Sunday, August 14, 2016

My First Egalitarian Minyan **

(** Well, to clarify, not MY first, but certainly the first held in this community.)

I have been attending the only synagogue in Québec City for a year now – it is a tiny synagogue (there is a tiny Jewish community here), and on paper the community has been Orthodox, or perhaps even Modern Orthodox for decades.  I am not an Orthodox Jew – I am an egalitarian Conservative Jew, and if you who are reading this are not Jewish, here is a very brief description of the difference (this is important for what’s coming).

Orthodox Jews still observe the separation of men and women at prayer – they do not sit together, nor do they pray together.  In some communities, there is a mechitzah, a barrier, to separate the men’s section from the women’s.  Sometimes the mechitzah is as simple as sitting in the same sanctuary with pews that are open only at one end, by the aisle, so that there is a wooden barrier between men and women.  In some synagogues, the mechitzah is a barrier to vision – a dividing screen, or row of trees, or something that prevents men and women from seeing each other in the sanctuary.  And in some synagogues, there is a balcony, so that women don’t actually enter the main sanctuary – they can see and hear the rabbi, but neither they nor the men can see each other.  Women in a traditional Orthodox community do not read from Torah.  They are not invited to have an Aliyah (to make the blessing before and after a Torah portion is read).  Women are not invited to the bimah (the place from which the Torah is chanted and from which the D’Var Torah, the sermon, is given). 

In my Conservative community in Halifax, there is absolutely nothing that a man can do that a woman cannot also do.  Women have Aliyot (the plural of Aliyah, the blessing for the Torah reading).  Women chant from Torah, and they chant the Haftorah (a reading from one of the prophetic books that follows the Torah reading).  They deliver Divrei Torah (the plural of D’var Torah, the sermon).  They lead many communities as rabbis.  They are mohels, responsible for ritual circumcision.  Both women and men who are not rabbis can and do lead services.  And we don’t follow any physical separation at prayer.

Many of my friends were surprised to hear that I was attending an Orthodox synagogue – that’s not my practice in Halifax, so why, they wondered, would it be so here in Québec?  The answer is actually quite simple: this is the only show in town.  If I wanted to be a Jew in community with other Jews, this was the only place in which to do it.  Certainly, I can be a Jew all by myself – but the community is tremendously important.

It is no secret to say that the Jewish community here has struggled recently.  It moved from a Modern Orthodox sort of community to one that became increasingly more Orthodox, right down to the installation of a mechitzah (the divider between men and women).  Women certainly were not invited to the bimah, did not make Aliyot, did not deliver Divrei Torah. For some, it stopped feeling like a welcoming place, a place in which all Jews were seen as equal.

It seems that I arrived in Québec in time for something like a revolution.  It started with a simple question – “What does the community here do for Tashlich?” (Tashlich is a small ceremony held near water, at which we throw bread on the water, symbolising the sins we have committed, the harm we might have done, as we count the days between Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – and Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.)  We’d always done Tashlich in Halifax, so I presumed that every community did it and was pretty surprised to discover that this wasn’t necessarily so.  I shrugged it off and said, “Well, OK, I will just go down by the St Lawrence River and make Tashlich myself.”  No biggie.  But it caught the attention of a few people who wanted to know if they could also participate.  So we made a Tashlich observance on a cool, grey day on the St Lawrence, and it was profoundly beautiful.  And it was a first.

Then I asked another question – “Why don’t we do Kabbalat Shabbat services?”  Kabbalat Shabbat is the Friday night service at which Jews welcome the Sabbath.  It is a very clear separation of the mundane from the holy, and again, it has always been part of my practice.  That’s how I came to lead the first Kabbalat Shabbat service of this community in at least 20 years – we combined it with a community dinner, and because we were concerned about the kashrut (the kosher status) of the kitchen in the synagogue, we held it at the Kirk Hall of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Old Québec.  A little unorthodox, you think?  Yeah... and it was great.

The community has gathered for communal Passover celebrations in the past and did so again this year – at the Masonic Lodge in the Old City.  There were many more people present there than we see on any given Saturday morning, which is no big surprise.  It seems true in every tradition that the holidays cause people to become more observant than other days!

Since the first Friday night service, we have held several other Kabbalat Shabbat services, combined with community dinners.  We have held those at the synagogue, being very careful to do nothing that could be seen as interfering with the kitchen’s kosher status.  We even eat from disposable plates, using disposable dinnerware. 

And we have marked Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the Jewish month, done 13 times a year) together in community. Interestingly, Rosh Chodesh is considered a women's holiday - tradition has it that it was given to women as an honour from God for not having given their gold to the making of idols, as the men of the community had done.  Our first observation of Rosh Chodesh as a community was to mark the beginning of the month of Av, generally accepted to be our saddest month, as it is the month in which we commemorate the loss of two temples, amongst a host of other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people in this month, on or near its 9th day, which is known as Tisha B'Av.  This month, Av, also marks a more joyous event – Tu B’Av, which is a celebration of love.  And we will have a Kabbalat Shabbat service and community dinner at which we talk about what this means as well.
We will mark Rosh Chodesh Elul at the beginning of September, in much the same way.  We will talk about Rosh Chodesh and what it means, and we will talk especially about why this month is meaningful for us.

We have celebrated Havdalah together – a small, beautiful ceremony to mark the end of the Sabbath.  And we will do it again.

This weekend, during which falls the 9th day of Av, that saddest of all days, marked another first for this community – for the first time in anybody’s recent memory (for the first time in more than a decade) – we held a Shabbaton.  Think “scholar in residence.”  Rabbi Alan Bright, from Shaare Tzedek in Montréal, accepted our invitation to come and spend a couple of days with us.  So we had a Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday evening led by a rabbi – it was beautiful.  There was no men’s or women’s side to the synagogue, because people simply sat where they wished.  We had dinner together and had some great discussion about Judaism – what is authentic Judaism?  Is there even such a thing?  (Hint: there is no single right way to be a Jew.)

On Saturday morning, we gathered for Shabbat services, and it just kept getting better.  This small synagogue hasn’t had a Saturday morning minyan for at least 7 months.  What that means is that we could not take the Torah out of the Ark.  We could not read from it.  Any prayers that required a minyan (a gathering of 10 Jews – in an Orthodox synagogue, 10 Jewish men) could not be said, or could not be said aloud.

The Shabbaton weekend was designed to have an egalitarian minyan.  The women counted.  And so on Saturday morning, we had a minyan – for the first time in months, I was part of a congregation chanting the Amidah together, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

Even more importantly, the President of the synagogue’s Board was present with her family.  She had never had a Bat Mitzvah celebration, but on a recent trip to Israel, she bought a tallit (a prayer shawl).  And on Saturday morning, her husband placed the tallit around her shoulders, and she said the blessing for the first time.  Then he and their teenage daughter opened the Ark to remove a Torah scroll, and my friend made the Aliyah over a Torah portion for the first time ever.

Women are not obligated to do many things to which Judaism obligates men.  But some women choose those things.  Some women choose to wear a tallit, or have a practice that includes the wearing of tefillin (ritual prayer objects).  Some women choose to chant a Haftorah or to deliver a D’Var Torah.  And while tradition has meant that women did not generally do these things, there are not laws prohibiting the assumption of these obligations.

The question of “authentic Judiasm” was part of this weekend’s Shabbaton.  And here’s the thing: my Judaism is every bit as authentic as any Ultra-Orthodox rabbi’s.  My practice may not look like the practice of women in that community, but it is no less authentic for that.  I am no less a Jew for that. 

It may well be that the Jewish community here will change dramatically over the next couple of years – and I hope that it does.  Not simply because then it might have a practice with which I am personally more comfortable.  But rather, because if it does not change, I am afraid it will die.  And there have been Jews in this city for hundreds of years – HUNDREDS of years.  Jews helped build this city, and it’s astonishing how many people don’t realise that.

We are approaching Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which falls a little later than normal (in early October), and I hope with all my heart that it marks the beginning of a great renewal not only of individuals in their relationship with God and with each other, but also of this community. I think it still has great things to do here, and it’s time for everyone who is even peripherally part of the community to stand up and be counted.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Here We Go Again

"Pinkwashing?" Let's lose the facile labels and try a real, civil conversation.

On July 14th, 2016, the Pride flag was raised at City Hall in Halifax, NS.  For the first time in recent memory, I wasn’t there for the flag-raising.  I heard about it, though, from members of the LGBTQ community, members of the Jewish community, and allies who have no connection to either community other than that they support both.  And what I heard angered me, saddened me, and left me feeling very, very tired.  Since Thursday, I have responded to articles posted to Facebook.  I have shared my own status updates with pictures I took at the Pride March in Jerusalem.  Although I wanted to address the subject – the very messy subject – in a more substantive way, it has taken me this long not simply to gather my thoughts, but rather, to find the energy to once again educate people who have often consciously chosen not to be educated.  It is easier to accept a more dramatic narrative, perhaps, especially when that is the one you hear first.  It is easier to believe what you hear if the Jewish community does not stand up and speak out – because if we do not speak out, could it be that we have no defense against the charges constantly leveled against us?  (If you know your history, you may recall that the last time Jews sat quietly and hoped simply to be left alone to live their lives, 6 million were murdered.  Saying nothing has not proven to work for us.)
And what are my credentials for opening my mouth about this?  I’m a Jew.  I’m a Halifax Jew. I’ve actually been to Israel, unlike many who protest against it.  I have been an ally to the LGBTQ community my entire life –before I was a mother, and certainly before I knew that my daughter was gay.  I have been called a Nazi, and I have been spat upon and told that Hitler didn’t use enough gas, by people who support the idea that Israel is oppressing Palestinians.  That behaviour alone has nothing at all to do with Israel’s domestic policies and its right to self-determination: it is Jew hatred, plain and simple.

I know – as many who disagree with Israel do not seem to understand – that no group is a monolith – so you won’t hear me say “all” of any group.  Not “all Jews,” not “all Christians,” not “all Muslims,” not “all lesbians…”  We could go on there, but I think you get the drift.

Following the flag raising, a petition was created by Queer Arabs Halifax (you can read it here: in which they assert that “Tel Aviv Tourism ostracizes and alienates Arabs and people of colour;” and further, that “Tel Aviv Tourism participates directly in pinkwashing for a state that engages in armed conflict where human rights and international humanitarian laws are being violated.”

So let’s talk first about that.  Pinkwashing, you say?  What’s that when it’s at home?  Simply, it refers to the charge that a country highlights its welcome to members of the LGBTQ community in an effort to deflect attention from what those who make the charge term human rights abuses.  Oddly enough, that charge has only ever been levelled at Israel.  Perhaps the Queer Arab group is unaware of Israel’s record on human rights in general, but specifically regarding LGBTQ Israelis.

Decades-old policy prohibiting any type of sodomy was repealed.
Workplace discrimination against LGBTQ persons prohibited.
Israeli Defense Force approved policy that LGBTQ members could serve in any capacity.
Supreme Court ruled in favour of spousal benefits for same-sex couples.
Defense Minister announced that same-sex partners would be recognised as family members.
Legal age of consent for LGBTQ persons lowered from 18 to 16.
Supreme Court ruled that lesbians could become the legal adoptive parents of their partner’s children.
LGBTQ couples qualify for common-law marriage.
LGBTQ couples qualify for full inheritance rights.
LGBTQ couples granted full adoption rights.
Israel recognised same-sex marriage performed abroad

It is abundantly clear that Israel has a history of working towards not simply tolerance or acceptance of its entire LGBTQ population, but rather, full equality.  If you check the records of many other western nations, you will not see this steady progression.  And if you check the records of other countries in the Middle East, you simply will not see this at all.  In fact, it is not “pinkwashing” to state what is true.

Some Historical Context
The Jewish people have been indigenous to the land of Israel for more than 3,000 years; in fact, Jewish communities existed in the land more than 1,500 years before Islam appeared there.

More than 150 years ago, many Jews began returning to Israel, and by 1860, Jerusalem had once again become a majority-Jewish area.  In 1920, the international community recognised the indigenous rights of the Jewish people and endorsed the restoration (not the creation!) of this Jewish homeland.

The Jewish people accepted that others also now lived on that land and supported the UN’s 1947 recommendation to partition the land so that Palestinian Arabs could establish the first Palestinian state.  That didn’t go so well.  Arab leaders – then, as now – refused to accept any Jewish state and have historically dismissed any compromise that allowed for a sovereign Jewish nation in the Middle East.  Instead, they launched a war with disastrous consequences for their own people and have continued a policy of violence and aggression towards Israel.  After the 1948 war, more than 850,000 Jews fled rising persecution or were expelled from other Arab and Muslim countries.  In fact, between 1949 and 2000, as the Jewish population dropped dramatically throughout the Middle East, the Palestinian population increased from about 180,000 to 1,215,000 (Note: fails the definition of genocide.)

What About the West Bank?
The West Bank figures strongly in any protests about Israel.  Israel’s efforts to find peace have been soundly rejected, in 1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008, largely because agreement would mean accepting the right of Israel to exist as a nation.  Israel has both the right and the obligation to protect its citizens, and so it does maintain a West Bank presence – if terrorist did not continue to endanger, assault, and murder Jews, there would be no need for it.  There is no evidence that the Palestinian Authority wishes to prevent such terrorism – to the contrary, there is incontrovertible proof that Palestinians celebrate the murder of Jews (; and further, that they teach hatred of Jews even to small children.

If this is Israel’s peace partner, how is it that Israel alone is held responsible for the fact that there still is no peace?

Israel entered the West Bank after it was attacked by Jordan in 1967.  It was obligated by UN Resolution 242 (1947) to administer the area until peace (or at least détente) was reached.  While it took more than a decade for much calming to occur in the area, by way of agreement with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994, the PLO still refuses peace. 

What about Gaza, though, and those illegal settlements?
In fact, the settlements, which account for less than 1% of the total West Bank area, while they are a hot topic, are legal and supported by Israel’s legal, historic, and security interests in the area.  The settlements do not violate UN Resolution 242, nor any agreements made under the Oslo Accords.  Nonetheless, Israel hasn’t authorised new settlements since 1993 and agreed to freeze building in existing settlements in 2010.

Remember that there were no settlements when Palestinian leaders launched attacks against Jews in 1920, or when Israel was attacked in 1948 and 1967.  In a further effort to reach peace, Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, evacuating all Gaza settlements.  You need only pay slight attention to the news to see that this did not bring peace.  Following the disengagement in 2005, terrorist attacks and hostility actually increased, as Israel faced barely a day without being bombed by Hamas.  In fact, Hamas, whose charter is explicit in its wishes for Israel and for Jews, has fired tens of thousands of rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians since 2005.  Children’s playgrounds in the Israeli city of Sderot, which is at the border with Gaza, must have bomb shelters due to the frequency of attacks.  The Hebrew writing on the structure tells children to enter as soon as they hear a red alert.  This obscenity on a children’s playground must exist because Hamas targets children and other civilians.  They have launched attacks at kindergartens, hospitals, and yes, playgrounds.

Israel inspects shipments to Gaza, which infuriates Palestinians and their supporters; however the UN’s Palmer Report confirms that the weapons blockade is legal.  Both the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation have said repeatedly that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and acknowledge the weekly delivery of thousands of tons of aid – and yes, this aid is inspected for weapons, because history has proven that there are continual attempts to get weapons into the area to use against Israel.
Gaza is ruled solely by Palestinians and shares a border with Egypt, over which Israel has no control.  Israel does control its own borders, of course, along with its airspace and coastline, to protect its citizens.

Well, what about that awful wall?  The apartheid wall?
The security barrier was a direct response to campaigns of violence against Israel in 2000. The 2nd Intifada killed more than 1,000 Israeli men, women, and children. People of every tradition and ethnicity were targeted by the attacks, and Palestinian leaders have since admitted that the barrier has obstructed suicide bombing missions.

BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions
The BDS movement has hijacked social justice language to promote the elimination of Israel and to question its right to exist as a sovereign nation.  It promotes misinformation and outright lies to isolate and delegitimise the nation.  Even its cofounder, Omar Barghouti (who received his university education in Tel Aviv, Israel) states clearly, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”  Because the BDS movement insists that Israel itself and much of the land surrounding it are part of a nation called Palestine, it denies the right of Israel to remain in the land where Jews have lived for more than 3,000 years.  You are encouraged to read the booklet “Explaining BDS,” which you can find at

The unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood was an effort to circumvent any meaningful negotiations to peace, which would have had to occur with Israel.  The move violates all international treaties the PLO signed with Israel, as well as UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which call for negotiations.
Does this look like expansion to you?

A Few Words About the Hamas Charter
It is worth being very explicit about this.  Make no mistake about it: Israel’s “peace partner” does not want peace.  The slogan shouted by Palestinians and their supporters in the diaspora, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” means only one thing.  The only thing between the river and the sea is Israel.  For Hamas, only the utter destruction of Israel will help it meet its goal. 

The Hamas Charter is easily available, and here are a few examples for you that may shed some light on why this peace process has failed every time.
From the preamble: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

Article 7:  “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees.  The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me.  Come and kill him.”
Article 13:  “Initiatives and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”

What do you support if you support the demands of Queer Arabs Halifax?
Pride has always been political.  It has also always been – or tried to be – inclusive.  And it has done so in a climate that was sometimes very hostile. The demands of Queer Arabs Halifax to exclude one group are dangerous: they say that the group ostracises them and other people of colour, when in fact, as has been said, they would be safer in Tel Aviv than they would in any other Middle Eastern country.  And what about the effects of such an exclusion on Queer Jews? Jews already face plenty of hostility, even in beautiful Halifax.  The message here is that it’s ok to exclude Jews, and that flies in the face of the message of inclusion of Halifax Pride.

For anybody to align themselves with a group that supports the delegitimisation of a sovereign nation, that supports the annihilation of Israel, and that also has a long history of LGBTQ persecution is to align themselves with hate.  This is not the Halifax I know.  This is not the Pride I know.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Love Letter for Wylie

My daughter brought Wylie home in the autumn of 2008, a fat, fluffy ball of fur who didn’t have to make any effort at all to worm his way into our hearts.  From the time she brought him home, he was bonded – there is no question that they chose each other.  And I mean, really, just look at this face.  This is one of the first pictures we saw of Wylie, and it’s one of the few times he was ever really still.  How could you not love this?!

Not quite sure what’s going on here!

                     Smiling Wylie

My daughter drove to New Brunswick to get Wylie from the breeder.  He had grown considerably from that first ball of fur into a clumsy, happy puppy.  He tripped over his own big feet.  He was a ball of energy, in between our feet when we were in the kitchen (because, really, a boy could never be certain that food wouldn’t fall to the floor for him to pick up!).  He had squeaky toys and played with them with the same abandon you’d see in a 3-year-old given a drum kit – which is to say that sometimes, I wondered what evil genius invented squeaky toys for dogs.  Like most babies, though, when he slept, he slept hard, and often with a favourite squeaky toy.

Wylie and Toast

By 2009, barely even a year old, Wy had lost all that baby fluffiness.  He had become a teenage thug – in a good way, though, honestly.  Oh, sure, he’d stick his face into the garbage if we were silly enough to leave it where he could get it (because: buffet!).  And yes, he’d drink out of the toilet bowl if the lid wasn’t down, but all dogs did that.  He wasn’t a destructive dog – he chewed plenty, but only things that he owned.  My shoes, for instance, were safe, and that was a good thing!

The park, always a favourite haunt.  And always a thirsty puppy.

We were beginning to discover things about Wylie, and my daughter was swiftly learning that as charming and wonderful as Wy was, he was unique in some other ways.  That thirstiness of his, for instance, wasn’t always about thirst.  Wylie drank everywhere, and he drank everything.  He didn’t care if the water came from his bowl, the toilet, a stagnant pond, the ocean, or a puddle in the driveway.  He drank it.  And when he drank it, he invariably regurgitated it.  Once you’ve swallowed water and barf it back, though, it’s not quite like water anymore – it’s more like trying to clean up egg whites.  My daughter, always a conscientious and responsible pet owner, brought him to the vet numerous times to figure this out.  Turns out that Wy had Psychogenic polydipsia, a central nervous disorder of dogs characterised by polydipsia (≥ 100 ml/kg/day).  If you do the math, you’ll see that even as an adolescent dog, weighing maybe 30 kg, that was a lot of water – at least 12 cups a day.  Dogs with the condition, which is inherited, often compulsively search for water, because their mouths always feel dry, and have clinically measurable hyponatremia. Well, wow.

This was only the beginning of Wy’s medical journey.  He was also diagnosed with Megaesophagus, which means just what it sounds like.  He had an enlarged esophagus.  The condition gradually causes the esophagus to enlarge like a balloon and to essentially become a storage organ.  The process is accompanied by regurgitation, loss of weight, and recurrent episodes of aspiration pneumonia. Investigation showed that Wy had no physical blockage causing the problem, which meant that it had to be congenital – a hereditary disorder.  We did get to learn about aspiration pneumonia firsthand - it left Wylie listless and miserable.  The difference a good antibiotic made was amazing, and it never kept him down too long, though.

We were all in love with Wy – we’d find a way to live with his idiosyncrasies.  He couldn’t help them, after all.  His water was restricted, so that there was not a constantly filled bowl on the floor for him.  We became very conscientious about the toilet lid.  My daughter tried a number of ways to feed him designed to slow down his eating, including spreading his kibble on a cookie sheet, because he simply couldn’t scoop up a mouthful then and was forced to eat the kibble a few pieces at a time.
Despite the medical issues, despite the frustration, Wy was growing into a really gorgeous dog.  He was friendly and happy, and he loved people (though he never developed much of a fondness for children – we couldn’t imagine he’d ever bite a child, but we tended to be very careful when he was around children, which is probably a good idea anyhow).

Handsome Wy

And Wy loved my daughter.  “Well, sure,” you think. “Of course, because she was his owner.”  But honestly, I’ve never seen a dog who loved his person as thoroughly as Wy loved her.  He was a pretty sociable creature and was happy enough in my company, for instance – a pretty easy fella to be with.  But when his girl came home?  That was something to behold.  Wherever she was, he wanted to be.  Long past the time when he’d passed the lapdog stage, he would still snuggle with her on the couch, and there are some great pictures with this great lummox of a dog curled up on her lap, to her bemusement.

Like many big dogs, Wylie loved winter.  He was basically a heat engine, so the winter weather that left us moaning and whining was no big deal to him.  And hey, there was snow out there!  A dog could play in the snow!  He could scoop up the snow and run with it!  He could chase snowballs thrown for him!  Wy did all of those things and loved them.  In fact, he pretty much loved life with abandon - it was all just a big dog park to him, and if he got to spend it with his girl, when so much the better.

If you had to actually go outside during the winter (and of course you did, because he needed to be walked), at least he made it bearable.  Walks often became social events, as so many people stopped to admire him.  And he accepted their admiration with grace and good humour.  Children loved Wy, though he wasn’t so sure about children.  They loved the way he galumphed around, and we often heard, “Oh, Mummy!  Look!  That dog looks like a BEAR!”  And he really kind of did – that’s a Bernese for you.

During the summer, Wy enjoyed trips to the beach, not just because my daughter would throw a ball into the ocean for him to retrieve, but also because (if we’re honest) the North Atlantic makes for one heckuva water dish.  Sigh!  If a summer day was just too hot, he’d lie on the bare floor, limbs splayed so that he looked just like a Bernerskin rug!

Wy also went to Pride Parades, where he received even more attention.  He loved being around people, but truly, he would be happy doing anything at all, as long as his girl was within eyesight. 

It wasn't long before we learned firsthand about ‘bloat.’  My daughter knew of it – she’d done her research before taking on pet ownership, and she’d researched about large dogs, and Berners in particular.  You can read about bloat, and you will find, as we did, that it is the second leading killer of dogs, after cancer.  It is frequently reported that deep-chested dogs – like a Berner, for instance – are particularly at risk.  Bloat can kill in less than an hour, so knowing – I mean, really knowing – your dog is important.  Sometimes, what seems like a dog just having an off day is a symptom of something much more serious.  My daughter knew Wylie.  She knew the very bones of him – she knew every bone, every bump, every toe.  She knew how his fur felt when he was healthy, how his nose and eyes looked if he wasn’t feeling his best.  

The technical name for bloat is Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, and it’s often related to swallowed air (although food and fluid can also be present).  It usually happens when there's an abnormal accumulation of air, fluid, and/or foam in the stomach (gastric dilatation).  Bloat can occur with or without the twisting, and as the stomach swells, it may rotate 90° to 360°, twisting between its fixed attachments at the esophagus (food tube) and at the duodenum (the upper intestine).  The twisting stomach traps air, food, and water in the stomach.  The bloated stomach obstructs veins in the abdomen, leading to low blood pressure, shock, and damage to internal organs.  The combined effect can quickly kill a dog.  If you have a big dog, or if you’re considering adding a big dog to your family, you’ll want to be aware of this.  A dizzying trip to the emergency vet clinic, a shockingly high bill, but he was cured. A couple of days later, he felt none the worse for wear (but we felt kind of shattered).

Life continued, and Wy continued to charm, love, amuse, and occasionally infuriate.  Just like a kid! My daughter thought that Wy might benefit from a companion – he had a Siamese cat to play with, but honestly, the cat wasn’t nearly as impressed with Wylie as Wylie was with the cat.  My daughter, having bought a dog from a breeder, thought that her next dog should be a rescue, and so she kept her eyes open to see if she could find another Berner.  She did, and that’s how Ben joined the family.  (You can read about life with Ben here:

 Brothers from a Different Mother: Ben and Wylie

Turns out that two Berners, once they’re accustomed to each other, really are not so much more work than one Berner – they are much more fur, obviously, and I really do think we could’ve built a new dog with all they shed!  They got along, and they spent time playing and romping.  And so life continued.

Wy kept drinking everything in sight.  He continued to be a bit of a punk – it’s as if he knew that he’d probably get away with quite a bit, just because he was such a cool dog.  He’d look at you when he’d done something he knew he shouldn’t have, and once he’d been told off and presented the appropriate hangdog expression, you’d get this look that said, “Come on, you know you love me!  Look at this face!”  And he was right.  It is impossible not to love such a great dog, problems and all.

Wy, a dog with other medical conditions, was even more likely to fall ill again with bloat, and my daughter had done everything anybody could do to mitigate his risk.  When he was neutered, his stomach was surgically tacked to the side of his abdomen – this wouldn’t prevent bloat, but it could give more precious minutes to get him to a vet in case it happened to him.  And of course, it did.

Wylie got bloat again a couple of years ago – this time, my daughter was intimately familiar with the symptoms, and because of her familiarity with Wylie, she was able to get him to the vet in time – not just to save his life, but frankly, also to save her wallet a bit.  There was no trip to the emergency vet after hours this time (which is not to say that it was inexpensive, because it was not, but you just deal with that stuff).  Again, Wy came home and was back to his usual self in just a couple of days.  We all heaved sighs of relief.

On July 3, Wy celebrated his 7th birthday, a rather venerable age for a Berner.  Well, really, I guess my daughter celebrated for him – all he knew was that there was gonna be a big cookie involved, and he was pretty stoked for it!  Here he is with Ben, in what sadly was Ben’s last picture.  Ben died of cancer in early July. We were all heartbroken, because although Ben, too, had had more than a few issues, we loved him.  There was a big Berner-shaped hole in all our hearts.  Knowing that my daughter had given this broken rescue she brought home from Quebec a life that he never would have had if she had not discovered him provided very little balm for aching hearts. 

Happy birthday, Wylie!  Ben and Wylie

Wylie knew how to dance (on his hind legs, no less).  He could whisper.  He gave hugs.  He may have done these things on the hope of a treat (It's ridiculous how much this boy would do for the tiniest treat!  Sacha the Siamese was embarrassed for him, I'm sure.) Wy was a smart dog, a loving dog.  If my daughter's life needed saving, I have no doubt that he'd try to save it.

Less than a week ago, my daughter called me to tell me that Wy wasn’t feeling so great, a bit off his food.  Five days ago, she brought him to the vet, where they discovered that he had aspiration pneumonia, which he’d had before.  But this time it seemed worse – she couldn’t give him medication, because he couldn’t keep anything down.  The vet decided to give him a massive dose of antibiotics, to jump start the process of getting better – he’d lost more than 4 kg, which is significant for a dog weighing in at Wy’s usual 32+ kg.  Two days ago, she called to tell me that the pneumonia wasn’t getting better, and that the vet suspected something else in addition to it – that Wy might also have damaged his esophagus beyond repair (the megaesophagus and constant regurgitation are desperately hard on a dog), or that he might have a tumour that was affecting his ability to eat.  Either way, Wylie was a 7-year-old Berner – for his breed, he was kind of elderly.  The average Berner lives between 6 and 8 years.  We had sort of hoped, despite his myriad medical issues, that Wy would just die quietly of old age.  Life had other plans.

Last night, my beautiful daughter said goodbye to Wy, and I am not there with her.  Her heart is broken, as is mine.  She brought him to the vet one last time, knowing that she would not be bringing him home anymore. Our lives were turned upside down and inside out with the addition of Wylie to the family.  He has been my daughter’s constant companion (and occasionally a pain in the behind).  He’s made us laugh and comforted us when we were sad.  He has loved, and he was loved, from the minute she met him until his very last breath.

It feels almost too much to bear, to have lost two beautiful boys in two months.  It doesn’t help to know that nothing could have saved them.  It doesn’t help to know that they knew – they surely knew – how very well they were loved.  There are toys to be picked up and put away, because there is no dog to play with them.  Sweeping will take less time, because there’s no dog fur on the floor.  No big boy will lean on you when you sit at the kitchen table, no big head pushing insistently into a hand to remind you to scratch his head. This is gonna take some time.  I sit at my desk, and look at the picture of my daughter and her partner with Wy, and the knowledge that he will not be there when I get back to Halifax is just awful.  Being away from my daughter right now is worse. Note to self: get tissues.  Wiping eyes with paper towel just makes them worse.

Wylie: July 2008 – September 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

Grasshoppers and Spiritual Growth? OK, Sure!

When I undertook the task of cross-stitching 4 verses from the Book of Leviticus for the Torah Stitch by Stitch project conceived by textile artist Temma Gentles, I knew it might be a bit of a challenge to mine these particular 4 verses for some deeper theological or even spiritual meaning.  What profound message from the divine was there in the short litany of insects that are ok to eat?  How did it nourish my soul in any way to know that I could eat a grasshopper (especially as I have never had a wish to eat a grasshopper, not even when they are presented in lollipops)?

 Leviticus 11:20-23 

20 “‘All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be regarded as unclean by you. 21 There are, however, some flying insects that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. 22 Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. 23 But all other flying insects that have four legs you are to regard as unclean.

 I studied what commentary I could find, to see if perhaps I was missing something that would’ve been obvious to another theologian, and without exception, commentators explained (in rather less detail than commentators often use) what the text already said: here are the insects you may eat, and here are the insects you may not eat.  This couldn’t be the point, surely.

 Leviticus is a book full of laws – thou shalt and thou shalt not, verse after verse, chapter after chapter. So what was the point of the laws, then?  Well… they could have been intended as a test of our obedience (though we didn’t prove ourselves so attentive with that apple…).  They might have been intended to teach self-denial (you’ll note that escargot, even sautéed in butter and tucked into mushroom caps, are not on the approved list!).  Perhaps this list, like many such lists, was to ensure that the Israelites remained a distinct nation – Jews have also been taught to make distinctions between what we call the sacred and the profane, the holy and the unholy, and it may well be that this list of insects was another exercise in this differentiation.


And while this makes some sense, it didn’t really lead me to the spiritual enlightenment for which I had hoped.  Was I expecting too much from this project?  Recalling the work in embroidering my tallit, I remember well the constant feeling that each stitch was, in a sense, a prayer.  I remember the surprising joy that accompanied the tying of the tzitzit.  These things weren’t happening with my 4 Levitical verses.

Would I have felt different if I’d been cross-stitching a different verse?  What if I’d been embroidering the Shema?  And if that could be the case, then did I mean to suggest that these verses weren’t as important?  They are part of the canon – we’ve kept them for millennia, and so they must still count.

I wasn’t coming up with any definitive answer, so I simply continued to work at my verses, and in July, something began to happen.  I was on vacation, needlework often in hand, and I discovered that cross-stitching the Torah makes for an interesting conversation.  In fact, it makes for many interesting conversations.

Sitting in the sun in the Public Gardens in Halifax, NS, sipping coffee, listening to the hum of conversation around me, the laughter of children, the letters seemed to be stitching themselves.  I was kind of in a cross-stitch zone and really enjoying the work.

Then one day, I realised that someone was watching me.  I glanced up, and a woman said, “That’s really beautiful!  What is it you’re making?”  So I told her about the project, and about my verses. I told her about the challenge I’d been experiencing in that I’d thought that this might be a valuable spiritual exercise, as I got to work intimately with the verses – kind of the way a Torah scribe might do. She had done some needlepoint in the past but hadn’t done any for a while – still, she knew the technique and the work involved.  There are things you just don’t have to explain to someone who knows how to do cross-stitch! Her husband was interested in the letters – “Hebrew, obviously,” he observed.  He wasn’t Jewish, but rather, Muslim, so it’s not such a great surprise that he’d recognised the lettering.  “What are your verses about?” he asked.  Who could have imagined when I told him that he would find it quite as interesting as he did?  Well, when you talk to an entomologist about insects in the Torah, you will find that he is interested! (I even wrote down the passage reference for him to look up at home!)

Another day, but still in the Gardens… a woman sitting across the patio from me came over and excusing the interruption, asked what I was working on.  Again, I explained the project, and again we talked about why I was doing it, and whether it was having the effect I had anticipated when I undertook the project.  She told me that her late mother had done a lot of cross-stitch – “Between the 5 children, and my dad, and her projects,” she said, “her hands were always flying.”  I knew that feeling myself – right down to being one of 5 children!  My own mother had been an embroiderer, a smocker, and a knitter, and children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends all benefitted from her talent.

The next conversation was with a woman visiting from Australia, who’d also been watching me work and finally came over to take a look and to talk stitchery.  She was equally fascinated by the project – this seemed a universal response whenever I shared it with anybody – and told me that she also enjoyed cross-stitching.  (She is currently working on family trees – one for each of 5 grandchildren!)  We talked about the challenges of making round letters look round when cross-stitching.  And I explained to her about the challenge I found in cross-stitching Hebrew – we read and write Hebrew from right to left, precisely the opposite to writing English, and I found that if I were stitching from left to right, as I did at the start of a new line in a new section, the zen of my work was abrupted, because I knew I was doing it backwards!  If I didn’t know any Hebrew, it probably wouldn’t have mattered, because the characters would simply have been characters that had no particular meaning to me as letters.

And now I think I’ve got it.  I think I know what it’s about.  The spiritual connection here is perhaps not precisely with the text, but with the conversations that the work has encouraged!  I’ve gotten to share my work, and Temma’s awesome project, with people from several countries.  And while it may be that not one of them will decide to sign on for a passage themselves, the conversations about the project have taken place with people who were genuinely interested and who learned something new.  There have been conversations with people who probably didn’t ever think of Torah (and why should they, really, if they’re not Jewish themselves?), and with people who didn’t necessarily believe in God at all. Despite the many differences between us, there was space for common ground, for learning, and for connection.  And maybe that is the point.  And it’s a pretty good one.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Dog's Life - If You're Lucky

This is a story of a girl and a dog.  In March of 2010, my daughter – who spent way more time than she probably should’ve done on animal rescue sites – found a Bernese Mountain Dog that had been surrendered to animal control authorities.  We knew that he’d been found wandering at large, and while there was no evidence that he’d been beaten, he certainly had been neglected.  He was between 3 and 5 years old at the time (we never did figure out just how old he is), and was intact, which contributed to a certain amount of aggression on his part towards other dogs.  My daughter already had a Bernese, one she’d raised from a pup, and while Wylie didn’t seem to be suffering for the lack of another dog in the house, it made sense to think that he’d enjoy some company.  And that’s how the rescue began.
Bentley (for that was his name) was in Quebec, at least a 10-hour drive from our home in Halifax, but that didn’t deter my daughter. Not even in March.  Fortunately, there were no late winter storms to impede progress, and on March 14th, 2010, Ben came home.  Some things we discovered almost immediately:  he smelled rancid.  As if he’d never had a bath.  He was utterly filthy.  His teeth were a mess, very likely a combination of malnourishment and trying to chew his way through collar and chain to freedom. 

 Ben’s first day in Nova Scotia. Even here, you can see he looks thin through the body, at odds with that big head and those huge paws.

Ben was introduced carefully to Wylie, and it went really well.  No posturing, no jockeying for position.  Wylie didn’t seem to have a need to be the dominant dog, and Ben seemed content to just take it slow.  They adjusted to one another rather quickly, which was great.
Ben’s first big trip was to the dog wash.  And here’s where we found out something else about him: once he was in the tub, soaking wet and getting scrubbed, we realised that this dog was not so big after all.  In fact, he was much smaller than we had realised – with that huge head, and those massive paws, the broad and long body, he LOOKED like a BIG Berner.  But when he was wet, we realised that he was not much more than a stack of bones held together inside a fur coat.  At that point, he probably weighed the same (or even less) than Wylie, who, though a purebred Berner, was a smaller dog.  It made sense, then, that what Ben needed was love and food – in that order.

Ben tolerated the dog wash – he seemed to know he was being cared for.  But as he was rinsed, we could see just how heartbreakingly thin he really was.
Once he was clean and fresh-smelling, we were all much happier.  And this is when we learned something else about Ben.  He would stand around the house staring intently at whomever happened to be home.  REALLY intently.  And panting while he stared.  At times, I honestly wondered whether he was going to attack someone, because the panting was sometimes close to a growl, and the stare was more like a glare.  We really couldn’t figure that out, and it was very disconcerting.

A girl and her dogs.
My daughter worried that Ben was not too bright – he would watch her give commands to Wylie: “Sit!” “Down!” “Stay!” but showed absolutely no inclination to follow suit.  Even when spoken to directly, even when issued a command with his name attached to it, Ben would just stand there and stare.  We couldn’t figure this out, either.
Eventually, within a couple of weeks (it seemed like much longer to us, and probably longer yet to poor Ben), we figured out part of the puzzle.  Firstly, Ben was rescued from Quebec.  La Belle Province.  The place whose official language is FRENCH.  Ohhhhhhh…. Ben didn’t comply with “Sit!”  But he knew what “Assiez-toi!” meant.  OK, he was French.  We could teach him English!  The second thing we figured out was the panting and intense staring… he didn’t hate anybody.  He didn’t want to eat anybody.  He wanted to be TOUCHED.  That was all.  Just to be touched.  As soon as a hand went on that big head , nails gently scratching, the panting and staring stopped.  How long had this lovely boy been ignored, we wondered?  Ben never did lose the need for touch – if you were sitting there, with Ben leaning on you, you were going to scratch him.  And if for some reason you stopped, he butted his massive head into your hand, reminding you that your job was not done. 

This need for touch also manifested as a desperate need to be with his people – well, with his PERSON, really.  He was almost glued to my daughter – she was his rescuer, and he knew it.  And she loved him, even when she was sometimes exasperated with him.  And he knew that, too.  We learned very quickly that if she went out, even if Wylie was with him, Ben didn’t do well without her.  And it was proven to be a very, very bad idea to leave Ben altogether on his own, because he tried – literally – to get through a window to get to her.
Ben had issues, all right.  This attachment disorder meant that he really couldn’t be left on his own – it might have been possible to keep him physically safe, but emotionally, he was going to be a wreck if he were on his own.  And the house was going to be destroyed.  Thus began 5 years of ensuring that Ben was never utterly on his own.  That changed all of our lives, and it made for a huge balancing act.  It was at times unbelievably frustrating – but my daughter persevered.  Ben was a member of the family now.  He was loved, he was safe, and he and my daughter belonged to each other.  Both Wylie and Ben looked to my daughter as the leader of their pack, and they both wanted to please her.  Ben might not ever have been quite as clever as Wylie (personally, I always thought that he simply felt no need to do as many tricks as Wylie did – I suspect he felt it beneath his doggy dignity!), but he grew more secure and seemed to understand that where my daughter was would always be his home.

Happy Ben – is there much better than letting the wind race past you while you sit in a convertible?!

We all fell into a pattern with the dogs.  Even the Siamese cat, Sacha, accepted the invasion of another giant dog into his world.  Occasionally (usually when it was cold, if I’m honest), you might find both Berners and Sacha curled up napping together.  Sacha took it upon himself to inspect the boys’ food dishes, in case there was something there that he wanted.  Both dogs, each of whom was easily 6 times the cat’s size, stood by helplessly, imploring with desperate eyes any nearby humans to get that cat out of their food.  They knew better than to nudge him out of the way themselves!

Ben and Wylie kept a respectful distance from Sacha, though if it was very cold, you might find Sacha tolerating their presence close enough to him to generate more body heat!

Ben loved to go out with Wylie and my daughter.  They’d go to the beach, where he’d run in joy – galumphing around the water’s edge, carefully selecting just the right bits of seaweed for his snack, always with a huge smile on his face.  They’d go to the park, where he was generally ok on-leash but always happy to reach the off-leash section, so he could run again.  We learned here that Ben wasn’t fond of other dogs – he seemed to consider Wylie his brother, and bore him no ill will.  But he did not want other large dogs around.  Smaller dogs didn’t bother him so much – he’d look at them somewhat bemused, but with no ill intent.  Larger dogs, on the other hand, seemed to incite him to attack.  And so we had to be careful about that as well!

Ben gets a new cushion!

Ben was a kid magnet, as most Bernese are.  Children look at a Bernese and think (and often say), “Oh, look!  It’s a teddy bear!”  And Ben did kind of lumber around bear-like, so it made sense.  Children often approached to say hello to both dogs, and my daughter would nudge Ben forward, keeping Wylie a bit behind – Wylie isn’t too sure of children.  They make him skittish, and rather than risk that he might snap at a small, friendly hand, my daughter felt it would be better all around if Wylie were in the background for these events.  Ben, on the other hand, was built for children:  they wanted to hug him, pat him, scratch him.  He’d sit there forever (or until a hapless parent dragged away a child who insisted s/he was not ready to go yet), enjoying the attention.
Within a year of bringing Ben home, he’d grown from about 70 lbs to 115 lbs.  His coat grew thick and glossy. He panted less and smiled more.  He ran with Wylie.  It wasn’t all perfect – he was terrified of thunder storms (but let’s face it, many dogs share that fear), and he really did turn out to be a pretty needy dog.  But I don’t know anybody who met Ben who didn’t like him.  He just brought out the best in people.

One of their favourite places – a beach where they could run. Ben wasn’t crazy about the water, though he’d paddle a bit if persuaded.  He did like to select choice bits of seaweed for snacks, though.

We knew that Ben was older than Wylie.  We knew it was likely that he would die first.  If we thought about that at all, I suppose we thought that perhaps he’d just quietly die in his sleep, with no pain, no fear.  That’s probably the best way for anybody to shuffle off the moral coil, whether they are canine or human.  But that’s not what happened.
Over the past year or so, Ben began to slow down.  He didn’t run as much.  He wasn’t quite as interested in play (though he still would play with Pig, a plush toy with a squeaker of which Ben was inordinately fond).  He began to have a harder time getting around – we thought it might be because ceramic tile and hardwood floors were difficult to navigate, often leaving him splay-legged and somewhat helpless.  He began to sleep more, and we thought, “Well, it makes sense.  He’s getting older, he’s got arthritis, it makes sense.”  We reminded ourselves that after all, he could be as old as 10 or 11, which, for a large-breed dog, is significant.
But then, about 2 months ago, my daughter brought him to the vet.  Something wasn’t right, she knew.  It wasn’t just arthritis.  It wasn’t just age. Something was wrong.  My daughter knows her pets as well as any new mother knows her baby.  She knows every inch of their bodies.  She knows where there are lumps, and where there aren’t.  She knows where there are patches of dry skin.  She knows the spot where they love being touched best of all.  So when she said that something was wrong, it was very easy to believe her.  This was one of those instances, though, in which we all wanted her to be wrong.
Ben had cancer.  Were there treatments?  Some, for sure.  But would they really extend his life?  Give him a better quality of life?  Ben was a senior dog, remember – it was possible that the treatments themselves would be too much for him.  And if they did keep the cancer at bay, how long?  And what would his quality of life be like if he was treated.  After consultation with the vet, much research and deliberation, my daughter decided that it would not be doing the best thing for Ben to provide treatment.  She would continue to love him, to treat him with care, and to spend time very deliberately doing with him the things he loved to do.  And when the time was right, she would bring him for one last trip to the vet.  Ben had a ‘bucket list,’ not one that he created, obviously, but one created for him by his girl, the person who knew him best.  And last week, we crossed off the last two things on the list – a trip to the beach, and some ice cream.
Trips to the beach used to be extended adventures.  This trip, with Ben alone, and no Wylie, was not such an event.  On June 30th, we headed for the beach. Ben loved being there – you could see that.  But he tired very quickly.  After 15 minutes, he was lying down in the sand, happy to be there with us, but not interested in prolonging the running.  We stayed another few minutes, and headed back to the car, Ben loping happily along.  We stopped on the way home for ice cream, and my daughter snapped the bottom off her cone, filled the miniature cone it created with a tiny bit of ice cream, and gave it to Ben to enjoy.  Then we went home.  When we got back to the city, she had to lift Ben out of the car.  He couldn’t manage on his own.
On July 1st, I visited with my daughter and Ben-sat while she took Wylie for a short walk.  I was getting ready to go to Quebec myself, and she pointed out what I hadn’t even realised: this would be the last time I would see Ben.  I was leaving the next morning, and upon my return, there would be no Ben.  I sat there in her dining room, hugging and scratching this big, happy dog.  He had grown noticeably thinner over the past 6 weeks or so, hardly eating, and sleeping 20 hours a day.  He felt more like the scarecrow dog she’d brought home 5 years earlier.  This Ben loved, though, and was loved.  As much as I felt his bones, I could feel that.  And I cried.  I cried in part because I knew my daughter’s heart was sore, and there was nothing I could do to make it better.  But I cried for me, too.   I had no idea how much I would miss this dog.
When I left my daughter’s home that evening, I checked myself.  “Get a grip,” I said sternly to myself.  “This happens.  You know it happens.  And this is what’s best for Ben.”  I knew that, all of it.  But barely off her street, I saw a man walking his dog… a Bernese Mountain Dog, as it happens.  And I started to cry.  Sobbed all the way downtown, chastising myself as I went.  How silly, really – everyone knows that owners typically outlast their pets.  This was no surprise.  And it was especially no surprise, because Ben had been sick.  Oddly enough, that made no difference at all.  There would be no Ben when I came home, and my heart was bruised just thinking of it.

Wylie turned 7 on July 3.  Ben was there to celebrate.

I spoke with my daughter on Sunday, July 5th.  That was the day of Ben’s last vet appointment.  He had gone out for an early solo walk with my daughter – no Wylie.  My daughter wrote:
                Our beautiful, sweet Benny crossed over the rainbow bridge on Sunday afternoon.
For those who don't know, Ben was diagnosed with Lymphoma in May and has been steadily declining since then. In the last few weeks, he essentially stopped eating and was rapidly losing weight. He did enjoy his daily PB sandwiches though, and treats for the most part.
His body was failing him, and his mind was tired. Our previously 120 lb boy weighed 97 lbs in May and was down to 86 lbs on Sunday. As much as it crushed us, we knew it was his time.
We spent the last several weeks working through a bucket list with Ben, and thankfully had the time to accomplish everything on the list, and were able to make our last weeks with Ben as positive as we could.
Saturday night we had a movie night, equipped with snacks and loads of love. We also had a big brushing session (a Benny favourite). Sunday morning, Ben gobbled up two PB sandwiches and handfuls of treats and went for a solo walk with me. We went as far as his body would allow us, the majority of it was off leash with him walking by my side. The walk only lasted 10-15 minutes or so, but they were glorious minutes.
I am honoured to have been able to welcome Ben into my family and to have loved him unconditionally for the past five years.
I wish I could write more, but my heart isn't ready.
Rest in peace, my sweet boy.

It’s going to be very strange to go back to Halifax with no giant, gentle Ben to lean on me.  There will be no brick-shaped head to nudge my fingers into action if I lapse and stop scratching him just the way he likes. 
I don’t think my daughter would change her life had she known that Ben’s life would end this way.  Neither would I.  We bring animals into our world and care for them, love them, and in return get unbridled love and joy.  They leave muddy pawprints around, they sometimes eat things they shouldn’t and barf all over the living room.  Sometimes they bark too loud, or too long.  Maybe they’re so afraid of storms that even giants like Ben try to climb on top of you for protection.  But our hearts are better for knowing them, even when their leaving hurts us.
Ben is a prime example of how rescue works.  If my daughter hadn’t found that smelly, scrawny, attachment-addled Berner, our lives might have been a bit easier, but they wouldn’t have been as much fun.  She loved him into the wonderful dog he became, and he was as bonded to her as any puppy is to its mother.  She was his girl, and we all knew it.  What I know is this:  if my daughter hadn’t found Ben and brought him home, his life almost certainly would’ve been shorter.  And it would not have been as good.  She gave him all she could, and what she gave him was good.  I am glad for them both (and yes, for me as well) that Ben came into her world.