Image: Gabi and I at the computer in 2013.

I have started to write a new message 25 times, and I keep stalling out. The only thing I know to do is to write about the thing that is keeping me from writing: my dog died.

Many of you who follow the blog have followed our adventures over the years. I joked about the “rabbinic assistant” who would sit by my side as I wrote and taught but the truth is that there was something to it: I’ve been a mess ever since she died. I cannot seem to write original material, and my sleep is badly disrupted.

Gabi picked me out one Friday afternoon right before Passover in 2009. I stopped by the home of a congregant who fostered adoptable poodles. Gabi climbed into my arms, and howled when I left. That night, at services, Julie informed me that the dog was still howling, hours later: “I think she might be your dog.” I took her home with me a week later.

We didn’t know much about her history: she’d been found barely surviving on the Las Vegas Strip, a tiny toy poodle with a huge tumor under one leg. Our vet speculated her age at 13, and said that the type of tumor was typical of dogs who had had too many litters of puppies. We speculated that maybe she had been fired from a puppy mill, but we never really knew. The estimate about her age was a bit high: she lived another 13 years, and it defies belief that a toy poodle survived to 26. Mostly, she was a mystery.

She loved me and I loved her.

The pandemic came, and she was pleased: finally, she had trained me not to leave the house! It suited her for me to tap away at the computer or knit, with her nearby. Then she developed another tumor, this one cancerous, and they told me she had six months, tops. She had surgery to remove the tumor and lived for another two years.

About a year after the cancer scare, old age finally began to slow her down. By the time I called the hospice vet, she’d been blind for a couple of years, and deaf, and her sense of smell seemed to be going, too. She was still the house Alpha, bossing any dogs who visited no matter their size, but then she’d collapse and sleep for hours.

The last couple of days and nights were bad. I had made an appointment for the hospice vet to come euthanize her on Dec 30, but I had to move it up, because she went suddenly from decline to misery. On Dec 29 Dr. Taddy Fick from BluePearl Pet Hospice came to the house and administered the two injections while I held Gabi in my arms. In a few minutes, she was gone.

What have I learned? I have learned that losing a pet can be profoundly disruptive. It hurts. Jewish mourning rituals don’t apply to animals, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that is appropriate. Pets are not people. Loss of a beloved person includes a lot of ambiguity: words not said, issues unresolved, unfinished business. Gabi and I had none of that: it was all affection, all the time, for thirteen and a half years. The grief for her is uncomplicated; I just miss my dog.

I did my own rituals: mostly, I assembled a keepsake box with her collar, a pawprint, and a lock of her hair. I put it on the shelf and it will gather dust. We got a new dog and he is completely different from her: a senior male, a Maltese, with no teeth at all. Ginsberg is noisy and sometimes a pain in the neck, but I can feel myself growing fond of him.

That’s where I’ve been. In the past, writing about the source of my writer’s block has proven to be the cure for it. Here’s hoping for a good result.