A few months into our relationship, Yossi called to tell me that he was dog-sitting for the weekend. I wasn’t surprised. Yossi is a right-hand man. One day, he’s moving friends into their new house. The next, he’s lending his car to an out-of-town pal for a weekend of sightseeing. Whenever I ask him for a favor — picking up milk at the store or putting air in my tires — he says, “Whatever you want, honey. Half the kingdom.”
Yossi said that he and the dog — Layla — would be right over.
I’ve never liked dogs. They stink. They beg. They’re needy and co-dependent. And I’ve had enough of cleaning up someone else’s poop, thank you. I’ll take a cat over a dog any day. Some of my earliest baby pictures show our family cat, Blackie, cuddling with me. Cats are independent and neat. They also bury their own poop.
Layla. Her name means “night” in Hebrew. How lyrical, I thought. I imagined some sweet dark-haired pooch with a little rough pink tongue. I pictured my daughter throwing a ball to Layla and patting her head when she retrieved it.
When I opened the door, however, some brute thing lunged at me. She was half Rottweiller, half Pit Bull. To say that she startled me would be an understatement.
I stumbled backwards. “That dog cannot come into my house.”
“Don’t be scared,” Yossi said, gripping her collar. “She’s nice. She just wants to smell you.”
“She doesn’t look nice,” I said.
“Ah, c’mon, just look at her.” He scratched under her chin. He was laughing.
“It’s not funny,” I said. I didn’t want to look at her. I didn’t want anything to do with her.
“I don’t want her anywhere near Mae,” I said, imagining the terrible things this monster could do to my kid.
Yossi looked down, dismayed. “But I love dogs,” he said. “I want to have a dog someday.”
“You do?” I said. Great, first he wants a baby; and now a dog. Why hadn’t he mentioned this before?
He looked miserable. I couldn’t take it. Fine then. Layla could come inside for 10 minutes. Tops.
Mae came out of her room, cautious and guarded.
“Hold that dog tight,” I warned Yossi. “Don’t let her go.”
“Is it okay, Mommy?” Mae said.
“Put your hand out,” Yossi said before I could. “Let her sniff you.”
Layla licked her fingers. I held my breath. This dog was twice her size. But Mae giggled. Layla’s tail jogged in the air.
“Look at her tail!” Mae squealed.
For the rest of the afternoon, Layla was on Mae’s heels. Whatever Mae commanded, the dog obeyed.
My daughter often played the role of commander-in-chief with me; but to see her having power over someone other than me was amusing. I thought she’d be shy and reserved, as she is in most new situations. But I enjoyed watching how dominant she was, in control of this huge dog. You go girl.
Over the next few months, Yossi continued to dog-sit on sporadic weekends. He’d had a dog growing up on the kibbutz, and I could see the untamed boy within him. When he told me that Layla had been rescued as a puppy from the streets of Oakland — an American-Israeli couple found her at the pound — I felt a twinge of compassion for her.
Thanks to Layla, I was adding new words to my vocabulary. Brindle: those pretty brown streaks on her chin and paws. Dewclaws: the extra nails on her legs that sent us straight to the vet for emergency surgery when one was torn.
Maybe Layla was growing on me. In some ways, it was the perfect set-up. Yossi would take care of Layla for half-a-day, both he and Mae got their dog-fill, and then she went home.
One Friday night, however, she did not go home. Mae was having a slumber party at a friend’s house. I was ecstatic to go out for dinner with Yossi, grown-ups only. Yossi told me that Layla would stay in his car.
In his car? I didn’t get it. Why couldn’t she stay at home?
“She’ll get lonely,” Yossi said.
“But she’s a dog,” I said.
“She might cry,” he said. “If she’s in the car, she’ll know that I’m coming back.”
This was all very twisted, but I didn’t feel like getting into a fight on our romantic night out. After dinner and wine, we decided to go back to his place for some fooling around. But as soon as we stepped inside, Layla leapt onto his bed and curled up on the blue wrinkled comforter.
“The dog!” I said, horrified.
“She likes to sleep there,” he said.
“You sleep with her?” I asked.
He laughed. “You’re jealous.”
Yossi found an old blanket and laid it out on the floor. He called Layla — “Get down!” She looked forlorn. Our clothes fell to the floor, next to her. But just when things were heating up, Layla looked over the edge of the bed. She was whining.
“Shh!” Yossi said.
“Shh!” I said.
But Layla wouldn’t stop. She was whimpering louder now.
“Maybe she has to pee,” he said.
“She just went outside,” I said.
He got out of bed and pulled on his clothes. I tugged the comforter over my body.
Back inside, Yossi undressed again. Within five minutes, Layla was crying again.
“Maybe she’s cold,” he said.
“She’s a dog,” I said.
Last spring, Yossi got the call: Layla’s owners were moving to Tel Aviv; they were taking the dog with them. Yossi was gloomy. When I told Mae the news, she burst into tears.
The weekend before Layla’s flight, I offered to invite her to my Mother’s Day picnic. (I know, I know.) It would be our last afternoon together. What was supposed to be a celebration — of motherhood, maternity, and me — turned into a good-bye party for the dog. We fed her bits of chicken. We took photos of her. She led us on a hike around the lake.
In the meantime, a suicide bomber blew himself up at in Tel Aviv. Nine people were dead, over 60 were wounded. A few nights before Layla’s departure, another suicide bomber blew up a bus in Tel Aviv. Yossi sat glued to the TV news in my living room. As I put Mae to bed, his cell phone rang.
He was speaking in Hebrew, but I kept hearing “Layla.” He tiptoed into Mae’s room. “Honey, I need to talk to you about something–.” In pure Yossi-style, he did not wait to discuss this adult-to-adult. “How would you feel about adopting Layla?”
“Layla!” Mae exploded from under the covers. “I want Layla!”
Layla’s owners had decided that given the political climate in the Middle East, it would be too hard to take her to their small apartment in Tel Aviv. She’d be happier here, running through the Berkeley woodlands.
And that was that.
I’m not about to get a “My Rottweiler is smarter than your honor student,” bumper sticker, but she has stuck on me.
Yossi likes to brag that he got the instant-family he wanted, dog included.
I just tell everyone: “We both came into this relationship with a daughter.”