Almost from the beginning of my time at the synagogue three years ago, I’ve been talking to the rabbi about dogs. I don’t remember how it started. Maybe I brought in a picture of Butterfly and Cricket right after we adopted Butterfly from the shelter, maybe it was because I’d heard about his dog, who’d died just a few years before we arrived, and was well known by the congregation, playing a role in rabbinical stories over her long tenure as canine in residence. And maybe it’s because, going to the rabbi’s house for a new members evening, I noticed that pictures of the dog were as prominent as pictures of his daughters, meaning, she was family.
He made it clear that he wants a smallish dog, but not too small, hypoallergenic, because he always has people at his house and doesn’t want anyone to get sick, and she has to be a girl. He has two daughters, so he knows he gets along well with girls, but maybe he also wants to avoid the marking and humping young male dogs can do. I did not ask.
I gave him a list of hypoallergenic, or supposedly hypoallergenic, dogs, and we went over it, a year and a half ago.
Talking about dogs is a neutral zone where I can offer the rabbi my attention and concern, without feeling like I’m invading his privacy. There’s such a strange dynamic with teachers and rabbis and therapists, where you create a bond and naturally want to know more about them, but their privacy is meant to be protected, and it feels like I am puffing myself up imagining that I know anything or have the right to care about whether or not he has a dog.
Once a year, dogs play a role in the ritual life of the congregation when they come to the pond on Rosh Hashanah. The ritual of Tashlich is about tossing our sins into the water to let go of them and start the new year fresh. At our synagogue we toss birdseed instead of the traditional bread, which supposedly chokes the birds. I guess the dogs are invited, because with all of the goose poop, no one will notice if they pee or poop on the grass.
But once a year is not enough if we want the dogs to get to know each other and develop their own roles in the congregation. We need a rabbinical dog to lead the rest of the dogs in finding their place in the community, whether it be helping kindergarteners learn to read, helping bar and bat mitzvah kids practice in front of a friendly congregation, or offering help to dogs who need it.
We need a rabbinical dog, a small, well trained, friendly, hypoallergenic dog, who can walk through the crowd offering consolation and sweetness and reminders of dogs at home. Just like a rabbi is often a stand in for the good parent you either had or needed.
The rabbinical dog could sniff each congregant’s dog, have private meetings with those in need of further consultation, and maybe plan a few more events during the year for the sake of dog/human families who otherwise have to go to shul without half of the family.
I think the only real problem with dogs in the synagogue, other than peeing on the carpet, is that there is often food, especially cake and cookies and chocolate. We are in great danger of setting up the oneg on Friday night, going into services, and coming back an hour and a half later to an empty buffet table and sick dogs.