I suspect I might be a member of the last persecuted minority. “Atheists?” you ask.
Nope. “Smokers, then?”
No, I’m talking about us people — the proud, the few, the flealess — who don’t like animals. At all. So what am I doing here in San Miguel de Allende, where women “don’t leave home without it,” meaning Peaches or Sparky?
Recently, when I told a guy I hate animals, he asked if I couldn’t find a better word than “hate,” which he apparently found offensive. I tried to oblige with “despise,” but he didn’t go for that either. So I’m just sticking with “hate,” which feels like a damn near perfect match for the emotion animals engender in me.
So what do you want me to do, lie? The truth is, I have never encountered an animal I like, want to touch or be touched by, and don’t want to escape from as fast as possible.
In this respect I’m a clone of my mother, who equated animals with filth, and the Muslims, whose religion teaches that dogs are dirty, and after touching one you should wash your hands seven times.
I’d prefer total immersion in bleach, but trying to amend the Koran could get me slapped with a fatwa.
My mother was very clean and instilled in me from an early age a love of cleanliness. “There’s nuttin like a bath!” I’d chant, imitating her. That’s not to say I’m Lady Macbeth.
I don’t wash my hands until they bleed or even shower 365 days a year, but I do cringe when I see people lying on a bed or sofa with their shoes on, or wiping greasy hands on clothing. And I’d probably let my teeth rot and fall out of my mouth before I’d use someone else’s toothbrush. Needless to say, when I see people in bed with their animals, or kissing them on the mouth, I’m hard put not to retch.
When I was a child my father did everything possible to instill in me a love of pets (a word noticeably similar to “pest.”) When I was four, he bought me a Scotch terrier, imaginatively named Scotty.
Dad came home one day and couldn’t find the dog. “Where’s Scotty?” he asked. I still remember thinking, “Why is he asking me, of all people? I hate that damn dog.” To my great relief, unlike Lassie, it never returned. Maybe Scotty felt the same about me as I did about him.
A couple of years later it was a Shetland pony named Trixie, along with all the accoutrements: a cart, English riding boots, jodhpurs, and a white angora tam. While I dug the outfit, I was terrified of the pony, and had to be bribed to go near it, which I did only with much Nietzchean fear and trembling.
Dad’s final effort was a monkey, when I was in junior high. I truly loathed that despicable creature, unlike my classmates, who came in droves to see it, and vied to touch and hold it. It’s name was Tojo and its personality was in every respect like a bitchy Japanese emperor’s.
My sad fate is that all three of my children, my daughter-in-law, and the majority of my friends are animal lovers. One of them was once deluded enough to suggest that a bit of behavior therapy might cure me of what she called my “phobia.”
Little did she know. If there is anything truly central to my very essence, the most real and genuine part of me, it’s this animosity toward creatures outside my own species (not that I’m so crazy about all those within it).
The only folks who truly understand the depth of my aversion to beasts are those who have seen me in action when one is in the vicinity and appears to be heading my way. I immediately search for the nearest escape route and often settle on one that’s totally unrealistic, but the first one on the horizon.
I once attempted to scale a brick wall and made it halfway up before I started to backslide, leaving on the bricks most of the flesh from one leg. And when someone entered with a dog a San Miguel restaurant where I was lunching with friends, in my haste to flee I failed to notice a step, and crashed with a thud, leaving me an invalid for weeks.
On another occasion, while visiting the States, I was invited to dinner at the home of people I hadn’t yet met who were friends of the woman who’d brought me. She said she’d go inside and have them put their dogs away.
As I stood by the car waiting for her to return, I suddenly saw three hounds racing toward me at breakneck speed. I tore across the street and entered the garage of strangers, slamming the door behind me. When I heard panting noises, which sounded like a sexual predator or a dog, I exited and fell to the ground hyperventilating, my heart pounding about 500 beats a minute. That’s how my friend and her friends found me and scraped me off the pavement.
As the years pass, I find it takes longer and longer for my heart rate to normalize after one of these events. If you’re like most people, by now you’re probably assuming that all this angst stems from a fear of being bitten. In truth, I have been bitten a few times and don’t relish it happening again. But the overriding fear is simply that of being touched by an animal.
After all, while some of the people are dirty some of the time, animals are dirty all of the time, except maybe for a couple of seconds after they’ve been bathed. With dogs it’s their smell, their fur, their dander, their foul breath, their wet snouts, their saliva, their retractable peckers, their eternal, infernal butt-sniffing — the entire package is repellant.
I don’t find in them any redeeming social value other than being service animals. Dogs smell like wet blankets thrown into a basement to mold, while cats smell like smoothies concocted of urine and cheap tuna. Tequila optional.
I seldom meet anyone who really understands my fear. Strangers who see me trying to evade their dogs usually say “Oh, don’t worry; Snookims is very friendly!” My response is always “That is the very last thing I want to hear about your dog.”
When I said “I hate your dogs” to my darling Mexican neighbor, she responded “Yo también,” or “Me too.”
A gringa in the Jardín was nattering on about how much she loved her dog; more, in fact, than she’d ever loved her husband. I’m still somewhat ashamed that I simply couldn’t resist saying “I hope the sex was good.”
I’ve gone to great lengths trying to find ways to describe my aversion, in the hope of making myself understood. I’ve tried metaphors, analogies, and allegories, all to no avail.
Here’s how I laid it out for one woman: “Imagine you’ve just showered and put on a gorgeous new outfit. You’re heading toward el centro to meet friends for dinner at a fancy restaurant on Sollano, and a filthy unzipped bum with a bottle in a brown paper bag, and a giant oozing erection, is galumphing toward you on a wooden leg, with open arms, snorting and salivating all the while, as dandruff drops like a light snowfall onto his shoulders. How would you react?”
She looked at me like I’d just landed in a UFO, and said with a sneer, “You. Are. Disgusting.”
This after I’d gone to such lengths to paint a pretty word picture for her . . . .
So again I ask, what am I doing in this animal lovers’ paradise they call San Miguel de Allende?
Well, for starters, I’m crossing the street with great frequency, which I find the safest thing to do when a four-legged creature is headed my way. If I go to a restaurant and find dogs are welcome, I strike it from my list of eateries.
I guess the truly amazing thing is that I do have a few friends, some animal lovers, who understand my case and attempt to protect me when an animal appears on the scene.
My dear friend Abbey has helped me the most by teaching me the simple expedient of picking up a big rock whenever I see a dog in my neighborhood. I’ve never had to use it because, miraculously, all dogs seem to understand the gesture.
Would that people were such quick studies.
Athea Marcos Amir is a writer and 15-year resident of San Miguel de Allende.