Did you know that in Japan, couples often meet at the Hachiko monument – the one that is dedicated to the dog that waited seven long years for its owner? To me, this fact holds a symbolic meaning – people always look for loyalty and affection in relationships, and those are basically the most prominent traits of every dog. Not many of us can stay true despite the hardships, but for dogs, it is as easy as breathing. I think, in this regard, we fall short behind the dogs. No matter the size or breed, dogs are always attached to their owners, and they never care about the owner’s social status or income – they simply give their hearts to us. There were always dogs in my family, I grew up caring for them, interacting with them, and it helped me understand that there are no bad dogs in the world. Simply abused or misunderstood ones.
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When I was seven, my parents sent me to a summer camp. It was a great place – a beautiful lake on the other side and a dense, majestic forest on the other. We had hikes and movie nights, games, contests, and just all kinds of fun children could think of. During the day, we mostly had no learning or other special activities from our mentors, so we ran around the camp – it was pretty big – and did whatever we want. However, there was one place where we were supposed not to go at all – the backyard of the huge storage room, where were kept all camp supplies. It was not like the camp staff was afraid we would secretly creep into the warehouse and take anything – the lodge was properly locked, and it had no windows or other holes to climb into. No, the reason was simple – a big male German shepherd sat on a long chain behind it.
The dog was big, feral, and let no one approach him – not even the camp staff. He sat in the center of his chainring, always alone. Whenever it was time to feed him, a brave volunteer would take his bowl of food and shove it towards him with a long wooden stick. The water would be delivered to him similarly. We kids liked to watch him getting the food – one wrong step and the guy with a stick has to run for his life away from the beast. Being reasonable, we, too, did not try to approach the dog, only watched him from a respectable distance. Overall, children never stuck for long with him, as he did not do anything besides growling, barking, or just laying down in the dirt. However, there was one kid that liked to sit and look at the dog wistfully, wishing to pet and hug the shepherd really hard. That kid was me. I always tended to be a loner, not one for big companies and loud games, so I could watch the dog for hours. He watched me in return and never threatened me – that was a simple yet bizarre relationship.
One day, I finally got dragged into a game. It was some sort of competition, and it was not much fun for me, but my camp friends kept promising that something interesting is planned once the staff leaves, so I stayed. When our mentor left for lunch, our company sneaked away into thick bushes, and the leader proudly proclaimed that it was time for a real adult game. It turned out it was a “do-or-dare”. I just snorted and said that it is not what adults play at all. That, of course, drew everyone’s attention, and the group dared me to go and prove that I know what adults do. I wanted to refuse, but that would ruin my already low reputation for good, so I accepted the challenge and asked what I have to do. The leader sneered and told the group that I will go to the mad dog and try to pet him – like a brave adult, he said. I had no choice, so soon, I stood just outside the dog’s chain range, and behind me, the whole group watched the action.
I never dared to come that near to the dog, so I was, at the very least, cautious. However, I did wanted to pet that shepherd really badly, so it was now or never. Carefully stepping into the circle of the dog’s territory, I watched the laying beast closely. The dog did not move, he simply watched me back. I grew braver, my heart filling with hope I could finally touch the magnificent beast. When I was about six feet away, the dog’s eyes met mine, and I saw no anger in them – only intellect and curiosity. He got up and walked over to me and sniffed my legs, and examined my arm thoroughly. With a final huff, he sat down on his haunches, tongue lolling out of his mouth, and I took it as a sign that I could pet him. And I really did! The dog turned out to be the sweetest, cuddling into me and sighing happily. Everyone was amazed, and even our mentor, who was alarmed we were gone and went searching for us, looked somewhere between horrified and dumbfounded. Since then, the dog became my best friend – and I was the only one allowed to get close to him. He still was feral to anyone else, but to me, he was always the cuddly pup that just wanted attention. So, that is the moral of my story – sometimes, the most terrifying of beasts can be the kindest – if you simply give them some love first.