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Cosmic Debris
A Dog’s Life

"There are links between heaven and earth which promise an answer and resolution to life’s perplexities.”    -–from the Passover Haggadah

April 1999--Elijah is always a welcomed guest in our homes during Passover as his spirit brings us hope and the promise of eternal salvation  – all for a cup of Manischewitz.

    This year, in near miraculous fashion, Elijah brought the message of hope and salvation not only to us, but also to our dog Banyan, who’d been a bad girl of late. 

    When my wife Nora and I first set eyes on Banyan nearly eight years ago, she was just a pup, a real cutie with pure white fur and brown spots on her floppy ears.

    “She’s part Argentine dogo,” offered the guy who was trying to give her away.

    Right. I’d never heard of Argentine dogos and figured he was making it up. But we took her anyway, and later on I found out that Argentine dogos are a breed indeed and known to be fierce, territorial dogos that the Argentine humanos use to hunt Andes mountain lions.

    With no Andes mountain lions in Coconut Grove (and even the Florida panther scarce), Banyan satisfied her hunting instinct with other species of the feline persuasion. This typically consisted of stray cats who were dumb enough to wander into our fenced yard and not quick enough to get back out before being pounced upon by Banyan the Barbarian.

    Despite her penchant for weeding dumb, slow cat genes from the global cat
gene pool, Banny grew into a fat and faithful dog who was gentle as a lamb shank
with us and our baby, Glen, no matter how much he pulled her ears and tail. She was also a good watchdog, as houses to the left and right of us were burglarized more than once while ours remained a criminal-free zone.

    But Banny best loved life on the outside. A veritable Houndini , she could escape most any confinement. And once out on her own, she seemed to be more interested in foraging than hunting down cats or intimidating felonious humans. She brought home all kinds of things including (but not limited to): the parts of chickens most humans don’t eat, assorted fast food containers, tin cans, a bone that looked like it came from Jurassic Park and a whole wheel of imported Parmesan cheese that she must have pilfered from the four-star Italian bistro down the block.

  When we moved north to Boca Raton, Banyan continued her wandering ways despite developing a set of bad hips. She kept figuring out how to escape the walled-in  patio, at one point nosing a cinder block out of the way to slip under a wooden gate. But I eventually secured the area, and she lived a contained existence until recently, when we fenced in the yard to give her and our new puppy, Lucky, more room to run.

    Banyan escaped the first day the fence was up by slipping under the chain link portion at a corner post. I blocked it off with cinder blocks. She escaped again by somehow sliding her porcine bulk under a stretch of wooden fence. I blocked that off with chicken wire. The next day, she peeled up another section of chain link and slipped out again. I got a truckload of landscaping logs from Home Depot and used them to anchor the bottom of the fence to the ground.

    For days, Banyan seemed stymied. Then, one rainy afternoon, she dug a hole halfway to Hong Kong to escape yet again and came home covered in blood.

    Turns out she killed a neighborhood cat. I tried to find the cat’s owner to accept responsibility, apologize and grovel a bit, but the woman was out of town. A neighbor said she had five or six cats and might not miss one. Fat chance, I thought.

    I was right. Soon after her return to town, the lady turned up pounding at my door, then proceeded to scream and holler and yell at me with her fists clenched and veins popping out on her neck as she turned assorted shades of red and purple. I tried to apologize, but wasn’t given a chance. She demanded Banyan’s immediate execution, adding that my entire family was no longer welcome in the neighborhood. Once again I tried to apologize, but she turned her back on me and stormed off, still screaming.

    Later that day, when I returned home after picking up my son from
kindergarten, three red Xs were drawn in lipstick on our front door.
    “What’s that?” Glen asked.

    “That’s for Passover,” I improvised. “Remember in the Prince of Egypt how the Jews painted red marks on their doors so Angel of Death would pass them by? This is like the same thing.” 

    He nodded and ran off  to play with the dogs. He wasn’t upset, but I was. And things got worse when I discovered a piece of loose leaf paper taped to my mail box the next morning. “MURDER IS ILLEGAL” it screamed in big block letters. A load of doggie poop piled on my front walk punctuated the message. 

    Even though this woman was proving to be as ill-mannered an animal as Banyan, the truth was that my dog was the bigger problem. I could no longer let her outside without supervision, and every time a door opened in the house, it was an invitation to disaster. She seemed to be getting more aggressive with age, and the next time it could have been a kid instead of a cat. I realized that we had to get rid of her, but it’s not easy to part with an old friend, nor to find foster masters for an overweight eight-year-old anti-lionhearted mongrel with bad hips and an attitude. 

    Finally, Nora and I decided we had no choice but to take her to the vet and have her sent gently into that good night. Passover fell just before her execution day, and I think we all felt the Angel of Doggie Death hovering nearby. Even Banyan was acting subdued as we hosted a Seder for family and friends. Towards the end of the meal, I read about Elijah from the Haggadah: 

    “Legend has it that Elijah returns to earth, from time to time, to befriend the helpless...” 

    Just then, there was a knock at the front door and it drifted open with a creak. Everyone laughed when Nora said, “It’s Elijah.” 

    Actually, it was the son-in-law of the woman whose cat Banyan had killed. No laughing matter. He stood about 6-foot-6, and as I stepped outside to speak with him, my first thought was he was going to beat the haroset out of me.
    “My mother-in-law tells me you have a vicious dog that you let run wild,” he said, “and she sent me to find out what you’re going to do about it.” 

    I explained the situation, past, present and future. He seemed a nice enough guy, listening to me with a sympathetic ear and even admitting that his mom-in-law could be “a little difficult” at times. When I explained that Banny’s final day was drawing near, he said, “Well, if you can’t find a home for her, I have a friend who owns a farm in the Everglades, and she could live out her days there.” 

    “Can you take her tonight?” I asked. 

    He nodded, so I invited him inside while my family and our friends took turns saying bye-bye to Banny with hugs and kisses. Never too keen on strangers, Banyan was nevertheless docile when the guy finally led her to his pick-up truck. We watched them drive off into the night with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes. Then we sat down to finish the Seder. 

    “And so it’s been foretold,” I read, “that Elijah will turn the hearts of
parents to children, and the hearts of children to parents...” 

    Ironically, Banyan’s life was saved by the woman who’d most wanted to see her dead. She’d marked our door herself, then unknowingly sent her son to unseal Banny’s fate. 

    “...from beyond, Elijah’s spirit enters these walls and tastes again with us the wine of promise.” 

    We raised our wine/grape juice cups and toasted not only Elijah, but also our loyal friend Banyan, who miraculously escaped the Angel of Doggie Death on Passover Eve. And though we’ll probably never know exactly what happened to her, we envision her happily making Florida panthers a bit more endangered as she roams the vast expanse of the Everglades, hunting the big cats at last.

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