As a recently-engaged twenty-something, I’m learning with each passing day the importance of compromise. I don’t always get my way, and sometimes I have to do things I’d rather not for my partner’s sake. But like everyone else, I have my line in the sand when it comes to what I will and will not do.
For me, that line has always been a dog.
Erik, my fiancé, loves dogs, and left his beloved four-legged friend with his parents when he joined me in Mississippi. Ever since, he’s been longing for a canine companion. “I’m sorry,” I’d tell him, “I cannot have a dog in my house. Volunteer at a shelter if you want to, but don’t bring one home. They smell, they shed, and they’re just not for me. It’s my line in the sand.”
For a long while, Erik (begrudgingly, but generally graciously) accepted this, and volunteered at the local animal shelter to get his fix. I would see the way his face lit up when a stranger let him pet their pup, and the way his demeanor changed whenever he talked about getting one. Could having a dog really affect a person that much? I wondered.
On January 25th, 2015, I learned the answer to my questions. Erik and I took home Wally, a dachshund mix from the Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi, as a foster dog. It was my own little experiment (could I handle a dog in the house? Would it make a drastic difference in Erik’s quality of life?) and our new compromise. I figured hey, if it works out and we adopt, then fabulous…and if it doesn’t, I would be able to say I’d given it a try, we would have done a good deed, and we wouldn’t have to keep him. No harm, no foul.
Almost a month later, Wally is officially our puppy, and I couldn’t imagine life without him. Erik’s happiness has increased…and so has mine. How did I get to this point, you might ask? Well, it was a surprisingly Jewish journey, involving a plethora of Jewish values that I still work hard to embody every day.
When I look at Wally, lounging on his fluffy dog bed, I am first reminded of tza-ar ba-alei chayim, the law against the unnecessary suffering of animals. I am proud that we were able to relieve his suffering by rescuing a shelter dog and giving him a forever home.
When Wally gets excited to see me when I get home, and jumps a little too much or licks a little too fervently, I aim to be erech apayim, slow to anger. When I get territorial about sharing my bedroom with a dog bed or my kitchen with dog food bowls, I channel my nevidut, generosity. And in my small moments of doubt, when I look at the huge responsibility Erik and I have taken on, I channel my inner ometz lev, courage.
The few short weeks we have had Wally have contributed significantly to our shalom bayit, peace in the home. Caring for him has made me think about aspects of my Judaism in a new way. In Pirkei Avot we are told that one mitzvah leads to another…but in this case, as our friend Danny put it: one “mutt-zvah” led to another – from volunteering, to fostering, to adoption.
As a Jewish educator, I often challenge my students to find Judaism in everything, and because of my new Southern rescue pup, I had an amazing opportunity to do just that! Thanks, Wally, and welcome to our family.
The rabbi’s rationale for blessing the pets comes straight from Torah, and the Jewish concept of being God’s partner on Earth: If God blessed the fish and the birds and gave us dominion over them as well as the beasts of the earth, and our job is to model “Godlike” behavior, we should also bless the pets!
According to the Torah, the animals were here first. The fish and birds created on the 5th day and the land animals on the 6th day before mankind was created. And our pets bless us every day with love and companionship. For that we should say Dayenu! But some pets also are trained to save lives, make our world safer and to enable the disabled. Plenty to honor.
There’s a Sabbath connection, too – in the Torah, we are commanded to rest on Shabbat and we are also commanded to rest our animals on Shabbat. God has commanded not only to have dominion over the Earth and the life on it, but also to care for His world and bless it. Hence, blessing of the pets.
I’ve had some friends tell me that this isn’t something their community does, so I started wondering: Is it a Southern phenomenon? A small-town practice? I’ve seen several churches in the area do pet blessing services, as well. Have you ever attended a pet blessing service? And while we’re asking questions: When your dog sneezes to you find yourself reflexively saying to him/her, God bless you? (I do!)
It may not happen everywhere, but I love the Blessing of the Pets. I think that anything that brings the community together – two-footed and four footed – is an occasion for blessing! Plus, just look at these happy faces…