Adjusting to dogs was one of the biggest challenges I have met since moving to Maine from Somalia.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

When I was growing up watching Hollywood movies, I remember thinking that people own dogs for their own protection. That dogs bite burglars if they try to break in. And dogs are supposed to protect the property of the family.

It was one of the mysteries I have tried to solve since I settled here. What is it that people see in dogs to keep them in their bedrooms, give them human names? There is an aisle at the grocery store for dog food. There is a special park to bring dogs for a walk. At a veterinary hospital, owners can meet a doctor who specializes in animal health. Americans are so serious about their dogs that some have therapy dogs.

Recently, I have reflected on how far I have come to adjust to living with dogs, touching them on the head and giving them belly rubs. It took over four years of adjusting to the American culture before I felt comfortable around dogs. I remember vividly how nervous I felt during my first few months when the dog sat next to me on the couch at my sponsoring family’s house. I tried to act normal, but the feeling of a dog that close was unsettling. I would come up with any excuse I could to leave the living room.

It is very common for dog owners to say, “This dog is friendly.” I wondered what that meant. If the dog is lying on the couch with me, is that considered friendly? Or when the door opens and the dogs jump up to greet me?

I have learned that learning to speak your feelings is important in dealing with dogs and the anxiety it might bring. My Maine friends and I communicated well about how I would adjust to things that seemed hard to adjust to, such as befriending dogs. It started with short walks with the dog. Then throwing some Frisbees. When I met another dog walker, the conversation was about dogs. I memorized some dog breeds so that I could at least engage in some dog conversations with strangers. I learned to fake smiles.

One could argue I had the choice to say I did not like dogs or that I did not feel comfortable. But that is not true. I don’t know anyone who inherently hates dogs. We grew up with stray dogs often coming out at night, scavenging on the streets and going back into their dens during the day. We were told to avoid dogs since they were not clean. There was a popular story narrated by the prophet Mohammed where Allah rewards a non-Muslim woman with entry to heaven because she gave a thirsty dog some water. Stories such as this one are proof that dogs deserve our love and attention.

Over the years, I have learned some ways people who own dogs and those who are new to the state could get along. Communicate before inviting a recent immigrant to your house for coffee or tea. Some immigrants want to meet the dogs and slowly get to know them. Some dog owners take their dogs to the basement when a Muslim immigrant is visiting. The perception that Muslims don’t like dogs is often misrepresented. There are 10 animals, we were told in Islam, that God rewarded paradise, among these are a calf, a fish, a ram and a dog. The dog that will enter paradise is called Katmir and it stayed with the companions of the cave who fled during the Diocletian persecution in 250 C.E.

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