Many Muslims, growing up in devout households, are taught that dogs are dirty and scary. So could Sarfraz Manzoor learn to love Cookie the bulldog?
I don’t like dogs. I find them frightening and unpredictable; I don’t like their panting, drooling ways and I feel uncomfortable not being able to tell which dog is friendly and which wants to chew off my arm. I prefer species that appreciate amusing word play and the concept of irony. But in Britain, to be a dog-hater is to admit to an unforgivable perversion. There is no socially acceptable way, I have learned, to recoil in horror when someone tries to plonk their pooch on to my lap. And now, on top of all that, I find myself living with a woman who has a very different attitude to dogs â€“ she adores them â€“ and she has a dream that one day the Manzoor household could include the pitter-patter of doggy paws. I love my girlfriend, but can I also learn to love dogs?
A walk in the park, for the dog fearer, is no walk in the park. I am in Clissold park in north London. In almost every way it is a perfect day â€“ a pleasant, warm morning, the last few clouds scooting across a bright blue sky â€“ but as usual my reverie is shattered by the sight of dogs charging across the park. They scamper and dart, followed by owners hurling moist wooden sticks. Waiting to meet me in the park’s cafe is Louise Glazebrook, a dog behaviourist who runs the Darling Dogs company. “Dog anxiety can be something that is transmitted down from parents to children,” she tells me. I am not listening as my attention is on the giant Burmese mountain dog that is dawdling past us. Once it has safely slipped away I start listening again. “Sometimes it can be one particular thing that triggers a fear of dogs,” Glazebrook says, “like teeth or saliva or the dog’s mouth, so I want you to think about why exactly you don’t like dogs.”
When I was at school, I associated dogs with skinheads.
Well, it started in childhood. Growing up in a Muslim household, I was told dogs were dirty â€“ their saliva was unclean and the angels would not visit any house with a dog for that reason. When I saw any on the streets, I either froze with fear or ran in terror. When I was at school in the 80s, I associated dogs with skinheads; round where we lived, the racists delighted in unleashing their alsatians whenever they saw brown-skinned boys like me. Dogs may have been man’s best friend, but they were an Asian’s worst enemy.
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