Gender & Identity Life

I suffered from terrible germaphobia until I got a dog

Just two years ago, I was afraid to touch anything. I’d gag at the thought of shaking hands with someone, use hand sanitizer at every opportunity and scan my surroundings for any hint of dirt or bugs. I was extremely fearful of contracting illnesses or diseases and of being unclean. That is until I added a furry little dog to my family.

I’d spent the better part of 11 years fantasizing about getting a dog. My first and only dog, a Maltese named Amazon, died of old age when I was a senior in high school and I wasn’t in a huge rush to replace him. Besides, I was raised in a household that wasn’t hugely fond of having animals in the house. Amazon was the exception.

Then, in the early part of 2016, I found myself feeling down, depressed and anxious. I’d read on various websites how beneficial pets are for lowering stress levels and alleviating depression, so I set out on a mission to find the perfect pup. It didn’t take very long. I found him—another Maltese, this time named Bruno—in April of that year and, to my surprise, it was me who was struggling. My puppy came home with a bad case of diarrhea and worms which forced me, as his human, to own up to my anxieties about germs and other critters. I panicked at the idea that this adorable fluffball had brought anything unsavory into the house and even considered giving him away to someone better equipped to handle these things.

But he was just too darn cute…and I’d already gotten attached to the idea of keeping him around. So, I had to suck it up. I had to do my job as a new pet parent to get Bruno healthy, clean and happy. His vet prescribed a course of treatment and we were well on our way toward pet-human bliss.

As if it were that easy. I won’t mince words: a cute dog spewing dead worms is the last thing you ever want to see. But sometimes, love trumps any anxiety, disgust or paranoia you have about stuff like this. So, I bought a Costco-sized container of hand sanitizer and got to work. During those first few weeks with Bruno, I braved a lot of new territories that tested my patience and my limits. When he refused his medication, I tried a variety of tactics to properly administer it. Quite a task when you’ve got a fidgety little Maltese on hand! And when his pure white fur was marred by poop or vomit, I bathed him so he (and I) felt clean. I took pride in tidying up after him.

Strangely enough, I started to feel relieved whenever I’d find a dead worm in a pile of poop or vomit. As gross as that sounds, I knew it meant Bruno’s meds were working and he was getting better. Even more strange was that I started to obsess less and less about whether germs were invading my home or my body. Instead, my focus shifted to Bruno’s health and happiness. And to this day, nearly two years later, those two things are at the top of my list whenever I make an important decision.

Now, rather than succumbing to my paranoia about germs, I keep in mind that there isn’t any phobia I can’t overcome. Am I 100 percent cured of my germaphobia? Not by a longshot, but loving and caring for Bruno has helped me learn to manage it better. I’m much less concerned with what grossness I might encounter when cleaning poop, touching less-than-spotless surfaces or shaking hands with those whose hygiene practices I’m unfamiliar with.

Even my family has noticed a marked difference in the way I approach my day-to-day. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have ever considered hugging a floor-dwelling animal close to my chest, kissing the top of his head and telling him how much I adore him, but that’s my life now. No matter how dirty or smelly the little guy gets, I’m unquestionably dedicated to making sure he’s living the best life possible. Luckily for me, he’s helping me do the same.

By Tara Martinez

Writer. Over-thinker. Questioner of things. A life-long film enthusiast who loves uncovering the deeper meaning behind what we see on our screens, especially as it relates to women, people of color, and other underrepresented communities.