Pick something really terrifying to you: maybe a zombie, a vampire or a monster. Let’s say that, just about everywhere you go, you see one or two of these horrifying creatures. And then sometimes you go somewhere, like to a beach or a park, where there are unexpectedly hordes of them  running around freely.

Wouldn’t life be one terror after another? Can you imagine how drained your adrenals would be from your constant flight-or-fight condition? How exhausted you would be from constantly fearing for your life?

This is, I believe, how life used to be for Joseph. But it wasn’t zombies, vampires or even monsters. It was — sigh — dogs. Large dogs, small dogs, quiet dogs, barking dogs, friendly dogs, growling dogs — they were all equally alarming. We couldn’t go places because a dog might be there. One birthday party last year included two small dogs and a child (mine) who spent the party sobbing in fright.

Blue Eyes and I really despaired around this one. It’s amazing how often we’d see zombies — er, dogs: outside grocery stores, on playgrounds, in the backs of trucks in parking lots. The world was one big mass of terror for Joseph, and, as far as we could tell, it always would be.

Then the world cracked. Joseph’s friend, Brendon, got a puppy. His mom and I discussed worriedly what this would do to their friendship — and, indeed, when the puppy arrived Joseph told us he never wanted to go to Brendon’s house again.

We handled this the way any good parent handles a situation: we used bribery. Joseph wanted something really badly, and we told him he could only have it if he walked into Brendon’s house and looked over the doggie gate at the puppy. The next time we visited, he had to touch the puppy. This involved some strong persuasion and some tears, but from then on the whole thing got easier.

Then Joseph started saying he wanted his own dog. We could hardly believe our ears.

But I took him at his word, and once a week we would stop at the local animal shelter. It took months to get Joseph to even enter the dog department, but eventually we got there. And one day he was there: a Chihuahua-Pomeranian-dachshund mix, small enough to not intimidate Joseph and house-trained enough to be acceptable to me.

Joseph spent the first couple of weeks avoiding Raj. His big fear was that Raj might jump on him. Then, one day, Joseph didn’t get away fast enough, and it happened. Raj jumped up on him and then he jumped down — all in a flash.

Joseph’s eyes widened. His jaw dropped. He looked at me and said, “He jumped on me!” I answered, ‘I know. How did it feel?” Surprised, Joseph said, “Good!” I spotlighted that moment for the next couple of days, reminding him that it had, after all that fear, been a pleasant thing to have Raj jump up.

It’s all been uphill since then. In the four months he’s been with us, little Raj has brought about amazing changes in our lives. Joseph is completely unafraid of dogs now. We are gathering that fear must beget fear because, as the dog terrors are disappearing, so are other fears. Like paper clips lodged in the mud: when you hold a magnet over one, they all get dislodged.

This has been a very good surprise. As his mother, I find life with Joseph so much easier now that the dog fears, and others, are dissipating. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be for Joseph: his adrenals, his psyche, and his self-esteem.

When I despair that something will never get better, I must remember that God sees a solution that I may never see on my own. Dog is, after all, just God spelled backwards.

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