By Shira R. Goldberg
While the expression “dog days of summer” invokes images of panting dogs seeking shade, it actually doesn’t refer to our pets. Rather, the ancient Greeks noticed that the constellation Canis Major, otherwise known as the “dog star,” appears to rise side by side with the sun in late July, and that the mutual power of the stars is what makes mid-summer the hottest time of the year.
Still for us, this summer is all about one dog – Rafikomen – the newest member of our family.
Rob and I rescued this 3 ½ year old poodle from a kill-shelter during Passover, and promptly gave him a proper Jewish name! Rafi isn’t the first dog that we have rescued – Ginger, Abby and Pearl all preceded him. And after we said farewell to our beloved Willow a couple of years ago, we thought our dog days were behind us.
You know the old joke: A priest, a minister and a rabbi were talking about when life begins. The priest said: “Life begins at conception.” The minister said: “Life begins when the fetus is viable.” The rabbi said: “Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies.” For some the joke may be true, but for us, we missed having a dog around and Rafi has been a savior of sorts.
If you’ve ever rescued a dog, especially one like Rafi whose entire life was spent in a puppy mill crate, our experience will be familiar. When we adopted him, he was skittish, scared of noises and cautious around people, especially men. He didn’t know how to go up steps, play with dog toys, or fetch a ball. But nearly 3 months later, his whole disposition has changed: he is playful, funny, sweet and intuitive. He has adjusted so well that now he bounds up the steps and wrestles with his toys.
While he still has his quirks and has not figured out how to fetch, he has totally integrated into our world and we can’t imagine daily life without him.
In Judaism, owning a dog is not something that is central to our tradition, as dogs were always associated with violence and uncleanliness. Yet within the Talmud, there is a prohibition against unnecessary cruelty to animals: tza’ar ba’alei chayim (literally meaning “suffering of living creatures”). And what I’ve learned is that even more than not being cruel, Jewish tradition associates care for animals with righteousness. So for me, saving Rafi underscores that what we did was not only right and good, but deeply Jewish.
There is a print above Rafi’s dog dish that my sister-in-law Susan gave to us when we rescued Pearl years earlier. It reads: When you rescue a dog, you rescue two souls. That is our truth and we are grateful to our friend Molly for connecting us to Furever Friends who brought us Rafi. And if you want to help support another dog welfare organization that we care about – White Whiskers SeniorDog Sanctuary – join us for a Bark-B-Que next month at Congregation Shir Shalom. Click here for more information.
Shira R. Goldberg is a retired early childhood educator, proud grandmother of 6, a potter and new Pickle Baller!