their fear.

A few years ago, Toronto suffered a similar decline in tourism because of the SARS "epidemic", which infected only a handful of people. In fact, tourism across this huge expanse of Canada fell significantly as the risks were blown out of all proportion. Even the fact that 4,000 kilometers separates Vancouver from Toronto did not deter many foreigners from canceling their trips to the west coast.

To a person with a dread of something, odds of a million to one against any harm coming to him somehow don’t seem to be in his favor; to him, a million doesn’t seem like the huge number it is. The motto of the fearful might be, "My fear or nervousness is palpable and real; I don’t care a whit about facts or statistics or truth."

Nervousness and fear around dogs are certainly not uncommon emotions. Especially as we become more urbanized as a society, opportunities to interact with dogs and other animals diminishes for a large segment of the population. The news media and others can then exploit this unfamiliarity; nervousness can be honed into irrational fear – fear can be sharpened into absolute dread. One of the reasons news can be so unreliable as a source of information is that the rare occurrence is sensationalized while the commonplace is ignored. We become anaesthetized to the thousands and thousands of people killed every year in automobile accidents. But throw in a fatality from a shark or dog attack, and the press have a field day playing up the dangers of these exceptionally rare occurrences.

Under this deluge of bad news, is it any wonder then that the world seems to be getting to be a more dangerous place? News is taking on an aura of Ripley’s Believe it or Not – the more weird and freaky the story, the more newsworthy it becomes. Especially in this age of immediate communications, one insane or bizarrely brutal incident can be used to create fear all around the world.

In recent years the danger of dogs has been highly exaggerated by politicians and the press. In 2005, the Ontario government passed the badly flawed "Dog Owners’ Liability Act", deliberately using the motivating forces of ignorance and fear. (As an aside: our governments should not be in the business of promoting ignorance and inciting hysteria; the media do that job quite well enough, thank you.)

Yet the fact remains, for anyone who cares to look and as Janis Bradley so thoroughly demonstrates in her book Dogs Bite: But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous, "… dogs almost never kill people, and they don’t actually bite very often, and when they do, we’re seldom injured, and when we are, it’s seldom serious."

Individually, fear can be overcome. It might take a bit of work and we will no doubt have to approach it gradually. We can research to find out correct data. We can observe and gain more familiarity. We can practice to increase our confidence in our ability to control. And as we become more and more familiar with things of which we were afraid, our fear tends to dissipate as we find out that it was mostly based on the unknown.

All risk cannot be taken out of life. In fact, many would say that you aren’t living at all if you desire to live in a protected cocoon free of all potential hazards. It would be much better to subjugate our fears to a sense of adventure and zest for life.

Previous "Petitorial" articles by David McKague:

Editor’s note: I would like to encourage dog lovers everywhere to start a PETITION to have this law thrown out or revised to such a form where justice prevails. SFR.

Email to David McKague
David McKague talks about the pit-bull or pit bulls, pets, dogs, the duress put upon dog and the owners, especially through laws in Ontario, Canada, that affect and encroach on rights and freedoms of the individual, human rights, reputation of individuals and owners. David stresses the importance of being responsible and understanding when dealing with pets.

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