It was a Friday night and we had eight guests at our Shabbat table. I had worked hard to make a sumptuous meal, and we were enjoying the soup when Laila died.
Laila actually was our daughter and son-in-law’s dog, but we had been babysitting for her for many years now, so we certainly felt responsible for her. In the midst of all the socializing and imbibing and enjoying, she just lay her head on the floor, and that was that. She was dead. Almost! She lay there in a catatonic state, eyes open but unseeing. And she did not respond to her name.
Ignoring the company, my husband ran across the street to our new neighbor, who just happened to be a veterinarian, begging for help. We were prepared for Laila to die. She was old and had given our family many years of pleasure. We just were not prepared for her to die on our watch!
Our new friend, Jerry the vet, dashed over, figured out the scene, and did some sort of maneuver. Don’t ask me what. All I knew was that in an instant Laila came back from the dead and slowly and painfully stood up. She stayed alive for the next few days, until she was able to return home. And then she died again, this time forever.
As pet owners and caretakers, we know well the joys and heartaches of living with dogs. For me that special delight never included cats, birds, rabbits, or goldfish. But dogs, always! Dogs know how you are feeling. If you are upset or worried, the dog will lie by your side and worry along with you, not resting until innately knowing that it’s all right and you are now more calm. Pace the floor and you will always have a four-legged companion, looking distressed, pacing along with you.
Rejoice, and your alter ego pup will wag his tail and share your happiness.
And get angry with your dog and you will see remorse like never before — or at least until next time.
And when you come home and your dog has been alone and done something really bad, like making a big hole in a formerly solid unbroken wall, you will witness guilt of mammoth proportions. It’s so serious that you know you merely have to look for the terrible damage and you will quickly find it.
Dogs are bred to understand their humans. And they do. Perhaps humans are bred to understand their dogs. And we do.
Today, as an old woman, I cannot physically deal with the challenges of dog ownership. Who can walk a dog in inclement weather, or be awakened in the middle of the night for a doggy emergency? I would like to lease a dog, a good-weather-only mongrel (my favorite “breed”) to entertain me, charm me, love me, and be loved back. I have been criticized by my family and friends, but never by my dogs. They have always been loyal and faithful, loving and adorable.
Sometimes they do things that are inexplicable. How did Toto know that Buttons was never coming back that day when my husband left with Buttons for the vet, to spare her further suffering? Those two mutts fought nonstop, sometimes even drawing blood. Talk about a love-hate relationship! Yet as Buttons walked to the gate to exit the backyard, she looked back at Toto and they shared a remarkable silent dialogue. It seemed to say, we were enemies some of the time, friends at other times, sisters always, and I’m so very sorry to leave you now, but I must.
And when the gate closed and Toto was left alone she let out a primeval scream, pleading with Buttons to wait a bit. She was not ready for this ultimate farewell. Not yet! To this very day my eyes well up when I remember that scene, which took place many decades ago.
But it was Gringo, the first dog in our married lives, who taught me the important lifelong lesson of skepticism. She had an ingrown toe-nail. It was causing her pain and was beyond my talents as a nurse. I took her to a local veterinarian, and she did not like him one bit. She resisted his attempts to put her on the examination table, a cold and particularly high slab of stainless steel, very uninviting. The dog was plainly terrified. The doctor wrestled with her, but finally overpowered her and performed his examination and treatment. Then he released her onto the floor and I immediately noticed that she was limping. “Why is she limping?” I asked. The answer was unforgettable. He claimed she now had arthritis, never previously diagnosed. That was when I became a skeptic!
When a dog goes onto a table without arthritis and comes off the table with arthritis, doesn’t it sound a bit incredible?
Yet I wanted to believe the doctor, with all his years of experience and training. I thought it might be a sprain so I waited a few days to see if it improved. No. It did not!
That was when cousin Yitzchak entered the story.
Yitzchak, my mother’s first cousin, was a highly successful veterinarian, with a practice way out on Long Island. I knew he’d be honest and reliable in figuring out Gringo’s problem. Hence, we placed her gently into our station wagon and made the trek to Wantagh. It seems that Gringo had a torn ligament, which could only be repaired surgically. No sign of arthritis at all!
Thus, Gringo was operated on and recovered speedily, thanks to Yitzchak.
Yitzchak was not only an animal fixer. He was also an animal lover. Often he would come to visit during the summer when we were at the Bauman House, our borscht belt kuch alein. One summer he and his wife, Mary, showed up with their new baby, Mitchell, and their huge German shepherd, Fang. Fang was brilliant and reliable. He was the designated babysitter for Mitchell. Yitzchak would instruct Fang to stay by the carriage and not let anyone else come near. When Mitchell awoke, Fang was to signal Yitzchak so he and Mary could take care of their baby. Fang took this duty very seriously. He would park himself in front of the baby’s carriage. I can still see him, with Mitchell in his carriage, at the end of the porch on the Little House, which had just the right amount of shade and a mild breeze. Fang would not move an inch until it was time for him to bark to Yitzchak that Mitchell was ready for them to take over. And so it was!
These many years later, Fang is romping in doggie heaven and Mitchell has retired as a veterinarian.
As I write, I remember the many dogs who’ve shared the lives of our family. When they left us, we felt our hearts shatter. But they also gave us endless happiness and joy. I remember Phoebe, Toto, Buttons, Laila, Gringo, and Major, all big and important parts of our lives. They touched our souls. They loved us deeply, and we loved them back…….in that special way that humans cherish their dogs.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!