Lessons on fear: two

I’m covered in all manner of mud and unmentionables, I’m sweating, and flies are buzzing around. Johanna and I are visiting the dogs in Building 3; since they can’t go outside due to some kind of worm outbreak, we’re going inside the pens and loving on them there.

You’d think keeping them inside would mean we wouldn’t get as dirty as we do when we let all two hundred-plus dogs outside in the playground. That’s what I thought on the train coming down, anyway.

Nope.

But I am happy. Wet, muddy paws find their way to my thighs, stomach, chest and back, and excited dogs lean into my legs as I rub their backs. Two dogs, one on each hip, rest their front paws on my sides, and I scratch their ears and talk to them. Other dogs bump into me and clamor for attention. I look over when I hear Johanna laughing, and she’s greeting a giddy, smiling dog.

I exit one pen and visit another, letting dogs out of their cages and sitting on wooden platforms and enjoying the canine company. In one pen is Tripp, a dog I’ve come to love over the past year, and his reaction upon my entrance is enough to make my entire day. I take his face in both my hands and look into his eyes as I ask him how he is.

These visits, these moments with the dogs at the shelter: I cherish them. I swallow a lump in my throat and push back the thought that my time here is done. Between TUAPA’s new boardmembers driving out all the staff and volunteers due to greed, and my impending move out of Taiwan, my time supporting TUAPA is over. I will forever support the dogs, but I can’t support the actions of the new board.

It breaks my heart.

I sit down, and Tripp jumps onto the metal platform next to me. He’s freshly shaved, and all that’s left of his fluffy coat is a tuft on his tail and the fur around his face. I hug on him and push my sadness out of my mind. All that matters right now is making these dogs feel loved.

Johanna calls me to another pen. She and I let the dogs out, and I see Josie. She’s giggling and cooing at dogs anxiously trying to lick her face. The three of us are glad to be here.

Standing in the middle, I turn to Johanna. “I’m going to go to three-dash-eleven,” she says, referencing another pen. “Keep an eye on Wabbit.”

“What’s wrong with Wabbit?” I ask, and we both grin at how absurd the question sounds after I’ve said it.

She shrugs. “He can get a little aggressive. Just watch him,” she replies.

“Wait, so, aggressive towards people, or toward dogs? What do I do if he goes after a dog? Is he always aggressive?” I’m nervous.

“He’s unpredictable. If he starts acting like an alpha, call him out.”

She goes up to Wabbit, who accepts her attention and furiously wags his tail. Then, she carefully lets herself out of the pen, making sure none of the dogs escape. Meanwhile, I stand stiffly, ignoring the other dogs I’d been petting moments before. I’m staring at Wabbit.

At the slightest indication of hostility, I call out to him. He’s a medium-sized dog with a strong build and wirey black fur; he looks mean. I try to keep other dogs away from him. In my worried state, I’m no longer petting or smiling. The mood in the pen is not happy and carefree anymore; it’s serious. It’s a bit anxious.

Wabbit never so much as looks at another dog, save for one from another pen that escapes and races up and down the building’s corridor. Another jumps over Wabbit, and he doesn’t pay any attention. I, on the other hand, panic and prepare myself for mauled dogs and bloodshed.

It never happens.

I stress myself out. I let fear take over. Fear permeates my reactions to inconsequential movements, and the dogs and I stop having fun.

A little while later, I’m out of Wabbit’s pen, walking down the corridor with Johanna and Josie. We each stop randomly to check on dogs, pet some through the metal bars, and make sure the dogs that need to be caged, are. The dogs are happy, and we are happy, and my earlier fear embarrasses me.

Fear is powerful, and I let it get the best of me while I was in Wabbit’s pen. It consumed me, it changed my energy, and the dogs and I suffered for it. I should have maintained my attitude and dealt with the negative only if it actually happened.

Thanks to Wabbit, I learned something important. My panic over not having a job when I leave Taiwan had been blinding me and was keeping me from seeing the big picture. Take away the fear of unemployment, and I’m excited about the next step. I want to start exploring the next challenge in my life. Fear was getting in the way of me living and enjoying my life.

No more. Thanks, Wabbit.

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