Chetz ( ? - January 31, 2005): The Dog Who Brought Us Love And Healing



January 31st  this year, is the ninth memorial day of our beloved family dog Chetz (Arrow in Hebrew). The reason we all remember this date,  is because he died on my birthday.  Chetz joined our family during a tough time. He brought us a lot of laughter, joy, love, healing, and inspiration as well as filth, lots of hair, worries, and headaches.  


When we were kids, our mother refused to bring home any pet, unless it was kosher. Her strategy was clear: once the kids are fed up with the pet, it can become useful. We had a big carp fish swimming in our bathtub for a few days, until our mother decided to cook it. We had several cute chickens that ended up on our plates. We had Tirtza, our pet sheep, for a few months, until she was served for Passover dinner. None of us kids could eat Tirtza. We just went in to the kitchen, lifted the pot lid where Tirtza’s organs were cooked and said our goodbyes.


In the summer of 1997 my brother Nathaniel was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was lucky, the doctors were able to remove the entire tumor during the surgery, but he still had to go through chemotherapy and radiation.  In May 1998, while Nathaniel was treated for cancer, my sister Zofit had a kidney transplant, after 9 years of dialysis. From the new kidney, Zofit was infected with Cytomegalovirus (CMV). Her body rejected the kidney  a few  days after the transplant. She spent nearly four months at the hospital fighting for her life.

Nathaniel (left), Zofit (fight)

One warm fall night  in 1998 we were on the rooftop enjoying the sunset. Nathaniel had just completed his chemo and radiation. Zofit was home recovering from her ordeal. It was a quiet and relaxing moment at home, after a draining year. It was then when Nathaniel said “nobody loves me. I want a dog.” For a while, no one said anything. My mother was the first to break the silence, when she commanded my father “Shlomo, get the kid a dog!”

My father, Shlomo

Chetz arrived shortly after that. He was not a puppy, he was not fixed and he was hyper active. It was good that my parents had seven children to entertain this dog.  Until Chetz arrived, we had no idea what an Alaskan Malamute is like, but we had plenty of time to figure it out. Chetz kept us all busy, without much time left for introspection or self pity. Out of all of us, Zofit was the one who took ownership of taking care of Chetz. In the photo bellow, she is giving Chetz a bath shortly after he had arrived. She was still recovering from the failed transplant and the CMV that made her lose a lot of weight and all her hair.


Chetz had a mind of his own. No one could control him.  He was an escape artist, an opportunist, a hedonist, and a fornicator. He had screwed every female dog he could lay his paws on.  One of our neighbors got really mad when he realized that Chetz impregnated his dog. To calm him down, my father offered to pay him child support. This offer turned invalid as all the puppies died shortly after birth. When Chetz was not running out and about, his favorite place to lie down was at the doorstep. We had to walk over him to get into the house. People who were not familiar with him often got scared because of his size. The truth was, he was a lousy watchdog. 


Walking Chetz always meant getting a lot of attention, especially us girls. The local boys used to ask us “can we pet?” and shortly after the permission was given, they used to say “not him, you.”. In the mornings, if no one showed any sign of waking up, Chetz  used to approach one us in bed, push his head underneath the blanket facing our head, and release his stinky breath. That got us up in no time. Nathaniel was his favorite victim for this trick. Chetz used to be restless if he didn’t get a walk. Even if he managed to escape and take himself for a walk, he still loved when one of us joined him. One evening, when we all returned home from our different affairs, we started shouting at each other for not taking Chetz for a walk. As it turned out, we all took him for a walk that day. Chetz practiced the Roman “divide and conquer” tactic on us. We all had different schedules, hence different waking time. Chetz approached each of us as we got up and started panting restlessly, as if he didn’t get his walk yet. He did it with each of us, and we all fell into his act.  After that we started a walking chart. 

Zofit

Having so much energy, Chetz could never understand or respect our need to sleep. He used to howl every morning at 4am. He had a beautiful howl, but it was very hard to appreciate it at this early hour. At the beginning we used to shout at him to shut up. One day we decided to get up and find out what made him howl. It was the Muezzin from a nearby Muslim village who cried “Allah Hu Akbar” into his megaphones to wake up his people for the Morning Prayer. After that we learned to lock Chetz in a room with closed windows for the night.  


One year Chetz disappear for three months. We guessed someone stole him. Despite all our searches we were unable to locate him. On Passover Eve, as our father returned from the synagogue and we were ready to sit down for the holiday dinner, we heard our neighbors screaming in excitement “Open the door! Chetz is back!” This was our miracle of the exodus for that evening.

 Nathaniel (left) after a month in Thailand, and Eliya(right)

We had a few more years with him. Many times he used to disappear for a few hours and come home filthy, smelly and very satisfied.  We got some fines from the city, whenever he was caught walking freely around town. We had lots of white and grey hair everywhere in the house, the yard, the car and our clothes. Hair cut in the summer was necessary, but made him look ridiculous and more vulnerable while being attacked by other dogs. Every so often he managed to get himself into a fight. 


Chetz loved to play tricks on everyone and pretend to be innocent. His most common trick, which usually came after eating lots of schnitzels, was to fart in a room, leave nonchalantly, and let us suffocate in it. Another trick he did only one time. One cold and rainy night, I returned home late. After a hot shower I went immediately to bed, not bothering to turn on the light in my bedroom. As I got underneath the blanket I jumped and screamed. I woke up the whole family. There was something under my blanket. It was Chetz. The photo bellow was taken that night.


Chetz got weaker as he aged, but refused to admit being old. He still kept his canine sex appeal. A day before he he died, he still managed to escape and tour the city for a couple of hours. On January 31st, 2005, he was very sick. He was laying on the floor, only lifting his  head as each of us entered the room.  We knew it was the end. It was the end of an incredible journey we had together as a family.  He managed to say goodbye to all of us. Our sister Zofit was at work that day, and couldn’t leave early. He waited for her. Fifteen minutes after she had arrived home he passed away. 


Chetz was the inspiration for my second children's book. That 1998 fall night on the rooftop, when Nathaniel said, “Nobody loves me. I want a dog.” I fell in love with the statement. I sensed a story, even though I still didn’t know what it would be about.  Nathaniel gave me  permission to quote him. When Chetz arrived, he brought me the rest of the story.  It took me several years to find a publisher. At the time, publishers in Israel were afraid from children stories that dealt with cancer. Though my story uses cancer as a catalyst, it is not about the illness, it is about the love. The love that a dog can bring to a family during a tough time. Eventually an editor, from a publishing house that had already rejected the story twice, approached me. She read my manuscript and loved it.  By Loco’s Love was published in Israel a year later, in 2004. 



I would like to thank my sister Zofit for finding the old photos, scanning and emailing them to me, and for her amazing memory that always comes in handy.

Comments

  1. I remember chetz, what a character he was :)

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  2. Beautiful! I'm so glad I finally got to read this! You made me laugh and cry at the same time. I wonder if there is schnitzel in heaven...?

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  3. I don't know about schnitzels, but I was told they serve there glatt kosher gefilte fish.

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