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“My name is Diana,” she said. “I live there.” She pointed toward East Second Street. “And Sammy’s my old dog. I bought him when he was just a wee pup; now look how big he’s gotten.”
I stood up and stepped toward the fence. The dog shifted. I stepped back two steps.
“Does it bite?” I asked.
Diana chuckled. “Oh, no,” she said. “Sammy’s an old dog and very gentle. Even cats aren’t afraid of him.”
And suddenly, like that, I was curious. I wanted to know what a dog felt like. Really felt like. So I stuck a hand through the hole in the fence, and touched him with one finger. Then two. I was surprised. His fur wasn’t rough; it was warm and smooth, and had a silky feel. He didn’t move, just sat and stared like a quiet sphinx, comfortable in his silence. I pulled my hand back in. Then I looked at Diana. She looked back at me. Suddenly, I felt silly. I laughed.
Diana and Sammy came by nearly every day. I played with Sammy, stroking his smooth fur, pushing his slobbery tongue off my face and, always, repenting afterward.
Because a Jewish girl wasn’t supposed to be friends with a dog. She was supposed to be frightened of dogs, preferably of cats, too, and it was highly inappropriate that I was not. So I washed my hands till they were red, and my face, too, just in case, all the while murmuring psalms.
Pious Jews did not like animals, and they certainly did not like dogs. It was only proper to be afraid of such beasts. Our grandparents had been afraid of dogs, and our great-grandparents had been afraid of dogs, and this, of course, meant that their parents and grandparents must have been afraid, too. And so the ancient tradition was passed down to us.
My teacher explained the sages’ prohibition against owning a dog, since all dogs are intrinsically bad. A dog’s vicious bark shows its beastly intention. In Kabbalah, the dog is a symbol of demonic powers; a person’s evil impulses must be controlled like a vicious dog on a leash.