Community, Family, Kibbutz, Letting Go, Living in Community, Making Friends

How dog poop can change your life for the better

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a post about pet love.

I got no pet love to give.

Unless you are a fish.

Then I’ll give you the best three weeks of your life.

I am many things, but I am not an animal lover.

More specifically, I am not a dog lover.

Don’t worry. I’ve never hurt a dog. Or a dog owner. Try as I might with my evil eye.

I get dog people, though. I get that you think your dog is cute, small, harmless, like a brother, like a son, like a burglar alarm, like a fireman.

But I don’t. I really don’t.

To me your dog is a poop machine. A scary menace when I’m trying to jog, which is hard enough without your dog chasing me.

Your dog is loud at night when I’m trying to sleep.

And there are times when I really, really wish he would disappear.

This is not something I often share with people other than close friends and family.

If you are a dog lover,  you can understand why.

You probably noticed your head sway from side to side in disbelief as you read my words.

You probably noticed the muscles in your neck tense up.

I know the feeling.

This is how I feel when your dog comes walking down the street toward me without a leash,

and you are nowhere to be seen

* * * *

Somehow, though, in the years since I moved to a kibbutz in Israel, my antipathy towards dogs has lessened a bit.

I didn’t realize that until earlier this week, when I scanned a thread of more than 100 comments by upset mothers on Facebook.

Kveller.com, a blog and community forum focused on Jewish parenting, asked on their Facebook page for reactions to a recent Tumblr written by a mom who brought her dog to the playground.

The mom is upset that another mom “tattled” to the park police after her dog “accidentally” peed in the toddler playground sandbox.

Ewwwwwww…

Kveller wanted to know: who was right? The mom with the dog or the mom who told on her?

FB kveller dog

I read the comments with interest, because I was totally and completely that tattle tale mom, once upon a time.

Ask anyone in South Orange, NJ where I used to live.

There was a dog park there, which– in my humble, non-dog loving opinion — was the only public place your dog should ever be off a leash.

Those that dared an afternoon frisbee throw with their canine best friend in a “no-dogs-allowed” park would certainly be on the receiving end of my wrath if my kids and I were there too.

I’m that kind of mom.

Heck, I’m that kind of person.

At least, I was until I moved to Israel.

* * * *

Dog or no dogs, I have always been more or less a rule follower.

If it’s against the law, I’m pretty likely not going to do it. And certainly not in public.

If there is a sign about not doing it, I am even more likely not to do it.

And when it comes to dogs — which I admittedly and unabashedly fear — I am rigid and unbending.

But then something happened.

I moved to a dog-loving community — by choice.

Sure, I didn’t realize how dog-loving my community was before I moved here, but looking back it should have been reasonably obvious that moving to a small community in the country would put me within spitting distance of lots of dogs.

Now, I live in a neighborhood of about 110 families — and at least 1/3 of them are dog-owners. And about 7/8 of those dog owners let their dogs off leashes in our public spaces quite often, despite it being against the law in Israel. And of those off-leash dogs, 95% choose to pee and poop in one of the three neighborhood playgrounds.

I kid you not.

Our playgrounds are poop-colored.

An unassuming guest may think those are just multi-colored decorative rocks — but no, it’s dried out dog poop.

For a few months when I first moved here, I was angry a lot.

Angry about the poop.

Angry about the dogs wandering in packs late at night.

But angry got me nowhere.

Angry has gotten no one nowhere.

Fast.

2 1/2 years later, the dogs are still here and walk around a lot more confident than I do.

And 2 1/2 years later our kids have been trained to play around the poop — barefoot, mind you, since that is how Israeli kids go in the playground. They’ve even designed careful games around the poop mines scattered beneath the slide and lining the ground in front of and behind the swings.

The littlest of our kids will even sit in the pebbles at the playground and scoop up with her bare hands rocks that are surely covered in dried dog pee. Probably wet cat pee too. Maybe even kid pee.  Israeli kids pee outside a lot … and not always next to trees or in grassy patches. Some just whip it out or squat into the sand.

We adjusted, I guess.

To the dogs… and their poop.

And their law-breaking mommies and daddies, many of whom are my friends.

At some point over the last 2 1/2 years, I had to make a choice: bend or break.

I bent.

Don’t get any false ideas. I am not reformed. My kid will likely never get a dog no matter how much he begs me.  Last week, in fact, I sent a text message to the county reporting a pitbull wandering around the neighborhood off a leash. An off-leash dog, a few months ago, attacked a girl in a Southern Israeli town.

But bending allows me to still dislike dogs (and their poop), but continue living here, and loving my friends.

I’ve learned to live with dogs. Or, in truth, their owners.

With some tolerance and compassion.

Which is what I think both moms in that “playground pee pee tattle-tale” tale were truly seeking:

Tolerance and compassion.

playground

Kibbutz, Living in Community

Bark if you’re Jewish

I am many things. I am a writer, a wife, a mother, a sugar addict.

But one thing I am not is a dog lover.

In fact, my dog-loving friends would say that is an understatement. They’d say I’m a dog-hater.

They’d be exaggerating. But only a little bit.

For a time, I was a dog-owner hater. And then I realized I only hated dog owners who dressed their pets in sweaters and referred to themselves in the third person as “mommy or daddy” when speaking to their dog.

Now, I’m dog- and dog-owner tolerant.

It’s a prerequisite if you want to live on a kibbutz in Israel.

The two biggest concerns I had when we were considering making Aliyah is how would we keep my nut-allergic son safe in a nut-obsessed culture; and how could I possibly live in harmony with the dogs of Israel?

I tried to prepare myself in advance. I started smiling at dogs. I walked through the dog food aisle at Target. I even instructed my kids to not scream in terror when the neighbor’s dog jumped up to sniff them. Even though I think they have every right to scream and fend off with force any living thing who jumps on top of them against their will. (Why do dog owners think it’s okay when their dog jumps up on a kid? Nine times out of ten, their dog is bigger than my kid. Would they want a big grizzly bear jumping up and scratching in the area of their jugular? I think not.)

Alas, none of this conditioning worked.

On Hannaton, there are a lot of dogs; the majority of which are not on leashes the majority of the time. In fact, when the grownups are off at work during the day, there are more dogs wandering around here than humans. And they are under nobody’s jurisdiction; required to follow nobody’s rules, but their own.

They knowingly strut around — daring those of us humans still at home to just try and keep them from shitting on the playground or barking at passing cars. They stand guard over the owners’ driveways until they find a cat to growl at or a lone jogger to chase.

Most of the dogs here are small enough that I could overcome one if need be. (I think.) At least, this is what kept me calm the other night when a pack of three of them followed me home from my friend’s house.

But there is one dog here who is pushing his mazal.* I had a hunch he was a German shepherd and Google confirmed it. (The irony of his German descent is not lost on me.) He looks like this, only bigger, with sharper teeth and with a really arrogant look on his canine face.

Our first encounter was a week ago, mid-afternoon when I was at the playground with my four-year-old son. The dog seems to live across the street from the playground and barked at us as he stood guard in his driveway (no leash.) I casually kept my eye on him, but in my new paradigm of dog tolerance I didn’t want to overreact.

A few minutes later, the dog strutted over to us. I picked up Oliver and slowly walked towards the steps to my street. The dog followed us up the steps. “Look, mommy, the dog is following us,” Oliver said innocently. “What do you think he wants?”

I don’t know, I thought to myself, lunch?

We made it home unscathed, but my older son didn’t when the same dog barked at him and “stole” his soccer ball yesterday afternoon. By the time he was done with it, the ball was deflated and my eight-year-old dog lover was in tears. My son ran all the way home with the dog chasing after him, until my husband shouted at the dog “Lech!” and the dog walked away. Smugly, I’m sure.

Somehow, my son still wants a dog for his birthday next year.

As if.

Now I have to choose between ignoring a matter that is really important to me or being the annoying American dog basher.

It’s bad enough this dog chewed up my son’s brand new soccer ball, but I’m honestly concerned about my family’s safety. What good is it that your kids can run around alone all day if you constantly have to worry about them stepping in dog shit, or worse yet, being eaten by a German shepherd?

I am certain there is a dog lover reading this who will try to reassure me that domesticated dogs are harmless. That “out in the country” is the ideal place for dog owners to live so their pets can have room to play and run.

My counter argument to that is “buy a farm.”

I truly want to live in harmony with both humans and animals here. And I truly promise to try to be tolerant of your dogs despite my distaste for them. But you have to meet me half way. Be a mensch — keep your dog on a leash or in your own fenced-in backyard.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor, right?

GLOSSARY

Mazal = luck
Lech = Go!