It goes without saying that a friendship between an animal and a person is one of the purest bonds that can ever exist in this world. However, unfortunate accidents can sometimes taint this relationship. When Teresa Hwang was 10 years old, her friend’s pet dog bit her on the forehead and she got bit again when she was 20. This terrifying event caused her to develop a fear of dogs.
But sometimes, life can really be ironic. After dog-sitting her sister’s 16-year-old black dog Cola for two weeks, Hwang found herself making a rather bizarre choice. She decided to try and conquer her fear by adopting the creature she feared the most! Now, 2 1/2 years later, she’s happy to say that adopting Boo has been one of the best decisions she’s ever made in her life!
Teresa Hwang has a fear of dogs
The Oakville, Canada-based 51-year-old Special Education elementary teacher used to actively avoid dogs before making that life-changing decision. “I have been afraid of dogs for most of my life. Having been bitten by friends’ dogs at the age of 10 (on the forehead) and the age of 20 (on the leg), I had developed a dog phobia,” she shared. Before that fateful dog-sitting event in Teresa’s life, she shared that,
“I would cross streets to avoid walking past leashed dogs, did not enjoy running outside, and would ask friends I visited to put overactive or barking dogs in other rooms. While I could manage and interact with friendly dogs that I became familiar with, regardless of size and breed, I still always panicked if a dog growled or barked, even if it was just playing.”
She adopted a dog who was afraid of people
Choosing the right companion for Hwang proved to be a challenge, thanks to her predicament. However, it wasn’t entirely impossible. She had to reach out to a lot of animal rescue shelters to see if they had someone who could help her in her mission. The likelihood of a person with a fear of dogs sending in an inquiry about adoption is unique, and most likely really rare. The search must’ve been exhausting for Hwang, but nevertheless, her persistence paid off.
She found who she looking for at the Niagara Dog Rescue. Patches – who now goes by the name Boo – had been in their system for about half a year. The poor pooch had been through a lot before becoming a resident at Niagara Dog Rescue. According to his documents, he’d stayed in two other shelters in Texas. A family fostered him before, but returned him. This experience must’ve played a big role in the dog’s uneasiness towards humans.
“Description mentioned that Boo would not be a good fit in a home with a lot of noise, activity, or children,” Hwang recalled. “But that he was great with other dogs. He was described as a ‘Prince of a dog’, part Australian cattle dog, who was timid and shy but could somehow show his potential if given a loving home. The description made me think of Aladdin, ‘a diamond in the rough’.”
And so, the woman who was scared of dogs took a chance on the dog who was afraid of people
“When I first met Boo, the first thing I remembered thinking was that he was much smaller than I thought he would be from his pictures. I also observed how fearful and nervous he was. He was sitting on a bench beside his foster mom when we arrived. While I sat on the other end of the bench talking to his foster, I didn’t look or engage with him at all because I was quite anxious myself.”
Boo sealed the deal
“About 15 minutes in our conversation, Boo slowly came out from hiding behind his foster mom and took a few steps towards me. As I turned to look, he gave me one lick on the nose and then quickly retreated and hid behind his foster mom. His foster mom gave me a surprised look and replied, ‘Wow. That’s really weird, he doesn’t approach people. I guess he’s picked you’. Right then and there, all my catastrophic and self-depreciating worries that had escalated in the weeks prior to this day about my safety, about my ability to overcome my fear, melted. If he took a leap to initiate a connection, then I knew it was a sign. I had to take him home.”
It wasn’t easy at first
Since this uncanny duo had phobias toward one another, their friendship took some time before it could blossom. According to Hwang, her new furry companion didn’t engage much for the first couple of months. “He would follow me around the house but couldn’t aproach,” she recalled. “He wouldn’t eat in front of us. He wouldn’t touch toys. He walked with his tail between his legs. He paced a lot. He cowered in corners. He flinched and would shake at noises like the washing machine or the furnace.”
However, her determination to get over her fear of dogs and Boo’s phobia kept her going
After witnessing Boo’s brave gesture, Hwang decided to set aside her fear of dogs to help him out. When you look at their situation from an onlooker’s perspective, you’ll come up with two conclusions. First, their pairing is unorthodox. And second, it just might work. Because as Teresa mentioned before, she can’t handle being around a dog that’s easily excitable. But perhaps pairing them with one that needs to overcome some trust issues just might be perfect.
“Unsure of his history, we treated him as if he experienced trauma and worked on creating safety and building trust,” Hwang said. “We kept to predictable routines and took cues from his body language when not to push him outside his comfort zone.”
Hwang and her family tried various methods to encourage Boo to get over his phobia. They used various anxiety tools like the Thundershirt, slow-feed bowls, calming spray and even CBD oil. Aside from using anxiety tools, Hwang even went to enroll themselves in various training classes. But food can’t motivate Boo. This was definitely a challenge, as providing treats as a reward is the easiest way to train dogs.
After 2 1/2 years with Hwang, Boo has made great progress
The beginning of their relationship was definitely not smooth sailing. Hwang and Boo had to overcome a lot of challenges. But now their efforts have paid off, as they are now inseparable. Over time, Hwang has discovered that her canine companion has a unique personality, which she truly adores.
“He’s not your typical dog. He still paces if people are moving around the house. He doesn’t get excited motivated by treats. He darts from rustling winds on windy days. He doesn’t ever come to the door to greet you. He doesn’t jump on your lap to cheer you up. He’s not super friendly. He doesn’t like being pet by strangers. But Boo made so many gains in the past 2 1/2 years since we first got him.”
Having Boo with her has absolutely helped in the conquering of her own fear of dogs
“People also ask if I have gotten over my dog phobia. Well, I’m not afraid of Boo – even when he barks or growls to communicate excitement or discomfort. But I’m still nervous around other dogs I don’t know. But it’s better. And I know that if a dog came after Boo, I would protect him. Because he isn’t the only one who has changed. Seeing Boo heal and grow has changed the way I see myself. Just as with my own children, taking care of Boo has taught me patience and unconditional love.”
Boo and Teresa Hwang have rescued one another from their phobias
“Teaching Boo has also changed the way I see many of my students. I’ve realized now that many times, behaviors like defiance or aggression or shutting down are all tied to the same thing – anxiety and fear. Fear is a powerful emotion. It prevents you from taking risks, from trusting others, and believing yourself. Building relationships first – creating a sense of safety and trust really is the most important thing. When people praise me for saving his life saying that I rescued him, I always have the same response, ‘Boo rescued me right back’. We overcame our fears together. We healed each other. We showed that love is greater than fear.”
Watch the touching video below