I was shocked to discover that almost every frum family I visited not only refused to have dogs, they generally reviled them.
They had a cat here and there, and maybe birds, but never could I find a dog.
This puzzled me, having grown up with cats and dogs.
Oh I know there are those out there that have them, but none that Iâ€™ve met. And I know of at least one Rosh Yeshiva who told his prospective bachurim to throw out their TVs and give away their dogs. Or was it give away the TVs and throw away the dogs? I was too shocked by the edict to absorb it.
I venture the bond between the animal kingdom and observant Jewish mankind rests largely with the BT world, where we grew up secular and with furry creatures sleeping beside us on our pillows. I doubt this happened much among Torah households.
Hashem gave us dominion over the animals for our use. Not for our abuse, but certainly we were given mastery. I assume that precludes us from being best pals with Fido and Flipper.
When I became BT, I was told I should get rid of the pets; that dogs are an abomination and the reincarnated souls of sneakthieves, while cats represent the basest level of illicit sensuality.
If youâ€™ve ever watched a dog in action â€“ any dog â€“ â€œsneakthiefâ€ is the most apropos description going. Try leaving a sandwich on a table within muzzle-reach of a dog, and youâ€™ll see what I mean.
We have two cats both over the age of 22, the equivalent of humans in their 90s.
We also have a beautiful aging Papillon dog, a grande dame of 13 years. Small breed dogs live on average to the age of 16, so my pride and joy, Lili, is a golden oldie in her dotage. For an abomination, I sure love her.
I mean, Lili is cute. No bigger than a football with ears the size of catalpa leaves (hence the breedâ€™s name Papillon â€“ French for butterfly), I couldnâ€™t imagine one person not loving this friendly, fluffy, cuddly dog.
But Iâ€™ve watch horrified as frum kids ran from her screaming in terror. Same reaction I get when weâ€™re within 10 feet of Muslims, who definitely revile dogs.
There is a posuk in Mishlei (26:11) that says, â€œki kelev shav ell keio (as a dog returns to his vomit), kâ€™sil shoneh beivalto (a fool repeats his error).â€
Dog owners know their beloved dogs will eat anything, much of it quite unsavoury. I suppose if you are what you eat then dogs are â€¦ (you get the point).
And as for a fool, well, yes, if we donâ€™t learn from our mistakes arenâ€™t we destined to repeat them?
I heard the word â€œkelev,â€ dog, comes from â€œki-lev,â€ like the heart, or â€œkulo lev,â€ meaning all heart, and this is what I have come to understand about dogs. They are loyal, obedient and trusting of their masters, and isnâ€™t that quite analogous to our service to Hashem?
Dogs have a time-honoured place in Perek Shirah with their own song: â€œCome, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before our G-d our Maker.â€ (Psalms 95:6)
When you look into a dogâ€™s eyes, loving you and trusting you back, or watch how they communicate with sound and physical action, itâ€™s hard to think of them as some programmed living thing of blood and sinew, reacting purely on instinct. To me, they are a miracle of Hashemâ€™s creation â€“ complete with a heart and soul.
They comprehend your connection to them and love you unconditionally for it. So how can they be something to be reviled?
Well, then I met my friendâ€™s grandson Yaakov, aged 7, a young up and coming talmid from New York.
It turns out he is a big fan of dogs and helps out sometimes in the neighborhood pet store, taking the dogs for a walk.
The absolute joy and delight in his eyes when I handed him my dog Liliâ€™s leash for a walk one sunny chol hamoed day was vindicating and heartwarming.
I wish those who revile dogs could just see them from mine and Yaakovâ€™s perspective.
And if we are careful with the halachos regarding pets, what could be so wrong with loving and caring for Hashemâ€™s very own invention?
May we all merit the blessings and adoration of Hashem as his loyal and obedient servants.