Sheleg and Me

Sheleg, my eleven year old dog, hadn't eaten in over two weeks.

Sheleg was found eleven years ago, by my kids, as a fluffy white puppy abandoned next to the rubbish bins near our home. The vet reckoned he was a mix of Labrador and Canaanite Shepherd dog.

Sheleg has been a constant and loyal companion ever since, accompanying us on hikes in the local hills of Bet Shemesh and around the country; Sheleg is always welcoming as we walk through the door; on the other hand, he has faithfully protected my family, such as by chasing away burglars (occasionally) and cats (often).

My kids have only ever known our family as being mum, dad, six kids, and Sheleg.

When Sheleg vomited up his food and couldn't control his bladder, and lay around exhausted, distracted, in pain, the time came to take him to the vet.

An eleven year old family-sized dog is considered elderly.

The vet, Dr Yoni, undertook a range of tests on Sheleg, including an ultrasound, blood tests and physical.

When I phoned Dr Yoni the next morning, the secretary said the vet wasn't willing to tell me the results of the tests over the phone, and I should immediately come in to hear what the vet had to tell me. I asked if I should bring Sheleg along. Yes, she said, with a finality.

I told the kids that Sheleg and me had been summoned by the vet; and, frankly,the outlook was grim. He's an old sick fellow, and we should say our good-byes.

My wife, Julie, never Sheleg's greatest fan, was red-eyed, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief, while she helped me get Sheleg on his feet, and out of the door.

We took him out for a last sniff and pee in his favorite spots, hauled him into the car, and drove the longer route to the vet – past Sheleg's favorite fields and wondrous hikes. 

We were taking Sheleg, our faithful companion, to his execution.

Me and my 19 year old daughter Avital went with Sheleg in the car, and both of us were streaming tears along the way…Avital was half laughing, astounded by her grief. "But he's just a dog," she laughed at herself, "why am I so upset??", and again we cried bitter, wrenching tears.

We arrived at the vet, and my friend Harry Zettel was outside, with a box of adorable white puppies.

"Would you like to buy one of our puppies?" he asked.

"I would love to," I said, "but first we must deal with Sheleg. The poor old dog's ill, but not dead yet…Maybe I'll catch you on our way out".

The vet spoke to me, while re-examining Sheleg.

"I'm afraid Sheleg has a severely inflated prostate – it's bigger than fist-sized, and blocking up his intestines. That's why he's been throwing up, not eating and is in pain."

I took a deep breath and asked THAT question: "Doctor, what's the prognosis?"

"According to the blood test, it's not cancer, but an infection. A course of antibiotics, and an operation to remove his testacies'…and Sheleg should be fine."

And, sure enough – it was as Dr Yoni said.

Sheleg has responded amazingly to the antibiotics; seems unbothered by his loss of manliness; and is eating well, almost well enough to hit the hills for his next hike!


Halachik Postscript: I called my rav, Rav Chayim Soloveichik, from the vet's office, and asked if castration on an animal is permissible in the case of medical need to save the life of the animal?

Rav Soloveichik said he'd never been asked this particular question before and needed to take advice…

The Rav called me back a few minutes later and told me that he had consulted with Rabbi David Spektor, and, although there is an issur (transgression) to castrate an animal to prevent them reproducing, in the case it is for medical purposes to preserve the life of the animal, such as our case, then it is permissible.    


(Amateur) Psychological Analysis: My daughter Avital's question, in the midst of our remarkable outpouring of tears "why am I crying so much, he's only a dog?!"… has caused me to ponder this further.

I have been to many funerals of fine and wonderful people, and sometimes those attending might not even shed a tear.

Why DO people get so upset about their pets?

My initial reply to my daughter Avital in the car to the vet was "I don't know why we're so upset. But I do know that Hollywood knows – and that they package it and sell it..".

Since then I have considered this further, and offer my following amateur psychological explanation.

At a recent talk by Dr David Pelcovitz, he explained that often, when a child is abused, parts of their brain literally shut down. The kid's brain enters a panic, limited functionality mode.

For example, their language and speech faculties can shut off.

They may be "numb", incapable of even taking a fight-or-flight decision. A bit like a deer frozen in the car headlight. They are in trauma.

This explains why abuse victims might not shout out, or fight off their abusers. And this can result in overwhelming feelings of guilt by the child. "I went along with it…it was my fault."

However, sometimes the visual, pictorial part of their brain will continue to function.

This is why regular therapy, through speech, may be ineffective, whereas having a child draw his feelings on a piece of paper, can result in a connection with the visual part of his brain where the data about the experience is stored.

Interesting, eh?

Anyway, using the same concept of different parts of our brains, I suggest that whereas our relationships with our family and friends are multifaceted, our relationship involves love, intellect, spirituality…my relationship with Sheleg is much simpler.

I don't discuss politics or religion with Sheleg, nor children's education, nor the state of my finances.

I feed him and look after his basic needs, and he gives me and my family absolute loyalty, protection and wide-eyed company.

So whereas loss of a human involves all parts of our developed humanity – emotions, intellect, soul…the loss of Sheleg evokes a response which by-passes these intellectual functions, and directly evokes response from our primal emotions.

The very thought that we were taking poor old Sheleg to his 'execution', brought out genuine tears of primal grief.                                                   

Hollywood uses this to get us emotionally attached to a particular character, even a cartoon, and draw out our emotions, even tears, with the death of Bambi's mother, or the death of Mufasa in The Lion King.

"Sentimental" forms of advertising, such as the picture of the crying child with an empty plate, to provoke us into giving charity, also tap into this, by-passing our intellectual faculties, and going directly for our emotions.  
I am not a psychologist – what do you think of the analysis?


  1. Your analysis might deserve professional applause, but I see this more simply: attachement to a pet is love without strings attached. Pure. Simple. No demands. Giving and getting. Hardly a human condition.

    Sheleg knows that even your wife cares for him, though she might not have previously admitted it. And i laugh to see him run towards me for a familiar backrub he so enjoys.

    Dog are uncomplicated creatures. They have great radar and know who's good or bad. Simple, truthful and adoring.

    And don't forget, Hollywood has to augment dog stories. Humans spoke Lassie's alleged lines as in "Timmy's in the well? The squirrel is getting squahed in a trunk?" and "What's that you say Rin-Tintin? The enemy's over there?"

    Dogs speak for themselves: tail wags and kisses or disappearing for a highly deisred nap.

  2. Personally, I prefer Ms. Golani's theory. Either way, a really beautiful post. We recently had to put down our big yellow Lab, Oro. It was very painful for us. Were it not for our other dogs, we would be totally bereft without him. Strange, indeed.

    Halachic questions about animals, such as your sirus/castration question, can be interesting. That prohibition, by the way, is a Torah prohibition (d'oraita) to neuter (at least for males); so it really can be a bit tricky to answer at times.

    I'm just glad to hear that Sheleg will be okay. We pray that you have many good years yet to come with him. Maybe we'll run into him when we're in Beit Shemesh...

  3. Whew! What a relief. You had me in suspense there for a while.
    We had to take our guinea pigs back to the store yesterday after about 8 months (Abba doesn't want them in the house anymore....) and my 10 year old really took it hard. He really loved them (so did I shhhhhhhh...)


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