Thursday, January 23, 2014


    It was good and necessary for Natania to move out several years ago and test her wings – even if she wound up back home a year later. The first apartment she was in, she shared with several students, and she wound up playing the role of den mother. That didn't last. The second one was with an “older” woman (in her thirties!) with whom she got along. The arrangement worked for a while, but the apartment was falling apart, and the roommate soon acquired a boy friend, whom she would shortly marry. No room for Natania. The best part of the arrangement, as far as Natania was concerned, was the roommate's dog, Pilpel, a Black Lab-Sharpei mix. Natania grew to love the dog, even walking her when the room mate was not able to. Even after moving back to the luxury (?) of her parents' apartment, Natania continued to miss Pilpel.
    It would be two years later. The former room mate and her husband had moved out of Jerusalem and now had a baby. They were experiencing serious financial problems and the husband really was not enamored of the dog. The family needed to moved to a smaller apartment. In short, there would be no room, no place, for Pilpel in their lives.

    It was December, and Barbara was visiting her sister in Hawaii. Natania and I were taking our usual Sat. evening walk to the Aroma coffee shop in our mall, when she mentioned that her former room mate has posted Pilpel's picture on Facebook, trying to find a new home for her. My reaction was to wait and see. Maybe someone would be willing to take her and that would be the end of it. If not.... Wait until the woman-of-the-house returns from half-way around the world. However, Natania should certainly help in looking for a new home for the animal.

    There's an inherent problem with problems. Sometimes, without even realizing it, you wind up taking ownership of them – when they weren't yours to begin with. Weeks went by, and it was obvious from the re-posts that the search for new quarters for Pilpel were unavailing. The woman was becoming desperate. Barbara, as I knew would happen, was less than thrilled with the notion of a canine addition to our household. But, in response to Natania's pleading, agreed to take the dog on a temporary basis – but only as a last resort.

    We understood the situation all too well. That's how we acquired Cookie and Moby, our two Tonkinese cats. The original owner needed to return to England for medical treatment that he hoped would arrest his deadly auto-immune condition. (It didn't.) The last thing on earth he wanted to do was to give away his beloved felines; but he needed to find them a good home, so he could leave for England with some piece of mind.

    Anyway, Natania was now in full possession of this particular problem – where would Pilpel go to live – and shortly we would take possession of Pilpel as well. The woman and her husband were scheduled to move to a small, basement apartment in a new community on a Thursday, and the dog could not go with them. The plan was for her to bring her pet to Ma'ale Adumim Wed. afternoon. We would meet at the vet's office so that Pilpel could get her shots. Call us when you get to town and we'll meet you there.

    Procrastination. Avoidance. Passive resistance. Anything to keep from doing the inevitable. I know them all; I've done them all. My favorite (?) was the time I had to move from a wonderful apartment on the Upper West Side (NYC) to a less-than-desirable place on the Lower East Side. A number of buddies volunteered to assist in the moving process, and we piled all my scant belongings into someone's vehicle. As we were about to set off, I realized I had no idea where I had put the key to my new apartment....

    It got later and later, and still no word. Finally the phone rang. She had managed to miss all the earlier buses and would arrive in Ma'ale Adumim after 9PM, well after the vet's office hours were over. The new plan was to bring Pilpel straight to us, leave us some money, and we would bring the dog to the vet on Fri. Natania gave her clear directions as to where to get off the bus, but we watched from our window as the bus sailed past our stop. One last desperate act of avoidance. Natania called the woman and went down to meet her. After a while, I could see both of them walking back to our building, Pilpel keeping pace beside them. Up the stairs into our apartment.

    It was a poignant moment. The former room mate began removing all of the dog's worldly possessions from a large backpack: bowls for food and water, a small bag of inexpensive dog food (all they could afford), leashes that had seen better days, the cushion the dog slept on, a number of blankets – most of which had been used outdoors and needed IMMEDIATE laundering. After a few minutes of conversation, the woman had to go, leaving her beloved pet behind. Pilpel stood by the door, expecting her to return any minute. The dog did not know what we knew, that her former mistress would never return and this for now was her new home.

    Our plan had been to keep Pilpel upstairs in Natania's room with the door to her balcony open, so the dog wouldn't be too confined. Except that she was camped out right by the front door, waiting and waiting. So we set up her bowls and her cushion in our living room. We're flexible that way. We also realized very soon that Pilpel was not going up to our second floor. We have an open staircase – meaning that the fitted, varnished steps were laid on a metal frame with no backs. Pilpel is apparently scared of heights and wouldn't go up on her own. We weren't about to carry a sixty-five pound dog where she didn't want to go. So we finally went upstairs to bed, leaving the dog below.

    All the while, Cookie and Moby were in their usual spot on our bed, waiting for us to arrive for their favorite part of the day, bedtime, when they allow us to join them for a good night's snooze. Pilpel's future in or home depended on their response to her. Natania had assured us that the dog was perfectly OK with cats. But would the reverse be true? The street cats here know all about dogs – which ones will chase them and which ones will just walk by – just as they know there's no point in chasing crows or pigeons, and which people are going to leave them food. But our pampered pets who have spent all their days within? I can't say they had ever seen a dog before – at least up front and personal. They tend to be rather timid around humans they don't know, let alone other species. But we could at least give it a try. As a morale booster, BroccoliMama101, a/k/a Natania, had located a video of funny interactions between the two species in question, including one of a Cookie look-alike boxing the nose of a large canine.

    It's been a long time since I lived with a dog. Cindy was a border collie mix that my brother brought back as a puppy one summer from the farm he was working on. She was universally admired – at least by everyone in the neighborhood. I would be walking her, and I would hear people calling her by name. No one knew who I was, but everyone recognized Cindy! There were summer evenings – this was B.A.C. (before air-conditioning) – when I would take her out for a stroll to escape the heat in the apartment and come back an hour or two later. We would just keep walking together, traversing Mosholu Parkway, up Jerome Ave., and finally back to 208th St., where we lived. Cindy needed the exercise and I needed the time to think.....

    You may wonder: What brought back these memories? Part of the arrangement for Pilpel's stay with us was that Natania would be responsible for her care. I knew from the get-go that I'd have to be the back-up dog walker when our daughter wasn't around. Sure enough, there I was, showing Pilpel her leash and motioning to the door. (Cindy want to go DOWN?) And we would be off, traversing the neighborhood, going through out of the way streets and alleyways where I ordinarily wouldn't venture without the dog as a raison-d'etre. Natania and I had the same reaction: we were suddenly getting a lot more exercise just by walking Pilpel. And sure enough, children would come up to me and ask if they could pet her. At least no one remarked, “Look there's Pilpel!”

    I had never wanted another dog after Cindy. Most of the canines I've met left something to be desired. Little dogs that just kept yipping. Large ones that barked incessantly. Strange looking animals whose parents were aesthetically incompatible. Weird ones that needed tranquilizers. But Pilpel...... It would have been hard not to fall in love with her. Besides being a beautiful dog in the prime of her life, she is gentle, calm, affectionate, and quiet. If someone came to the door, you wouldn't have to spend ten minutes quieting her or putting her in the back room. She would give an obligatory “woof” and then sit down where she was. Several of our friends asked us, at least half-seriously, if they could trade their dog for ours.

    The only ones not impressed with Pilpel's demeanor were Cookie and Moby. They remained upstairs, venturing down the steps only once or twice when Natania was walking the dog. (The irresistible smell of chicken cooking......) It was like having two separate families in one house. You go into one part and the children want you to read them a story; you go into the other part and the other children insist you play ball with them. When I went upstairs, Cookie would wake up and start meowing. When I went downstairs, Pilpel would follow me around. No matter where I was, I was feeling guilty about neglecting the other occupant(s).

    You might be wondering how Barbara was handling all this. Her take on the matter was simple. The dog is wonderful, and it's certainly not her fault the cats didn't like her. But the arrangement was not working. The final straw was that Tuesday night, one week after Pilpel arrived. Natania was out with her for a walk, and Cookie ventured downstairs, seeking some human company. Natania returned and made the mistake of letting Pilpel of the leash before seeing if the coast was clear. The dog spotted the cat and trotted over to say hello. The cat saw this enormous creature coming her way and freaked out, running lickety-split up the stairs. For reasons best known to her, Natania picked up Cookie and brought her downstairs, the idea being to show Cookie that Pilpel just wanted to be friends. Needless to say, that was not a good idea. I rescued our little cat and brought her upstairs, still howling and hissing. Barbara had reached her limit. An ultimatum: Find the dog another home!

    Natania had posted Pilpel's picture on various website and e-mail groups; but in truth her heart had not been in it because she had hoped we could keep her. I had assumed that the dog would be ours, for better or worse. There was simply too much competition: not enough homes for all the dogs who needed one. In the previous few days, just on our local e-mail group, someone was looking for a home for a one year old dog and somebody else had Aussiepoodles to sell. There were dozens of dogs on a “Yad2,” a site for all things second hand, and many more abandoned creatures at the Jerusalem animal shelter. If you wanted a pedigreed puppy, just head over to any of the local pet stores. What chance did we have, no matter how remarkable our dog was? Nonetheless, Natania, suitably chastened, re-worked her flier and sent it out again.

    A friend of ours, who now lives in Beit Shemesh, sent our the announcement to her local shul list. You never know. It turns out that a woman – a stay-at-home mom with a handful of kids – saw the post and was intrigued. Their dog had just died. Whether or not they were planning on a replacement, I can't say. But the picture of Pilpel's soulful expression was enough to generate a phone call. The long and short of it was that several hours later, the woman, a friend, and four youngsters were knocking on our door. The children entered quietly (imagine that!) and sat down on the floor next to Pilpel. Soon they were petting the dog, and shortly thereafter Pilpel, playing her part perfectly, put her head in one of the girl's lap. The woman had two questions, one to us and one to her kids. “Is the dog always this calm?” Yes. “Are we taking her home with us?” YES.

    We packed up all of Pilpel's earthly belongings, her bowls, her cushion, her washed blankets, the new leash and toys we had bought her, everything but the food we had. From now on she would be eating only the finest dog food on the market. We said our goodbyes. One of the kids attached Pilpel's leash, and the seven of them went off together, heading back to Beit Shemesh. By the next morning, Pilpel (to be known from now on as “Pepper”) was back on Facebook, being hugged by a child. They were all fighting over whose room the dog would sleep in. Yesterday, mom posted a picture of her hugging Pepper with the following comment “Have I mentioned how much I love this sweetheart?!” It seems that the dog follows her around the house all day. So if you're wondering how everything is working out, I imagine you have your answer. Pilpel/Pepper got the home she deserved. And Cookie and Moby? Within a few hours, Moby was back at his post, helping Barbara type on her computer. It took Cookie several days to recover and venture downstairs. But she finally returned to her old self, meowing for food and affection. She is on my desk now, reading every word I type.