Most people who have grown up with dogs, or have been lucky enough to have one in their lives, will tell you that dogs know something we don’t. They live in the moment with endless joy and emotional intelligence that often defies human understanding.
When I was seven, my family brought home a Portuguese Water Dog named Toby. Though firmly my mom’s most devoted companion, Toby would switch allegiance when any member of the family was hurt, sick or sad. He could be counted on to stand vigil by your bedside until your pain, physical or otherwise, was healed.
Toby and my dad were diagnosed with cancer around the same time. From that point on, he never left my dad’s side. While my dad was recovering from his radiation therapy treatments, Toby could be found sprawled out beside him. When my dad went into remission, he and my mom planned a trip to Las Vegas; their first since he was diagnosed. That was the weekend Toby died. He had been there when my dad needed companionship the most, and having seen my dad through to the end, he was finally able to let go.
One of the most difficult parts about living away from home is the absence of a dog’s presence in my life. I moved to Israel two years ago, and after a year without canine companionship, I started volunteering for a dog rescue organization in Tel Aviv. As with strays anywhere, these dogs had been battered, bruised, neglected and thrown away. I fostered different dogs, keeping them with me for a little while on their journey to find a forever home.
One dog that caught my attention was Lucas. An Israeli mutt with a sweet disposition, Lucas has, what I call, a club foot. Either a birth defect or a souvenir of an accident when he was very young, he has one crumpled, concave leg with a paw pointing outwards.
For two months, I watched people approach Lucas, notice his leg, shake their heads and move on. Feeling badly for him, I decided to take him home.
For the first two days, I fought the urge the carry Lucas through the world. I was anxious when he jumped on the couch; anxious when he jumped down. Anxious taking him for walks, anxious when another dog tried to play. Any moment, I believed, this fragile dog would crumble.
It was my boyfriend who finally convinced me to take Lucas to the dog park. Tentatively, and with a pit in the bottom of my stomach, I let him off leash for the first time. As he took off like a shot into the distance, I was in shock. He was fast. Very fast. Faster, in fact, than any other dog in the park. I laughed as he taunted the other dogs chasing him, slowing down just enough so that they could catch up, and running off gleefully when they were ever so close. This dog, I thought, is NOT disabled.
For the second time in my life, a dog had shown me courage and intelligence beyond what I thought was possible. They don’t dwell on what they haven’t, but move on with what they have. They adapt, they change, they problem solve – all in the blink of an eye without sorrow or regret for what could have been.
Two weeks later, I brought Lucas home for good. Almost daily, people cringe and ask me about his leg. I shrug my shoulders and tell them if it doesn’t bother Lucas, it doesn’t bother me. Every time I unclip his leash and Lucas runs off into the distance, he reminds me that we are only as limited as we allow ourselves to be.
Sarah Lubelski is a freelance writer living in Israel and studying Hebrew in a language-immersion program called “Ulpan.”