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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Zen simplicity of placing a ball in a bowl

One of the small challenges of dog ownership is occasionally having to find a suitable place to leave them when you want to go on vacation to a place that doesn't welcome furry guests.  Luckily this isn't such a big deal for us since we tend to 'rough it' on our vacations; either camping or visiting places that aren't too picky about their clientele having opposable thumbs.

However, when we started making plans to go away to the Field School this past shabbat (see yesterday's post), one of the logistical issues we had to resolve was what to do with the dogs.

We've cultivated reciprocal pet-sitting arrangements with several 'dog families' here in Efrat, but with a relatively new puppy and an aging dog with cancer, we didn't feel comfortable asking any friends to look after them this time around.

Luckily, through trial and error, my parents had stumbled upon a centrally located place that boards dogs in a family setting.  By this, I mean that it isn't a traditional kennel arrangement with cages and runs.  They take in no more than 10 - 12 dogs at a time... and the dogs live in the house with the family.  The place has a big fenced yard and the dogs can go inside and out whenever they want.

I have to admit I was a little leery when I first heard about the place.  I was worried that it was the doggy equivalent of one of those noisome inner city day-care mills that take in more kids than they can possibly care for... just to make a quick buck.  But when I went to drop off my parents dogs for their first visit there I was sold. 

My parent's dogs can be... how do I put this diplomatically... a tad rambunctious.  You may remember them from their last brush with the law:



The father/husband of this family that boards dogs happens to be the regional pet food distributor.  He is a soft-spoken, young Yemenite (I think) guy who is, without a doubt, a 'dog whisperer'.   You know how some people just seem to have a special bond with animals?  Well he is one of those... times 10!

When we'd gone to drop off my parent's dogs, he let us in... closed the door after us and then told us to take the leashes off.  He then called all the other dogs into the house to meet the new arrivals and spoke calmly to all of them... encouraging them to get along and play nicely together. 

As if by magic the dogs immediately took 'the new kids' and ran off to play in the yard!  His wife and kids were perfectly calm around the dogs and took almost no notice of them beyond the occasional skritch behind a conveniently located ear.

When we dropped our dogs off this past Friday morning, the same thing happened.  Jordan and Lulu were immediately adopted by the pack (a different mix of characters this time) and within moments were wandering around the house happily as though they had been there all their lives.

After taking careful note of our dog's health and vaccination records, he shook our hands and told us to have a nice Shabbat... assuring us that the dogs would be just fine.

We needn't have worried.  Although both dogs were overjoyed to see us when we came back Saturday night (Lulu was so 'faklempt' she peed on my shoe), they seemed perfectly at home among the group of dogs that wandered comfortably around the house.

When I asked him how things had gone, he said they'd been perfect house guests and got on well with everyone.  But then his brow furrowed a bit and he went on:

"You know", he began, "Lulu seems to be eating her food much too fast.  She swallows it whole without chewing.  Not only is she always hungry since she is not getting the full nutritional value of the food... but I'm sure that's why she's so interested in her own poop since it isn't changed very much as a result of the quick trip through her digestive system."

I assured him that we'd noticed her tendency to wolf her food... but nothing we'd tried seemed to slow her down.  We'd tried making her wait before letting her attack her bowl.  We'd tried interrupting her meals.  We'd even tried changing the quantities of her food to see if perhaps she wasn't getting enough... but nothing seemed to help.

Without hesitation he said, "Have you tried putting a tennis ball in her food bowl?"

I must have looked doubtful because he immediately explained, "If there's a ball in her bowl she will have to slow down enough to eat around it.  Trust me... it works."

Guess what?  It works!  Overnight Lulu has learned table manners and is eating her meals slowly... and actually chewing!  Forget 'dog whisperer'... this guy is the Zen master of dog whisperers!  Needless to say, we are delighted to have found him.

If anyone is interested in a perfect 'doggy spa' for when they go away, the place is called 'Tevat HaHayot' (roughly translated as 'Ark of the Animals' - a reference to Noah's boat).  They are located in a rural town called Li-On in Emek HaEllah (not far from Tzomet Ha'Ellah), and the proprietor, Avi Ashri, can be reached at:

Home: 02 999 4122
Cell: 0545662704
email: [email protected]

As I said, Avi is also the regional distributor for most major brands of pet foods so if you'd like home delivery he happily does that as well (including non-chametz food for Passover!).

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

Posted by David Bogner on April 14, 2008 | Permalink


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Sheesh, I wish my flatmate would have found out about this guy -- his dog couldn't get over the idea that indoor isn't pee-place. Israeli trainers, in our experience, are BAD.

Posted by: Danny Brothers | Apr 14, 2008 1:24:05 PM

That IS a good idea.

Posted by: Benji | Apr 14, 2008 1:42:17 PM

if you don't mind me asking, how much does he charge? sounds like just the place for our hound should we need some doggy sitting.

Posted by: Katherine | Apr 14, 2008 2:52:11 PM

In the future, we would have been happy to dog-sit. Although this guy sounds like a dream - I wonder if he's booked for chol hamoed? I'm going to call him now, since our usual suppliers of chometz-free food don't have this year

Posted by: Noa | Apr 14, 2008 5:33:24 PM

I'll have to remember this next time we need to leave Ozzy behind. We had a similar type of person back in the states. She was amazing. She would actually come pick Ozzy up and drive off with him and several other pooches in the car. He would jump up into the back seats and the other dogs would welcome him. I could swear they were all smiling at each other.

Posted by: Baila | Apr 14, 2008 6:57:09 PM

I am going to try this with the FREE dog!
I will let you know of our result.

Posted by: weese | Apr 14, 2008 7:20:32 PM

I wonder if this works with humans? : )

Posted by: Alice | Apr 14, 2008 9:10:03 PM

...I'm sure that's why she's so interested in her own poop since it isn't changed very much as a result of the quick trip through her digestive system...

Does that mean what I think it means? If it does, then Bella is about to have a tennis ball added to dinner tonight...

Posted by: wanderer | Apr 14, 2008 10:59:50 PM

Non-hametz food! For pets! I'm in awe. :)

Posted by: Lioness | Apr 15, 2008 12:31:08 AM

Well, you have to be careful with the pesachdik pet foods. Some dogs keep gebrokst.

Posted by: Marsha in Stamford | Apr 15, 2008 6:52:41 AM

Hi Lioness, do you know what's involved in getting a cow shed (300 head milked, add calves and late term pregnancies ("dry cows") to that) kosher for Passover?
Seriously, is it important that he's Yemenite?
More seriously, I'm going to try it on our queen cat, who's 13 years young and bulemic! May scale it down to golf/squash ball.

Posted by: asher | Apr 15, 2008 8:40:48 AM

Danny Brothers... Note that I'm still not claiming victory in the great pee wars. :-)

Benji... We thought so.

Katherine... 50 sheqels per night per dog... the same as the other kennels we spoke with.

Noa... I know, and when you are officially our neighbor we will definitely be calling you for favors. But we didn't think that the week before pesach was the time to start asking favors from people.

Baila... Glad to hear I'm not the only person who thinks dogs can smile.

weese... You might want to use something heavier (like a bocce ball, which should appeal to your Italian wife) so it will be harder for FREE dog to dislodge. :-)

Alice ... Interesting question. :-)

wanderer... It means exactly what you think it means.

Lioness... Yeah, I expected this one. :-) You have to understand that we aren't imposing a kosher diet on the dogs. It's just that the prohibition against Hametz on Passover is not just eating it but also owning it, deriving benefit from it or having it where you can even see it. Since you own the dog and its food, will derive benefit from the dog remaining healthy and you will see the chametz-based food whenever you go to feed the animal... many observant Jews switch their pets to chametz-free food on Passover. mind you, it isn't a big deal.. Science Diet has several mixes that are already Chametz free. Some people I know use the stuff for their pets year round so they won't have to switch for passover.

Marsha in Stamford... Now that's the Marsha I remember! :-)

asher... There are a lot of observant Jews who buy your cow's milk which provides your kibbutz with a nice income so stop complaining. As to whether it was necessary to point out that he was (probably) Yemenite, yes... since I didn't want to go too deeply into physical descriptive (short, dark skinned, dreadlocks, etc.) I figured that saying that he was most likely Yemenite would give most people the correct mental image. In prose, it is considered bad form to mention a central character in a story and not give the reader some short-hand way of knowing what they look like.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 15, 2008 8:58:24 AM

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