When our dog Gringo made the trip from JFK Airport to BGA we feared for her life. The year was 1973 and she was already 13 years old with numerous infirmities. But taking her was a no-brainer. What else could we do?
We had acquired Gringo in 1960, soon after we married. As a confirmed dog lover I wanted my new husband to share the joy that only a dog can deliver. While his new bride may have had mood swings, occasional or otherwise, I knew a dog would always be loving and affectionate and I wanted him to experience that puppy love first hand.
We saved Gringo from imminent execution at the Newark NJ dog pound. While I’ve seen some human babies that are not so cute, I’ve never seen a puppy that’s not totally adorable and Gringo certainly was. We didn’t think about the shedding from her fluff or the snowy nights when we’d have to walk her on the frigid streets. The decision was immediate. She was the first pup we’d seen and, yes, we would take her. She turned out to be quite a character.
In the beginning our neighbors reported on her. Apparently she was, unknown to us, quite the drama queen. We lived in an apartment house and every weekday morning, when we’d both be on our way to work, the plaintive screams from our apartment were heart wrenching. Gringo didn’t want us to go to work. Growing up with pure table food, she wasn’t worried that if we lost our jobs, to stay home with her all day, a loss of income would cut into our purchasing power and ability to buy Alpo. She wouldn’t eat that stuff anyway, with her self delusion that she was some kind of canine royalty. So she would scream and wail as we descended the stairs and, as the neighbors told us, immediately cease and desist as soon as the front door clicked shut and we were out of hearing range. The rest of her day was spent lounging on the furniture and figuring where the mounds of flying hair would be most prominent. When we returned home the plaintive screams were heard again and we believed, until the neighbors squealed, that she was carrying on all day. A devious girl indeed! But the greeting was always so passionate that you’d have thought we came home from battle. Always so excited to see us.
So passed her first three years. Lots of attention and affection; an overly indulged dog and a hardworking young couple. But, in 1963 something bad happened to Gringo, something she had never thought about, never wanted, and totally rejected, a human baby! Gringo knew from the get-go that this was not good news for her. Literally from the moment we brought Amy home from the Newark Beth Israel Hospital (or as they say born at the Beth), Gringo had no use for her. She knew her own position was on the descent and when three more little cherubs eventually cramped her style she found room in her heart to hold them all in contempt. Our four children grew up in a home where their dog literally hated them. Talk about sibling rivalry!
In 1972 we had an exciting possibility to consider. My husband was offered a one year consulting job in Jerusalem. We didn’t hesitate for a moment. We’d rent out the house, sell the car, take ulpan, hire a Hebrew tutor, and be on our way.
But what about Gringo? She was an old girl by now, and despite her many quirks, we loved her. In the same way you love a cantankerous relative, the kids who had never had her return a ball or greet them with a wagging tail, for some inexplicable reason, did also love her, and we knew we couldn’t leave her behind.
A conversation with our vet did not reassure. The flight, with the included London layover, would be many many hours in cargo, with its changes in air pressure and temperature. Her heart was ailing. She had achy joints. All the infirmities of old age. She might not survive the flight. You’ve heard of the rock and the hard place. That’s where we were. The hard place won. Gringo would come to Israel with us. She was part of our family.
We tried our best to problem solve before the trip. My husband worked many hours designing a dog carrier with its own source of water which could not spill during turbulence. It was worthy of a patent! He then painstakingly built the whole contraption which met El Al’s requirements. Inside, in addition to our ancient dog, were some of her favorite things and a nice cushy blanket. This was a five star airplane ready temporary home, sort of like a sukkah minus the halacha, which we prayed would not be her final resting place!
Since Gringo was never the most brilliant, we hadn’t succeeded in teaching her any tricks. She had mastered the command to sit so we taught her shvi and off we were.
When we deboarded we got to baggage claim as fast as humanly possible. It being Israel, some mensch had already taken her out of her luxury crate and there she stood, alive and at least as healthy as she had been in New Jersey, looking perplexed. And who wouldn’t have been perplexed in that situation? I swear she was even happy to see the kids!
She spent the next 14 months as a Jerusalemite and even survived the trip back to New Jersey. In a future blog I’ll tell you about some excitement on her return and how she reacted to a burglar (spoiler: NOT HEROICALLY).