Summer ended when they came to kill my dog.
Three weeks ago, for the second time in five months, a dead fox testing positive for rabies was found in my rural village in Israel's South Hebron Hills. Now they’re killing dogs all over the area — including mine.
Sadness over the death of an animal seems frivolous, given human tragedies all around. Yet there’s something intense and poignant in the connection one feels to a dog, a creature that loves back, has a sense of humor and deeply wants to play and to please.
Not that we were aiming at a pet. Getting a dog was a second level of security upgrade, after bars on the windows and before a gun. We wanted a watchdog and had, half despite ourselves, been charmed by the five-month-old puppy next door, a mix of a Pyrenee Mountain Dog mother and an anonymous father. When our neighbor said that her house, husband, six kids, two horses, and black Labrador were quite enough for her, thank you, we took the dog for a trial period.
She was a floppy-eared, big-pawed, dark-muzzled mutt, with long brown hair that blew along her back like grass in the wind — classic dog. We named her, bought her special puppy kibble, started training her. When the trial ended in a verdict of love, we brought her to the local vet for her rabies shot.
I expected a quick in-and-out, but the vet, a tall, clean-shaven Russian immigrant with a pistol on his hip, wanted an interview — how long we’d had her, who’d owned her before, was she tied up at night. Unless I would sign on the line, 100 percent certain that the dog had not been in contact with any animal that had been in contact with a rabid animal — he fixed my eyes, to let me know it was serious — I would have to either quarantine the dog (six months in a cage at $6 a day) or destroy her.
The dead fox had been found way on the other side of town, a kilometer or more away. Although the puppy had a few times dug her way out of our yard at night, she had stayed nearby, not gone roaming with the black Retriever two houses away who ran free some nights. But was I certain enough of where my dog had been every night, even before she became my dog, to wager a human life on it and sign my name?
They came to pick her up last Sunday morning. We were away overnight and had left her tied in the yard, to make it easy for the death wagon. When we returned at noon, her collar, still attached to her long leash, lay on the brick walk, as if she had become a hole in the air.
There are other ways to handle outbreaks of rabies, which is spread by blood or saliva and never completely eradicated in rural areas anyway. Our regional council has chosen the cheap way. Now they are shooting stray dogs and cats in the countryside and checking pets at villages in the area (but only the Jewish villages, as if they think the dogs accept the ethnic borders).
We couldn’t justify $1,000 to buy six months of quarantine, and who knew what our dog would be like after months of isolation in a cage. Maybe, we joked wildly, we should have hid her from the dog Nazis, fled with her to the woods to save her. She was a sweet, smart dog — but, we remind ourselves, there are human tragedies everywhere to put it in perspective and a lot of beautiful, classy dogs who need homes. We're looking.