For my special Valentine, Ira

Ira+struts+his+stuff+on+a+walk.+He+was+such+a+cheerful+dog+who+always+made+me+smile.

Photo courtesy the Wolfson Family

Ira struts his stuff on a walk. He was such a cheerful dog who always made me smile.

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day” (Marley & Me, John Grogan). Marly & Me could have been written about my dog, Ira. He was a yellow lab too, full of life and endless love. My older siblings and I always thought of him as our younger brother. When he passed away in the fall, it was devastating. It was as though we had lost a family member. But we still think about him all the time because the unconditional love of a dog is not like anything else.
My family got Ira when I was four years old. He made a house of six people even crazier and more chaotic than ever. He loved to always be in the action of everything. Whenever we would play the piano or the clarinet, Ira would be there howling to the music, surprisingly always in tune. He loved to sing, but not quite as much as he loved food.
Ira was like a great white shark when it came to getting into food. He would get into brownie mixes, pancakes and even ant traps; you name it, he’s eaten it.
One time, we were all eating spaghetti and bread at the dinner table. Ira could size things up well, and knew that I being the youngest and smallest of the family was the easiest mark at the dinner table. He would cuddle up next to me and just wait for the perfect opportunity. My hand was resting on the table, with my elbow bent, leaving an opening just big enough for him to access my plate. Ira waited for his moment, slipped his head into this opening, and in one second, my plate was cleared. He gulped down my spaghetti and bread just like that. This happened on too many occasions to remember.
But that’s not the craziest stunt Ira pulled. Our two cats made a habit of always jumping on our kitchen table. Little did we know that Ira was studying them. Then, one Saturday morning in imitation of our cats, Ira, all 95 pounds of him, jumped onto our dining table. Plates, silverware and glasses fell. We were all stunned to see Ira on the table and he looked back at us, just as shocked as we all were.
I’ll never forget what the veterinarian told us the first time we took him in after getting into human food: “Boy, Ira has one strong stomach!”
Ira later got the nickname of a “goat,” after our uncle saw him eating a sock off the floor. He exclaimed, “He’s not a dog, he’s a goat!”
We could never stay mad at Ira for stealing our food. There’s a reason why they say A dog is a man’s best friend: Dogs are so loyal, so what if they take our food once in a while or make a mess? It’s worth the clean up.
Ira made every Friday night Shabbat an event at our house. The last prayer is over the challah. This was Ira’s highlight of each week. I would lift the challah above my head, run with it, as we sang the hamotzi (the blessing over the bread). Ira would follow me, wagging his tail, barking. After the prayer, Ira was always the first to get a piece of my mom’s homemade challah. It was as much of a ritual as lighting the Shabbat candles.
Dogs don’t live as long as humans, yet they make it their life goal to please us. “A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his” (Marley & Me, John Gorgan).
Ira lived his life to the fullest even until the very end. In what turned out to be his last year, Ira came down with a rare illness. For months he suffered with skin sores and other ailments, but this never got him down. He remained the same old Ira, begging for food and following us everywhere. Then one day the veterinarian told my parents that he was surprised that Ira had made it this long and that it was time.
I don’t remember my life without Ira; we grew up together. He walked me to elementary school every morning with my mom. He would even come to my brother’s baseball games. He watched us kids become young adults. He didn’t want to leave us because a dog never feels that his purpose is over. Ira fought so hard to see my third sibling graduate from high school and move into college this past spring and to see me turn 17 this fall. Ira is Hebrew for “watchful.” He watched over us all for his whole life and continues to watch us from afar.
The companionship of a dog is so special. They’re the most selfless creatures and devote their entire lives to making us happy. This Valentine’s Day my heart is full of love for one special dog, Ira.

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