As New Year's Day takes its place in events celebrated, enjoyed and now past, our family has a special date to look forward to, January 26th. Just two short years ago on that date we took a long car trip to meet a puppy who had been abandanoned in a park in עפולה (Afula).
In April of 2012 we lost our beloved pet, Jack. He was 16 and had a very good and long life. But it was hearbreaking and we vowed that we would never again love someone so dearly.
Well...the best laid plans...
On of the first things everyone notices about Tel Aviv is the number of babies and the number of dogs. It seems everyone young here has both and everyone not so young has a dog and maybe several cats. People go everywhere with their whole family - grandparents, children, animals. You can take your dog to the mall and to a restaurant. It is absolutely wonderful. And as to be expected, we developed "dog lust". Everytime we walked on שְׂדֵרוֹת רוֹטשִׁילד (Rothschild Boulevard) we stopped to talk to the dogs. Any dog.
My dear friend Yael kept on asking me to come to גן מאיר (Meir Garden) on Friday morning and meet the rescue dogs up for adoption. I kept resisting. She kept sending pictures and one days she sent me a post on Facebook from a group called תנו לחיות לחיות (Let Animals Live).
The organization is made up of volunteers who take in animals and foster them until they are adopted. If they are adopted there are veternarian clinics in all major centers that are run by the organization where care is provided for a minimal charge. Just one catch - you have to sign an agreement to have the animal neutered. Fair trade.
The post on Facebook had 700 likes. The image showed a very serious little puppy with floppy ears. Frankly he looked like an old man. Ken phoned the contact number and was sure that the puppy had been adopted. How could someone with 700 likes still be at large? But the woman who answered said he was still in her care. He had been found wandering in a park by one of her students who was on her way to a tutoring lesson. The student picked up the puppy and brought him to her teacher. She asked us if we knew that she did not live in Tel Aviv and it would be quite a trip to come and see him. We said yes and got in the car.
Afula? Where is that? Never heard of it. Well Afula is dear to our hearts. With all due respect to its residents, it is not the most beautiful town in Israel but it is situated in אמק יזרעאל (Jezreel Valley - close to Megiddo and Mount Gilboa) and it is the place we met our puppy.
Ken was unsure but after a few minutes alone with him, it was a sale (no cost). We brought him home that night. He threw up, cried, whined and generally left us at a loss for how to comfort him.
He couldn't seem to settle. Maybe we made a mistake. We didn't know and we hadn't even named him. But by the end of day three he had moved in.
We went through many names to it his serious demeanor. Since one of my grandfathers and one of Ken's grandfathers were both named Sam, it felt like a proper family name. But both of the grandfathers grew up in Yiddish speaking households. and were most likely called Shmuel or Shmuli. We thought since we had moved to Israel we would update the name to suit 2014 and call the puppy Sami.
One day Sami's ears started to stand up and he became more playful and active. He began behaving like a puppy should - naughty and cute and endearing and always on the wrong side of the door.
Soon Sami decided that the best place to be was our bed. As you can see from the pictures he likes to play dress-up, sit up and read and to lie down.
When he was six months old we moved from Lev Tel Aviv to Neve Tzedek. Here Sami found his natural home. The streets are narrow and the buildings are low. At the end of the street is the best dog run in the world. In the morning Ken takes Sami out to check out the neighborhood and to take care of business.
Sami loves to walk down the street and look back to make sure Ken is still on the other end of the leash. When they get to the dog run there are usually friends to play with. Sami loves water and mud and often comes back well covered in both. He has a girl friend who likes to dig so he keeps her company.
Here he is after one of his dates playing in the sand and the mud. In the summer we wash him off outside with the hose. Today, I gave him a shower in the house.
Sami also like to keep up with everything the family is involved in. Sometime if we go out on an outing with him I will sit in the back seat and Sami will sit in the front. He likes the view.
This past summer Ken had to go to New York for an extended stay. I knew I couldn't keep up with Sami's exercise needs and to be honest, he was not the most obedient dog on the street. Ken had made friends with a dog walker who came by the park everyday and asked her if she would take Sami on as one of her group. So began the love story of Sami's life.
Sami's handler is named Noa and she is the best dog handler I have ever met. She is patient and speaks quietly but she commands respect and the dogs lover her. I've learned a lot of Hebrew commands that Sami understands better than I do.
Every day Sami stands on the balcony and waits for Noa and his group to arrive. He keeps an eye out for them coming down the street.
Sami is so excited when she finally comes to the door to pick him up. He can sense when she is near and his back end starts to move in preparation. When she opens the door he is sitting properly and waits for Noa to call him. He is learning his lessons well.
Sami has managed to make himself the head of the pack. No matter in what order he joins the group, he makes his way to the front beside Noa. They dogs have lots of energy on the way out. On the way back they are a more rag tag bunch with their tongues hanging out.
Now Sami is very much a Tel Avivi. He belongs here. He loves his neighborhood, his friends, his park and his home.
Everyday he does something endearing and silly. He is like a cartoon character. And everyday we say "Where did he come from?"
We no longer have "dog lust". We can walk down the street with pride and now we can also walk down the street with a well behaved dog thanks to Noa.
I know that those first terrifying days in the park when he was abandoned must have marked him in some way - he is afraid of men in hats after all. But clearly the Jezreel Valley produced a wonderful creature. So when we say "Where did he come from?" we answer in unison "Afula! - the best place in the world".