My Fear of Dogs

Abram Gabriel

Copyright 2023 by Abram Gabriel

Image by Alexa from Pixabay
Image by Alexa from Pixabay 

When I was in first through third grade, I passed by a slaughterhouse on my way to and from school. Now I'm an old man, but I can still smell the barrels of scraps. These cans attracted feral dogs from the neighborhood and beyond. I was always frightened of these mangy mutts, but they were more interested in the tantalizing scents than they were in a skinny little boy on his way to school. My dislike of dogs stems from that experience. 

I used to go up Mifflin to Moyamensing and then straight up that avenue. I remember a few unrelated facts from these trips to school--the brick pavements, the roses in people's front gardens right by the slaughterhouse that I would sniff in the spring, my disgust at dog feces, cows being led off trucks, and my love of the smell of cigarette butts in the trash on Friday mornings before the trashmen came through the neighborhood.

Only once did the dogs realize I was there. They gathered around me but I walked, not ran, and quickly passed out of their sphere of interest. For a long time I thought all dogs had exposed ribs. It took watching the Westminster Kennel Club several times on TV and exposure to friends' dogs to trust these animals a little more. I still don't trust them completely.  At any moment, I'm afraid they will jump up and sink their sharp canines into my neck, like vampires, although this has never happened. 

As a child I was interested to learn that in third world countries dogs are wild and mainly vectors of rabies, an incurable disease that always ends in madness and death unless treated with a vaccine as soon as possible. In developing countries dogs are neither cute, lovable nor purebred. They are not pets but more like the hungry animals of my childhood.

My older sisters say they would never let their kids walk to school alone. I, on the other hand, did not think twice about it. I thought of these dogs as normal. Doesn't everything seem normal in childhood?


Abram Gabriel is a graduate of Harvard College and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine and Hygiene and Public Health.  After 30 years at Rutgers where he taught in the department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and did research he retired to Maine and took up writing full time. During his career he published in Nature, Science, NEJM, and Molecular Cell, as well as many other journals.  He also edited a monograph entitled Retrotransposons and Human Disease for World Scientific Press in Singapore.  He suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010 but continued teaching. Upon retirement in 2022 he took up writing prose and poetry and has published 2 prose pieces: in Hektoen International out of Chicago USA, and Storyhouse Weekly out of Nashville USA.

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