In my neighborhood, not a single child has petted my dogs. They hover at my gate and call out their names and "aww and ooh" at them but the second my tiny dogs come to the gate the children back off, some even run. This is a dangerous and potentially life threatening thing to do if a larger dog roaming the streets suddenly sees a child running and decides to chase him/her. I can't tell you how many times children run up to me when walking the dogs on their leashes and ask me if they can pet them. I always say, yes but they never do. They are just too scared. Despite this, children follow me around a great deal because of Snowball and Benji asking me a millions questions, "Do they bite? Are they boys or girls and whats their names."
Yesterday, I decided to take the mile and a half walk to Fordson High School to watch my nephews play football with the dogs in tow. There were at least 10-12 children playing on one of the blocks that I had never taken before. Everyone of them froze on their lawn as we passed. I felt as if I was a parade as the kids stared at the dogs who have gotten use to the gawking from my own neighborhood. Once we passed, one at time, each child began to follow us from a safe distance asking me the same questions that are asked of me every time I pass a child.
When i was young just like any youngster I wanted a puppy. Unlike some parents who would say no because kids are irresponsible and the parents would end up taking care of it more than the child, my parents (though I am sure thats another reason) were Lebanese Americans and that was just unheard of in an Arab American home because well, for one major reason they are considered unsanitary. "Nijus" in Arabic. I remember if I even petted a dog my mother would immediately order me to wash my hands. If it was more than petting, no sooner than I would get home and it was straight to the bathtub. It got to the point that I didn't want to pet a dog anymore. So, you can imagine how fast I went to the pet store the week I moved out and got myself a dog. I loved my little Coco and she loved me but if I ever went to visit my parents, Coco would have to stay home. Coco has since died and I have today a maltese and a maltipoo whom I named, Snowball and Benji.
Arab Americans and more specifically Muslims, have been taught from a very young age that a dog would make them "Nijus" and unable to pray without the holy ritual of "Wadoo" the purification of one's self before prayer. All clothing must be discarded from their bodies. For this reason, Arab American Mothers are just way too dramatic when it comes to dogs.
My neighbor, a very devout woman is probably one of the most dramatic. A very good woman, hospitable, generous and more than anything else, charitable. There isn't always something she isn't doing like raising money or collecting clothing and food for the poor. But her drama comes from her reaction to my dogs. She has lived next door to me for nearly six years and her children are of age, 7 and 10. They are terrified of my dogs. Every time they extend their hand to pet them through my gates, she would yell at them in a way that made even me scared. Often enough, their soccer ball always ends up in my yard and often enough I would have to come outside and toss the thing back to them as they would never come there if the dogs were outside.
I tried to make my neighbor understand that she and many mothers like her are doing a disservice to their kids by making them fearful. For example, I took the dogs for a walk and was able to let them run in a field. A small child who was also taught to be fearful of dogs began to run. Snowball, who loves to run around with the kids in my family thought the child was playing a game and he ran after him. The child's parents laughed but I didn't. Snowball only wanted to play but the child was traumatized by what he was taught, that dogs are "bad animals."
Of course, there are horror stories about some Arab Americans and their distaste of dogs. Just recently, an Arab American was charged with animal cruelty but Arab Americans are not isolated with this sort of thing. We have commercials running late night everyday about the cruelties by owners and believe me, they are not Arab Americans for the reasons I stated before. Just because they are considered unsanitary, it does not allow for anyone to be cruel. In any religion, especially Islam, God orders kindness to all "living things" and most Muslim Americans are not cruel to animals as they are afraid of them.
In our family and in my circle things can be worked out if the situation calls for it. Many of my friends who were also fearful of dogs have managed to bypass their fear and their paranoia for my sake. Often enough, the request is, "Please don't let them jump on me." But dogs are dogs and eventually those very same people are the ones who become more accepting.
My mother who spends every Spring in Florida called and asked me one day if I would come to visit. I told her that I didn't want to leave Snowball with anyone (when I just had him at the time). Her answer? "Just bring him with you." I paused for a minute as I wasn't sure about what she said until she repeated it. You can imagine my entire family's surprise to find Snowball running around in the back yard. People thought my mother had turned senile.
When my mother had to be in hospice at Henry Ford Village the nurses encouraged me to bring the dogs in. It was very uplifting for the elderly who had to leave their pets at home. I thought what could be more sanitary than a makeshift hospital and yet they are allowing what people think is unsanitary to come right in.
My mother has since changed her attitude. She loves Snowball and often comments about his white coat. I crack up every time she calls out his name and tries to get his attention. The funny thing though, I guess from their time in Florida together where he knew he was restricted from walking on the carpet, he knows not to approach or touch her. Its like they settled on their boundaries and its a relationship that works well.
The children were still outside after watching my nephew's game. They saw me coming a mile a way and they prepared themselves. They waited and I passed. Behind me the line formed again and the ever empty question followed, "Can I pet them?"I ignore the question now because I know what to expect. I just smiled and kept walking with the kids still in tow and as I was about to cross to the next block the song, "I'm The Pied Piper" started to play on my iPod.