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A family becomes dog people, and a dog becomes a Jew

Journal Correspondent

Izzy the dog

APRIL 26, 2018 – Last week was my dog’s cardiology appointment and it looks like she would live to see another day. I was elated. Although she had been given just six months to live two years ago after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure, she was still happily chugging along.

From the moment I laid eyes on her more than a decade ago, I knew it was “bashert” – a perfect match – and she was destined to become our dog. Although we had resisted, for my daughter Amy, life without a dog was simply not an option. After years of begging, her comment “I’ll never be really happy without a dog” clinched the deal.

The idea of trying to raise a puppy with our limited knowledge of dogs was laughable, so we hoped to find a turnkey 1-year-old that was ready to go. My husband painstakingly called each breeder in the area with the catchphrase, “Do you have any 1-year-old dogs kicking around?” One day, someone did.

We drove to Oshkosh, Vermont – the middle of nowhere – to see this “perfect dog” that was billed as small, non-shedding, and extremely cute. A gruff man opened the door. In his arms was a small quivering pup. The room was filled with smoke and an array of mounted animal heads covered the walls. Pelts were scattered across the floor as area rugs. The whole situation gave us the creeps.

The dog stared down at me from her perch on the man’s shoulder and her big brown eyes pierced my gaze. The man said her name was “Izzy” and he put her down on the floor for our inspection. She promptly peed and the man yelled at her. In that instant, I knew we had found our dog.

My grandfather’s name was Isidor – Izzy for short – and my nephew had been named after him. Grandpa Izzy was an amiable man and adopting a dog with his name – a Jewish name at that – seemed like a good thing to do. I can’t say it was the only reason we chose her, but it sure seemed like a sign from above.

Although Izzy had been spayed and was up-to-date with her shots, she was not a healthy dog. A quick trip to the vet revealed some serious problems: whipworm parasites, an ear infection, and a spay incision infection. She was underweight to boot.

We also learned pretty quickly that Izzy was scared of everything. A pan in my hand, a loud noise, even a sudden movement made her shrink with terror. Her incessant barking kept us up for nights. Had she been abused in her past home? We considered returning her, but there was one thing that stopped us: she and Amy had already bonded. There was no turning back.

After multiple prescription medications, training sessions, and tempting meals that looked gourmet delicious, we began to notice a change. Soon, after weeks of indifference, she started to eat ravenously and slowly gained weight. The overnight barking died down to an occasional yelp and her scars – both physical and mental – began to heal. Eventually, my other daughter, husband, and I bonded with her, too. Somehow, she had become a part of our family.

From the beginning, I had felt that Izzy was Jewish, and not just because of her name. Like Jews throughout history, Izzy had been persecuted and misunderstood, yet she had managed to survive and thrive. With the right medication, she had even managed to overcome her serious heart problem.

I decided it was time to hold a traditional mikvah ceremony for Izzy, the ritual purification rite of passage that would formally convert her to Judaism. I’m not really sure why, but I suppose on some level, I felt that our silly little ceremony would bond us more as a family.

One bright summer afternoon, we dunked Izzy in a bucket of water and recited a few prayers. In my mind, she became authentically Jewish that day, and we celebrated by adding a small Star of David to her collar.

To this day – at the ripe old age of 11 – she proudly wears it alongside her rabies, dog license, and ID tags. Izzy has no idea that to me it represents the tough journey she has been on, but it’s a nice piece of bling nonetheless.

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