by Olivia Cohen
The very first day I moved in with my host family, they warned me not to be scared of Osa when she barked at me. The street I live on is comprised of many little “gated communities”, which are just 7-10 row houses with their own gate that requires a key. Osa is the large German Shepard that lives in the very first house of my “gated community.” She sits behind the gate to her own house all day long, lying on her step, waiting for passersby. She is a moody dog to say the least.
With my host family’s warning in mind, I was expecting the worst for my first arrival home alone. I had heard Osa’s booming bark before when it had been directed at others, and I was not looking forward to bearing the brunt of it. But when I came home from Spanish classes on the first day, she didn’t bark at all. When she saw me come through the gate, she simply got up from her step, and came up to greet me. So, she likes me, I thought. And I prided myself for the rest of the night on my amazing dog skills and the fact that all dogs love me. However, the next day when I returned home from classes, I got a completely different response. The second my hand touched the gate to push it open, I was greeted with the most ferocious noise. Not only did my heart jump, but I physically jumped back and then immediately ran by her house to escape the threatening bark. From that day on Osa has been very inconsistent. Some days she sits quietly on her door step, some days she walks over to greet me, some days she barks the moment she hears me coming, and some days she doesn’t start barking until the gate is closed, and I think I am in the clear.
It wasn’t long before Osa’s reactions began controlling my mood when I returned home in the evenings. If I arrive at the gate happy but she barks at me, I feel just a little bit sadder. If I arrive upset but Osa comes to greet me sweetly, I feel that much better. I desperately want Osa to like me. I want her to be used to me. I want her to think of me as another member of the community that she knows and doesn’t have to scare away. Every time she barks, I feel it is a reminder that I do not belong.
Last week marked the first week that I went 5 days straight without Osa barking when I returned home. I’d like to think of this as a symbol of my progress in settling in to my community. I still don’t feel entirely comfortable in everything I do – I get nervous that everyone is staring at me on the bus when I do something dumb, I get embarrassed if someone notices me quickly change directions because I am often lost, and I feel bad and slightly resented when my Spanish fails me in a store or on the streets. I can’t say that Cuenca feels like a community of my own yet, but I do believe a house becomes a home when the dog no longer barks at your arrival.