Boo died last week. She was a mutt, cute, but inconveniently hostile to strangers entering the house - and there were some people whom she continued to perceive as strangers for years. In dog years, she was 120 when she died. She joined our family as a puppy when we moved to Philadelphia and the oldest kid was in 5th grade; she died after the youngest had left the house. Her companion, Smokey the cat, was with us almost as long; she too joined us upon arrival in Philadelphia; she too had been failing for a year or two; she walked out of the house a few months ago and never came back, and all of our searches were in vain.
Boo and Smokey did not have a vote about coming on aliyah. When we got to the airport on a hot August day in 1990, we had 3 kids, 15 bags, and 2 shiny new animal carriers. Smokey was small enough to join us in the cabin. Boo had to be checked as baggage. But animals may not travel in the baggage hold together with a dead body being transported to Israel for burial. It is disrespectful to the dead. And sure enough, as on many El Al flights, this one had a body in the hold. The ground crew shrugged, You could leave her and well put her on the next flight. And what if theres a body on that one too? Yeah, there probably will be. So what do we do? After some consultations, the El Al manager came up with a creative solution: there was a TWA flight a few hours later. El Al would pay the difference (immigrants get special discount tickets on El Al) for one of us to go on TWA with the dog. Tami won the lottery, and made aliyah with Boo and one suitcase. We were waiting for her at Ben Gurion Airport.
Arriving at Shorashim, we found a rabies epidemic (spread by foxes), requiring that all pets be kept caged or indoors... And so the adventures continued over the years, with the sealed room of the Gulf War, visits by mongooses and stray cows, the addition of another dog and a horse to our household, run-ins with neighbors and their pets, ticks and fleas, all the stuff of family-with-a-pet life.
Here on Shorashim, there are, at last count, about 35 dogs among 50 families. Shorashim is the closest rural community to the city of Karmiel, so most of our dogs arrived here by being dumped in the night. It is illegal in Israel for dogs to be at large, unleashed. Years ago, this was debated on the moshav, as there are some dog owners who believe that it is unnatural and inhumane for dogs to be leashed all the time. Our internal compromise was that dogs could only be unleashed during the night hours. If this were enforced, it would solve the problem of dogs frightening guests and children, but of course would have no effect on the late night barking, strewing the contents of garbage cans, and of course, droppings everywhere. But no matter, as it is not obeyed or enforced, and there are a number of dogs that roam freely all the time. Occasionally, someone gets scared or angry and complains to a dog owner; once someone even called the county dog catcher. Obviously, it tends to be those members who keep their dogs leashed and have to walk them who are the most annoyed by the nuisance created by their pets roaming colleagues.
I dont know the count of cats, as they are less conspicuous; there are many. Only in recent months have they become a nuisance too, as one family thought it would be a good lesson (in biology, not in responsibility) for their children vicariously to experience the process of feline pregnancy and birth. The kittens grew into alley cats of urban dimensions, and now scare the daylights out of anyone who unsuspectingly opens a garbage dumpster.
Keeping dogs, it seems, was never a Jewish thing (and to this day it is definitely not an Arab thing!). But with the Zionist return, we eagerly took up the accoutrements of the peasant culture from which we had been excluded, and became avid dogowners. And as middle class suburbanites, how much the more so! Isnt normalization wonderful? Just watch where you step.