As a child I had a severe dog allergy. I envied all of my friends with canine pets who lavished them with face licking love and frisbee retrievals. I had to be satisfied with miniature turtles and Purim carnival goldfish. As fate would have it, years later I began dating Cindy, who had a frisky, friendly Shih Tzu. When I would call on my future wife, I would pop a Benadryl just to be safe.
As our relationship grew serious and the topic of marriage was discussed, I came to realize that her dog was a non-negotiable part of the marital package. There was no debate. Bandit was unequivocally in. My status, however, was not so secure. I had some serious decisions to make knowing where I stood in the family pecking order. Fortunately, as it turned out, Bandit was hypoallergenic and so, our marital plans could proceed. In my dotage, I became a dog owner. But soon I came to realize that for Bandit I was an interloper and affection was not forthcoming. I wondered, “How do I get this dog to like me?” I pondered a strategy and decided that perhaps the quickest way to a dog’s heart was through his stomach. And so, as a supplement to Ralston Purina and Kennel Ration, I would slip Bandit Shofar salami sticks and Muenster cheese (never together and always three hours apart), Ruffles with ridges and Triscuits. It worked. In time Bandit became increasingly warmhearted. He sat on my lap. Played with me and finally accepted me into the family.
In the interest of full disclosure Cindy wasn’t pleased with my culinary bribes to gain endearment. Before I joined the mishpachah, Bandit never begged for table food. Now he did, to my wife’s annoyance. I tried to defend what I had done in the name of shalom bayis [peace in the house], but also by pleading Bandit’s case. “Cin. His entire world stretches from the sidewalk to the back yard. Give him a break. He’s never had a date. He’s never been to a Broadway play. He’ll never see Paris. So let him at the very least enjoy more than just pellets of byproduct. What other joy out of life does he get?” Cindy understood and finally went along with his expanded cuisine.
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Not being a veteran dog owner, I still had things to learn beyond a pandering diet. I recall bending down to pick Bandit up and struggling repeatedly to lift him until I realized I was standing on his tail. Once elevated he did not complain nor bark harshly. No growl. He was forgiving and licked my cheeks. A learning experience.
Still the pet-owning greenhorn, in our first year of marriage, I was preparing for the bedikat chametz [Search for leaven]. I scattered 10 pieces of bread throughout the downstairs for the pre-Pesach ritual. Gathering up the wooden spoon, candle, feather and bag, we began the search in the darkness, only to discover (echoes of Hansel and Gretel) that Bandit had gobbled up all the leavened morsels. Was he simply hungry or was he helping make our home Pesachdik? He never said, but I am inclined to believe the latter. Though never having attended Hebrew school nor a religious service, I suspect he had a Jewish neshama [soul]. He loved challah on Shabbos. Barked enthusiastically, “I Have a Little Dreidel” on Chanukah. And, I am embarrassed to say, wore a blue kippah with chin straps in our sukkah.
Bandit was a gentle, lovely creature. He was a licker, a cuddler and was content just being stroked, fed and a member of the family. The sages teach that one who is content with what he has is indeed wealthy. Bandit was wealthy in the simple, modest delights he enjoyed.
Alas, no one lives forever, and Bandit from one Sunday to the next rapidly declined. It was painful to watch. In but seven days, this playful, faithful companion of years deteriorated with heartbreaking speed. With tearful resolve, we came to the reluctant but necessary decision. In the vet’s office we stood over Bandit as he slowly left us. It was calm. It was quiet. It was peaceful. Perhaps now Bandit can see Paris.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta.