Day: July 25, 2010

Confession: My Animal Phobia

Did you know that 20% of Americans suffer from some type of phobia?  A phobia is defined as “is an irrational, intense and persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, animals, or people”.  (I personally think the percentages have to higher).  There are hundreds of different types of phobias including everything from Denrophobia (a fear of trees) to chorophobia (fear of dancing- pretty sure I suffer from this one).  The list of phobias is exhaustive and can be seen at

So what is my phobia?  Most of you know that I am scared of animals.  There are several reasons for this fear. The main reason is I didn’t grow up with them.  My sister Megan and brother Ben are completely allergic to all animals with fir or feathers.  This meant that not only did I not live with animals, I didn’t spend much time with them.  Even a trip to the zoo was ripe with peril for my family.  One time we visited my uncle Mark’s ranch in Northern California and my brother’s eye swelled up to the size of a tennis ball and he had to be rushed to the hospital.

I did have friends who had animals.  Most notably my friend Meredith who had 3 champion samoyeds and at least one cat.  In fact, the first time I went to her house I let the dogs out and we had to chase them through the mud.  I felt like such an idiot but I really had no experience with animals.  Eventually I became comfortable with her dogs but it took years.  When we had sleepovers the dogs or cats would occasionally jump on me in the middle of the night sending me into a complete fright.  After all, I was not used to large mammals jumping on me in the night!

After visiting Meredith or other friends with dogs I remember being worried that I was going to get my siblings sick.  My sister Megan would break out in horrible hives all over her face in the presence of animal dander (among other things) and I know I felt responsible for her outbreaks on more than one instance.  This was probably not the case but it created a compulsion to stay away from animals.

Added to that fear was that I have always been weird about my personal space.  I’m not a particularly lovey-dovey person (my first word was stop if that tells you anything).  One thing about animals is they are all about violating your personal space.  They jump, lick, bite, chirp, and land all over your body.  Most people find such gestures cuddly and sweet.  For some reason, I’ve always disliked it and felt fearful about it.  In my head I know that most of the animals I come in contact with will not hurt me but I still feel that resistance when I’m around them.

Some of you might argue that I have not spent enough time around animals.  While this may be partially true, I don’t know if this fear could be handled so simply.  When I was on my mission I met every dog, cat and bird in Indiana.  We used to joke that every Hoosier loves their dogs and cigarettes.

I prayed a lot and somehow I was able to manage but it was hard.  Despite nearly daily interaction with animals, it never got easier or less anxious to be around them.  The one time when I drew the line and refused to visit a family because of an animal was in my first area.  This family had 2 st. Bernard dogs.  It was like living with 2 horses in the house!  I mustered up my courage and went in to visit but I noticed their little girl had a large gash on her forehead.

“How’d she get that gash?”  I asked.

“Oh the dog was just playing” the woman responded!

My eyes grew big and after our visit I made sure we never went back to that house.  Especially at the beginning of my mission I could only take so much.

Another experience with animals on my mission happened in Angola.  We were visiting a less active family when the girls decided it would be funny to throw their bird in my face.  They didn’t know about my phobia or I assure you they would not have behaved so foolishly.  Seeing all the wings and beaks flying towards my face I freaked out.  At first they laughed and then when I was hyperventilating they realized their mistake.

Those are 2 rare exceptions.  For the most part I tried to be loving and kind to people’s pets despite my insecurities.  However, those insecurities never went away.  I think I will always have them.  The oddest part of my phobia is it covers all animals not just big mean dogs.  I particularly don’t like anything rodent-like such as ferrets, rats, gerbils or guinea pigs.  Yuck!  I also don’t like snakes, toads, or anything that slithers/crawls.  Most people at least like birds but not me.  I don’t like their smell and hate it when they land on my shoulder.  I feel insecure and don’t know what they are going to do next.  Plus, it freaks me out when they fly in my face.

Some people are very critical of me for my animal phobia.  It is like I detest babies or something.   There are people who think I am a bad person because I don’t like animals.  They are entitled to their opinion, but I would argue that I don’t want cruel things to happen to animals.  I just don’t want them around me.  In fact, when I see a dog or cat in a hot car or in pain I feel for the creature.  I have never liked zoos partly because I’m not into large animals but also because I think it is cruel to cage them for no reason but our viewing pleasure. I would do whatever I could to protect or make sure animals had good kind homes.  I am just not that home. Especially being single I see the appeal of the companionship of a pet, but I know an animal would not get the love it needs from me.

I have often joked that having no animals will be part of my “pre-nup”.  (No, I don’t plan on having a pre-nup.  It’s just a joke).  I know it is silly to place restrictions on my future life but it is an issue that will have to be discussed.  Forcing me to live with an animal would be the equivalent of forcing a person with a fear of heights to live on the 40th floor.  It would be cruel to both myself and the animal.

I suppose I can cross that bridge when I come to it.  In the meantime, I am enjoying my animal-less life and allowing all you animal lovers to shoulder that burden.

So now you all know probably the weirdest thing about me.  Thoughts?

Did I mention I also get nauseous in hospitals/nursing homes and faint at the sight of blood? That’s for another entry!  Do any of you have phobias?  For instance, I know a lot of people have a fear of public speaking?