There is a reason we call dogs man’s best friend. Dogs are cuddly and cute and demand to be loved. With their big eyes and tummies so eager to be rubbed, they are life-sized toys.
When you are sad, dogs lay their heads on your legs and let you cry. When you want to play, they eagerly join you in a game of catch. And, if you just want to talk, they are always there to listen.
But dogs are, of course, not toys. They demand a huge amount of time and responsibility. Dog owners need to keep their pets clean and cared for, take them on regular walks for exercise and ensure they have the food and water they need to be healthy and strong.
People also have to show dogs love.
So, last week, my family adopted a big – huge – seven-year-old German shepherd from the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), a massive dog with an even bigger heart, and fur so soft you cannot keep your hands (and face) out of it.
Banjo has beautiful brown eyes and a colorful coat of brown and white and black and gray. He loves to take walks – not too fast, I have learned, unless there is a cat. He sleeps a lot, but will wake up if you walk by and ask to have his tummy rubbed.
Our large and blended family is made up of seven children, ranging in age from four to 17. There is a lot of noise in the house, more than I can handle sometimes, with children playing (and fighting) and simply just talking to one another in what they think are indoor voices and I think is a small choir.
Banjo is good-natured. He rarely barks, and when he does, it is to protect our household – like if there is a noise outside the door or someone new tries to enter, even with our permission.
We are busy people, and our home and lives are in many ways already overcrowded. But for the longest time I have wanted to bring a dog home for my children. That is because dogs give us more than love. They teach us how to live.
Here are five lessons I hope my children will learn from Banjo:
Banjo needs to be walked three to five times a day. He needs a bowl full of food and another one with fresh, clean water. The children are being taught to pay attention to his dishes and to make sure they are always ready for the dog.
The older children can take him on walks, and they have been taking turns. I hope this will teach them the importance of obligation and consistency. I also hope they will learn that they get rewarded (in this case with wet kisses) for acting responsibly.
2. Sometimes you have to do things you do not want to do
Walks are loads of fun when time permits and the weather is right. But what about on those days when there is pouring rain and the wind is so bitter cold it threatens to cut off your extremities? Even on those days, Banjo needs to go outside.
When there is homework to do or TikTok to watch, the dog still needs to be taken care of.
3. Put others first
We live in a “me-first” world. I regularly hear, “I want” and “Well, I didn’t do it, so...” or “It’s not my job!” The children love to argue about who should get first or go first and why they should take priority over everything else.
We learn in Deuteronomy 11:15: “And I will give grass in your field for your livestock” – and only then “you will eat and be sated.” There are different interpretations of this verse, but the punchline is that we have an obligation to take care of those who are dependent upon us first. The mitzvah is meant to teach us humility.
4. Death is a part of life
As mentioned, Banjo is not a young dog. We were never looking for a puppy, but originally, we went into this with the idea that we would adopt a dog that was between the ages of one and three. But when we were at the JSPCA, it was obvious that Banjo was the right dog for our family.
We are totally in love with him. But we also recognize, he will be around less time than a younger dog. When I asked the head of adoptions at the pound about it, she said it was a big mitzvah to adopt an older dog, who might otherwise not have a home. I liked that idea and shared it with my children – even before they complained about his age.
Opening our home to a dog like Banjo gives him the love that he deserves and that he might not be able to get if we were not willing to take him in. But it also means that my children will one day have to learn the important lesson that death is a part of life.
My hope is that Banjo will be with us forever. But, if he is not, then I plan to use the opportunity to talk about death with my children who have not lost a loved one – hopefully long before someone important to them dies.
5. Unconditional love
Dogs are known for wagging their tails and loving you, even when you do not deserve it. They forgive, forget. They give without expecting anything in return.
Unconditional love is the greatest lesson of life. Love should be unbridled, wholehearted and pure. There should not be conditions.
Real love is not gifting or kind words, it is actions. It is sitting next to someone just because they need you there, even if there is nothing you can do. It is holding someone’s hand when they are scared. It is hugging someone when they are happy.
Unconditional love is what will ultimately make you happy in life, and there is always room for more.
That is why a family of seven kids can expand to take in No. 8 – a big, brown dog – and give him love. I am confident he will return that warmth tenfold.
The writer is news editor and head of online content and strategy for The Jerusalem Post.