How our clients helped me conquer a lifelong phobia.

By Jaana Singh (Gould ‘24)

Jaana Singh (‘24)

On August 1, 2022, my fellow summer students and I had the opportunity to visit California State Prison-Los Angeles County to learn more about the Paws For Life K9 Rescue Program. On the drive up, the three other summer students were animated and excited about playing with dogs. I was not. Instead, I used the drive up to practice deep breathing exercises to try and calm my nerves about coming face to face with one of my biggest fears. 

I was anxious about being in a room with so many dogs but knew I still wanted to attend the trip because I spent the whole summer talking to men housed in prison but never set foot in one myself. Encountering a couple of canines would be a small price to pay in order to observe the inside of a prison and garner some much-needed context for what my clients’ day-to-day lives looked like. The only framework I was working with, up until this point, was from the caricatures in film.

I don’t know where my fear of dogs comes from. Upon reflection, I blame it on the negative association I formed in my childhood. When I was younger, I spent several months in India where stray, rabid dogs roamed the streets. Whenever my sister or I acted out, my mother would threaten to take us down to see the dogs. It was an empty threat, but I began connecting dogs with a form of punishment. Even back home in New York, if I visited a friend who had a puppy, I needed their family to lock their pet up in a separate room because I was too scared to deal with a harmless puppy — because of my ingrained negative association.

When we did introductions at Paws For Life, I informed the men involved in the program that I was afraid of dogs. They saw this as a challenge, and I’m glad they did. A bunch of them came up to me trying to dissect my fear and figure out the root cause in order to help me overcome my seemingly irrational phobia. I was definitely nervous, but the dogs were so well-behaved! They wouldn’t bark, were obedient, and even did cool tricks! One trainer told me that some of the dogs are trained to even fetch water or medicine out of a fridge. 

Because of how welcoming and enthusiastic the men involved in the Paws For Life visit were, I started inching closer to the dogs, and then eventually worked up the courage to pet one. Soon, the well-trained dogs started giving me handshakes (firm ones too — they’d make great lawyers with handshakes like that)!

Jaana Singh (‘24) at Paws For Life