Michael M. Rosen

Jack Rosen, who bridged worlds human and canine

Image courtesy of author

Given the horrific state of the human world in Israel and abroad, it feels a little strange—self-indulgent, even—to be eulogizing our dog, Jack, who left us earlier this week at the ripe old age of sixteen years and nine months. But, in fact, Jack inspired and taught our family and many others in a way that touched our very sense of humanity.

I am a careful student of the dog obituary (and the maudlin dog movie) arc: a once-skeptical canine owner gradually, grudgingly, comes to accept the presence of a dog in their life, usually at the urging of a significant other; the pooch, usually a playful, sturdy golden retriever, enriches the lives of the protagonist and their children; the dog comforts the family during times of loss; and, in the final paragraph or scene, the family mourns his passing.

My relationship with our dear, departed Jack, a Yorkshire Terrier-Poodle mix, fits this narrative structure, but with a twist: our own bestest boy fundamentally broke down the barriers—which, in my worldview, had been sacrosanct—between human and animal life.

Jack joined our family in San Diego in 2008 at age one after my mother-in-law made aliyah from Florida. I had reluctantly promised my wife that once we bought a house with a backyard, I would indulge her strong desire to add a canine companion to our growing menagerie, and I kept that promise.

I say “reluctantly” because, as a child, I had imbibed from my parents a general distaste for, and fear of, dogs and other pets, not because of any particular incident but out of an abiding sense that the human and animal realms were never meant to overlap. As if to illustrate the point, my father stocked a small backyard pond with goldfish who disappeared weekly at the hands of raccoons and other predators. That’s just what animals do: eat each other.

And so, with great trepidation, I conceded Jack’s entry into our home, despite viewing his presence, especially among the then-young humans in our family, as a category error. But, of course, he quickly changed my mind, and the minds of so many others among our friends. His rhythmic gait, his multi-colored coat, his sweet demeanor, and his peppy attitude endeared him to me immediately. And when I leashed him up—tentatively, at first, then excitedly—to join me on my morning runs, along with one or two of our babies in their jogging stroller, we began to form a bond that would transcend the human-animal divide.

It was on one of those runs that I realized the barrier had given way completely. Jack’s little legs kept up with my pace for as long as eight miles at a time, and more times than I can count, he pulled at me to keep going when my own energy had flagged. But one morning, at a busy intersection, he was spooked by another dog (for the most part, Jack preferred the company of humans to that of other dogs), and he slipped the leash and bolted into the street. I was momentarily paralyzed: should I lock the stroller’s wheels, hoping they would hold, and run into the street to collect him? In the event, a good Samaritan stopped traffic, collected our boy, and brought him back to me safely. But the old me would never for a second have even thought about potentially endangering a human child for the sake of a canine one.

Jack had this effect on countless people, big and small. An epidemic of new dog ownership in our Orthodox Jewish community (not, historically, a congenial environment for four-legged friends) erupted after Jack’s entry into our lives. Even more strikingly, we counted no fewer than eight young children who entered our home terrified of dogs, whose parents sat them on our sofa while we held Jack, who haltingly began to pet him, and who, through his gentleness and warmth, overcame their once-strong canine fear. Some of these families, to their amazement and ours, even acquired dogs of their own.

When our youngest child was born, we feared that our good boy might become jealous. On the contrary: he rose to the moment, seemingly appreciating its gravity, and spent hours standing (well, sleeping) guard in front of her crib. His transcendence of the human-animal boundary extended even into a place of intimacy: soon after he arrived, I (again, grudgingly) agreed to let him sleep in our bed. He did so every night for the next 14 years, until he could no longer climb up or down.

And when our family moved to Israel in 2014, a point that more or less bisected his life, we couldn’t possibly contemplate parting with him, even though the 15-hour journey was arduous. Like us, he acclimated to life in an entirely different culture and environment, and he kept us his old barrier-defying tricks in the Jewish state, winning over skeptics among adults and children; soothing us during times of war, pandemic, and loss; and sparking another wave of dog ownership. We even had a dog-sitter who, besotted and only half-jokingly, once refused to return him to us, agreeing only after she had written him a lengthy poem.

Like all creatures, animal and human, Jack eventually gave way to nature. His desire to run waned, followed by his yen for walks, his ability to climb stairs, and all the rest. But his pleasant manner and canine curiosity never failed him, and he showered us with his benevolent presence far longer than we had the right to expect.

Two final twists in Jack’s story: at Thanksgiving dinner last week, days before we bid farewell to our boy, as we went around the table proclaiming our respective gratitudes, my wife tearfully, poignantly thanked Jack for bringing us many years of serenity and happiness. Shortly thereafter, amid a commotion—our close friends’ son burst through the door, having returned from the front in Gaza for the first time in seven weeks, prompting joyous shouting, aggressive hugs, and loud crying—Jack managed to escape. Mind you, by this point, he was nearly blind, mostly deaf, fairly senile, and not especially mobile. Following a frantic, hours-long search, he fortunately turned up at a neighbor’s house, scared and disoriented, where we gratefully collected him. Our guests joked, darkly, that he must have been listening attentively to our expressions of thanks and sensed something was amiss.

And then, the evening before we took him to the vet for the final time, shortly after we had returned from a final sunset romp in his favorite fields overlooking the Mediterranean, as we stood around as a family crying softly, the only thing Jack wanted to do was comfort us. We simply didn’t deserve him.

Even in his last moments, our sweet, sweet boy was breaking down walls between the human and animal worlds, for the betterment of both. We know he’s doing the same in doggie heaven. Rest in peace, dear Jacky.

Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer in Israel and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

About the Author
Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer in Ra'anana, Israel. He and his family recently made aliyah from San Diego.
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