A Turkey, A Dog, and A Bear…Oh My!

One minute we are sitting with our team of therapy dogs and handlers talking with children at a local YMCA for a Healthy Kids event and the next minute in my peripheral vision I see something that makes my heart start to pound.  I begin a little self-talk.  “Please don’t come over here! Please don’t come over here!  Oh please don’t come over here!”  Jellybean stands at attention, sensing something is about to happen.  I can feel her body tense and I hear a low growl.  “It’s okay Jellybean.  She won’t hurt you,” said the cowardly one.  She looked at me with such trust, then turned and looked at the big, yellow-beaked creature coming straight toward us.  I take a deep breath and tell myself, “I can do this.  I can do this.”

We are sitting in the stands at York College for the girls’ basketball game.  The game is in full swing; both teams running up and down the court, buzzers going off, whistles blowing, fans cheering, Jellybean and the other therapy dogs sitting behind the home team sound asleep.  Seriously, they sleep during the game, oblivious to the hubbub around them.  Suddenly the buzzer sounding half time goes off and the dogs jump up and quickly spring into action as the fans climb into the stands to pet their favorite four-legged pals.  Jellybean is soaking up the attention from a young fan when I give her leash a little tug.  I take a deep breath and mutter to myself, “Oh, no, not again!”   I sense movement at the corner of the bleacher.  There it is; the green hairy leg, complete with a green and white striped sock and a gigantic orange sneaker.  My eyes are big as I watch and silently plead for it to go the other way.  But to no avail, as it gallivants around the corner of the bleacher heading straight for us.  I start to sweat and my heart beats double time.  Jellybean must sense my fear, because she lets out a bark so loud and ferocious that it scared the other dogs into a barking frenzy like York College basketball has never known.

It’s Bark in the Park Day at the York Revolution baseball game.  Jellybean and I are seated behind third base.  In case you wondered, yes, she has her own seat and yes, she is wearing her favorite pink baseball cap and Revs t-shirt.  I actually brought her little pink bed along and tucked it deep into the stadium seat so it would stay down all by itself.  We are enjoying the game and sharing a basket of tasty chicken tenders, when fans around us start chanting “Down Town!  Down Town!  Down Town!”  I quickly stuff the tenders in my bag and go on high alert.  I look at the big screen in the outfield to see if I can determine where my nemesis is located.  Oh no, it is right behind the players in our section, just a few rows in front of us.  Just as I spot the furry mascot, it turns around and our eyes lock.  I can’t breathe.  Then, its’ gaze shifts to my precious little puppy and it is on the move.  My first thought is, “Oh please, somebody hit a homerun.  Somebody do something to distract this overzealous, overgrown blue bird before it gets to my baby!”  Jellybean on the other hand seems intrigued as it plops in the empty seat beside her, rubbing its’ over-sized belly with one hand and stroking her back with the other.  Me, on the other hand, I am frozen in my seat.  I am watching what is happening right beside me, but I seriously can’t move.

Well, if you haven’t guessed it by now, I suffer from Masklophobia.  This is an actual phobia that is characterized by a fear of people in masks and costumes, and costumed characters, such as the likes of Hilda the Turkey Hill Mascot, Screamer, the York College mascot, and even Down Town, the big-bellied baseball-loving bird for the York Revolution.  For me, I think it is the not knowing who is behind the costume that scares me the most. This is something that has plagued me as far back as I can remember and obviously is still an issue.  Case in point, just a few years ago I attended a conference in California.  Apparently we were a hop, skip and a jump away from Downtown Disney.  I refused to leave the hotel for the entire week for fear I would run into Mickey Mouse and his menagerie of friends.

My trip to Vegas with friends will drive the point home.  We were on the third floor of the M&M store thoroughly engrossed in the colorful candy displays, when out of the back room struts the biggest yellow M&M I have ever seen.  It was waving its’ pudgy white hands and stomping its’ chunky white sneakers as it danced across the floor toward us.  I turned to my friend and frantically announced, “I’m out of here!”  I hopped on the escalator and rode down to the first floor where I waited by the front door until the rest of the group arrived, apparently not at all phased by the phenomena of a walking piece of candy.

What can I say, I’m a mess!  I must admit, however, I am trying to work on it.  Being involved with the therapy dog group, Jellybean and I often participate in community related events such as this past Saturday where interaction with characters such as Hilda – the Turkey Hill Turkey, Smokey the Bear, and McGruff the Crime Dog are part of the entertainment for the event. I certainly don’t want my spunky little puppy to feed off my fear, so…for the sake of my sweet Jellybean I need to muster the courage to look those mascots right in the eye – or eyes, whatever might be the case, celebrate their uniqueness and try to find the joy that others seem to see in them.  Wait a minute, did that giant Hershey Kiss just move?

Beverly Stiffler Smith

Children’s Author

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