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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Paul Slon fell in love for the first time at age 11. "I was walking around a kibbutz near my house and I found a black Belgian shepherd puppy with no owner," says Slon. "I had to take him home." The puppy, named Black for his color, was hyperactive, so Slon found a dog trainer to help him get Black under control. "When I was 12, I trained Black. A year later, I adopted another dog from the street and I've never been without a dog since."
Born in Lyon, Slon lived in the French city until his parents made aliya when he was 11. "I was in a Zionist youth movement group, and I couldn't wait to come to Israel," says Slon. "For my sister it was the exact opposite. She didn't want to leave France."
When he was 12, Slon started volunteering in a veterinary clinic in Savyon on Friday afternoons. "I learned a lot from that experience and thought about becoming a vet myself," Slon says.
After finishing his bagrut (matriculation exams), Slon returned to France to study biology in Lyon. No Israeli university offered dog training at that time, and as a French citizen he could study in France for free.
But it was a class in ethology, the study of animal behavior, that got him really interested. "I had a great teacher, and I found the subject really interesting so I started taking most of my courses in ethology."
Still bent on pursuing his love of dog training and unsure of where he would eventually like to settle, he then enrolled in an animal psychology course in the Nantes school and later attended a dog training school in Montelimar with Herve Pupier, one of the top dog trainers in France. "Once I started the dog training courses, I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life, and I knew I wanted to come back to Israel."
Slon has one younger sister who is an archeology student in Jerusalem at the Hebrew University. Both of his parents are French, but his father's side of the family came from Poland, while his mother's side is purely French. "We aren't royalty, but my mother's maiden name, Bourbon, is a very old French surname. We think we had a servant to the king who took the name as custom dictated at the time."
During World War II, Slon's paternal great-grandfather was captured by the Nazis and sent from one prison camp to another until he was liberated by the Russians. "He was the only one who could escape from the camps because he could get through the dogs by petting them and playing with them, so the Nazis kept putting him in higher security prisons. He made it back to France in 1946."
Slon's father owns a Dead Sea cosmetics company and his mother takes care of the cats and dogs at home. "My mom is a big animal lover, and she stays busy at home with more than 20 cats and three dogs."
Slon lives with his girlfriend in a large condominium in Savyon owned by his parents. "My girlfriend and I share half of the house, and my parents live on the other side. It's a nice residential area with a garden where I spend a lot of time with the animals."
After a total of four and a half years abroad, including finishing three years in ethology and animal psychology and earning a certificate from the Montelimar School for dog trainers, Slon returned to Israel to start his own dog training business in 2005. "It's funny but 90 percent of my work is training the owners. Dogs understand very quickly, but the owners often have trouble handling dogs. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I'd say I get paid to play with dogs all day, which is what I love most."
He gives lessons in basic training using positive reinforcement techniques that don't involve food. "I tell my clients that a dog who works for his stomach will become deaf as soon as the treats are gone, whereas a dog who works to please his owner will reach for the moon if he needs to."
"I don't really have a routine. It all depends on when I'm giving lessons and where," says Slon, who spends a few hours in the morning training dogs for an association for animal-assisted therapy. His afternoons are usually spent driving around the center of the country giving dog training lessons.
Aside from playing with dogs, Slon plays the guitar. "Every once in a while, I get gigs to play in clubs on open mike nights," he says. He also enjoys driving his jeep around the desert and relaxing in the garden.
Slon's friends hail from all over the world - with the exception of France. "Most of my friends are Israelis, but some of them are originally from other countries." His girlfriend of a year and a half came from Romania, and his best friend, who is studying motorcycle engineering, is from Bulgaria.
A native French speaker, Slon learned English at an early age when he attended a bilingual private school. "In the morning we studied in French, and in the afternoons our classes were in English." When he arrived here, Slon knew very little Hebrew but he says it only took him about six months to pick up the language and he now speaks without an accent. "My parents still have a strong French accent, but my sister and I sound like Israelis."
"I'm not a big believer, but I feel culturally very Jewish," Slon says. Slon's mother converted to Judaism after Paul and his sister were born. "In the eyes of the rabbinical authorities, I am probably not considered Jewish, but I feel Jewish and that's what matters."
Slon says he doesn't keep kosher or attend synagogue, but does celebrate all the holidays.
"It took me four and a half years of living in France to realize how Israeli I am. I feel more Israeli than French," Slon says. He adds that he didn't like the distance and hypocrisy so prevalent in the French culture. "I like politeness, but not because you have to be. In France people are often polite because they feel it is expected."
Slon says he dreams of opening his own dog training center that will work with guide dogs. "I really like training seeing-eye dogs, and I am in constant contact with the head of the Israeli association for guide dogs but I'm waiting for an opening to become available before I can enroll in the three-year program."
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