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On being friendly

Last week I walked into the vacuum cleaner store, one of those strip-mall shops with modest space. My thoughts of vacuum filters disintegrated abruptly when a brown four-legged colossus, part poodle, part horse, trotted out from the back room and inquired wordlessly exactly what my business was in that space, most of which he occupied.

“He’s friendly!” the voice from the back called out. I swallowed my gasp and tried to look comfortable, but I wasn’t. Another time and place had hold of me.

I was about six when the neighbor’s Irish setter lunged at me, pinned me on my back, and started gnawing my forehead. The words “he won’t hurt you” — first cousin to “he’s friendly” — were fresh in my ears as I went down.

I did not take this quietly: adults appeared instantly and pulled the dog off. I ran screaming home. To say I was terrified is the Great Dane of understatement.

Then rabies shots, which, dear reader, you would not want for your children.

I was an adult before I could be without panic near a dog. That is not hyperbole. To this day, I will not voluntarily go near an unleashed dog. And I’m not enthusiastic about those on leashes.

I’ve known some dogs of endearing charm, and they have softened that childhood memory, but I remain cautious. Dogs are everywhere now, and their adoring owners think “he’s friendly” is proper substitute for a leash, or, like some Jedi mind trick, makes everyone else adore their dog. “He’s friendly” only makes me think “so what’s your point?” Mosquitoes and con men are friendly too.

If your dog’s name is Friendly, and he’s on a leash and closer to you than to me, then tell me he’s Friendly. That would be very friendly.