Escaping the Fear Jail

Today, I walked my dog all by myself. For a lot of people, that happens every day – sometimes more than once. But for me, it’s been about 3 years. I’ve walked lots of dogs before – everything from family pets to shelter dogs. And it wasn’t until Piper came to live with us that I stopped wielding a leash.

I adopted Piper before I had space in my home for her (but there was endless space in my heart). So, she lived with my parents and their dog for about a year until their collars got tangled together when no one was home and they nearly killed each other.

Maggie & Piper

Piper post-surgery

It was $1,400 to stitch and staple her back together but I had no idea how costly the situation had been on my mental state. The vet told us very sternly that the two dogs should be separated forever and so Piper came to live with us. She came on hikes and camping trips and played fetch in the yard, but never really spent time with other dogs again. In fact, whenever another dog was present, she usually yelped and hid or tried to bolt away from the situation.

Piper Adventures

Between her fearful reactions and the trauma that I never really dealt with after being confronted with her possible death, my brain created a jail. What if an off leash dog rushes up to us? What if she reacts poorly? What if people think I have a mean dog and I’m ordered to put her down?

It was a non-stop rush of terror every time I thought of stepping outside with my dog. I had created a fake situation in my mind that doomed us both and I refused to let it become a reality. Nope. We would just play fetch in the backyard and she would never come in contact with the outside world again.

It’s obviously been unfair. Especially to Piper but also to Mr. Rathroy as he drags me, oftentimes in tears, out the door with Piper in tow to prove that it’s okay. And even though he proves it time and time again, I can’t get past my crippling fears that it won’t be okay next time. I’ve worked on it in therapy. I’ve worked on it with Reiki. I’ve meditated and medicated. And still, I feel my heart quicken and my breath seize when Mr. Rathroy suggests a walk around the block. I simply cannot face the possible confirmation of the outcome that I’ve fabricated.

I’m not completely sure what changed today. I don’t know exactly what made me charge through that brick wall of fear and grab the leash. But I would bet it had something to do with the weekend we just spent running around on an empty beach.


This was Piper’s third time at the beach house and she was no stranger to a mouthful of sand and the smell of crab skeletons. Even though it’s not allowed (don’t tell on me), we walk down to the beach, make sure no one else is breaking the rules with their dogs too and let her run. She ignores everything but the ball. At this point, I’m confident that a pack of wolves couldn’t distract Piper from playing fetch. But on Sunday, we didn’t bring the ball. We just unclipped her and let her frolic (much to my terror).

California dog.

She ran by our sides and then zoomed ahead. She stopped when we asked her to and then ran some more. She was the happiest and most free I had ever seen her. Those moments on the beach helped me realize what an incredible dog we have. It proved that we trust each other and don’t need a physical tether to control the situation – that she is a really good dog and that she deserves more opportunities to show us just how good she can be.

When I came home to let her out of the crate at lunch today, I knew she deserved some time to stretch her legs and I knew that I deserved, finally, to overcome my fear. So, we walked out the door without hesitation, ignored the three years I had spent convinced that something terrible would happen, and enjoyed every single step. We made it down the street and back without incident or trauma, and I’ve never felt so satisfied to be proven wrong.

With this unexpected victory kicking off 2014, I’m vibrating with excitement over what I will conquer next. I know a walk down the street with my dog won’t seem like much to most people, but it’s one less brick in the wall of fear and anxiety that has been holding me back.

So, listen up, Wall! I’m in charge now and it’s high time that I grabbed the leash to my own life too. No limits. No fear. Just life, however I choose to live it.

Piper kiss

2 thoughts on “Escaping the Fear Jail

  1. What a great story! I was tearing up because I’m a huge animal lover. I can really sympathize with you, especially in being fearful of the ‘what if’s’ with a dog. I own a small dog (yorkie/maltese mix) and during our first year together, he was attacked by 3 separate dogs. He also gets overly anxious/excited around kids and will jump all over them and nip in excitement. With these two situations combined, I was so fearful of leaving the house with the dog. When I met my boyfriend 4 years ago, he started working with me and the dog to build up our confidence. Like you, one day I just broke through the wall of fear, marched down the street with the dog. I’ll never forget the first dog/kid we walked by without incident — it was a breath of fresh air! Since that day I’ve gained more + more confidence with my dog, and our relationship gets stronger by the day 🙂

    Great job overcoming your fears… thanks for sharing such a wonderful story!

    • It’s so validating to hear that other people have had similar struggles! It’s so scary to think of being responsible for something bad happening but it became just as burdensome to realize that I was preventing my dog from living a happy life too. So happy to hear that you and your pup are going strong and thank you so much for the encouragement!

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