Bongo, My Right Hand

Cow Secrets — 
Abandoned on the streets of Israel as a puppy, our new arrival peered through the neighbor-lady’s fence slats. She worked with the local humane society, placing animals in homes from a nearby shelter. His eyes lit up when he saw Dude, our black Canaani-mix, on our way into the nature reserve for one of our daily walks. I could have sworn I heard him giggle as we passed, like he knew his fate, even before we did. We weren’t looking for another dog, but after moving into a house that could house another dog, and also noticing a general sense of depression from Dude, we found ourselves standing at the neighbor’s fence saying hello to this strange, lanky, white dog with floppy ears and a slovenly loving grin. We talked it over then brought him home for a trial run, which really means that we were all hook, line, and sinker. We named him Bongo after we saw him fly into the air every time he met another friend. “Doing helicopters” became the terminology as he spun 180, 360, and 270 degrees’ in his airborne excitement. Bongo grew into a dog larger than Dude, but still did helicopters in such a surprising way for all that witnessed it. It just felt unnatural, like breaking the laws of physics, as he launched into the air, spun, and created his own energetic eddies that washed over us all. Bongo was here to stay, even though his ground time was somewhat limited. We took him into our family and into our hearts. Bongo became my right hand dog, incessantly pulling and tugging to smell and to be, exploring the emotions of the world through sense and experience. Bongo attached himself, with every family member’s blessing, to our souls.

Dogs were always part of our family life, having raised dogs growing up, and having included dogs while raising-up our babies into fine young men. Cats were another story altogether. I always loved cats, but because of family-others’ allergies and strange fears from childhood traumas, cats were a no-go zone. However, walking our dogs in the evening, one evening, changed this paradigm forever. I had witnessed a birthing of kittens within a construction dumpster around the corner. They were as loud as ever as I passed on my daily walks with our black and white dogs, Dude and Bongo. Bongo became the lover of most other things, but Dude was a cat-chaser by design. Pursuing felines was so ingrained into Dude’s psyche that he wouldn’t hesitate to stick his head into a hole filled with cats, and actually did once, only to remove it quickly with a mother cat stuck to his face … hissing. After a month or two of passing the dumpster, the metal debris-filled incubator became silent and then disappeared altogether. The building that had been built was done, and the kittens had all grown into cats perusing the neighborhood. One night, as we strolled down the streetlight lit street, I saw a gray blur shoot from the other side in an ark straight at us. My wife saw it too, and jumped towards me. She grabbed my arm and said quickly that the cat must have had a brain injury; it ran right up to Bongo, then Dude. They both had a start, but even Dude didn’t care once escape was beyond trying for the mad cat. Mad Max followed us home and we have been feeding him ever since, so much so that he has since become Fat Max, and now … just The Fat.

The Fat even joined us once on our walks into the nature reserve. He followed us down through the tiny orchard that joins our house to the street at the entrance to the reserve. He followed us through the gate in the fence that had been built to keep out the wild boars from entering neighborhood gardens. And he followed us all the way around a loop trail that only just touches the edge of the reserve and all of its wonders. We walked and visited these wonders, and we walked the trails, Bongo and Dude, me and my dogs. We visited jackal dens, with dark entrances strewn with gnawed bones, and we hiked to the bat cave, encrusted with guano, which once housed a Neanderthal and his family, now all entombed within scaffolding and barbed wire fencing to keep out the riffraff. We were enthralled by fur and scat left by hyenas, and we lolloped about in the Bone Yard, a graveyard for cows that features skulls and bones littering a hillside perpetually perched above the Mediterranean Sea. On hot summer days we descended into the shade of a spring emerging from under ancient rocks and ruins and enjoyed the cool lapping of fresh water under our feet and over our tongues. And in the spring we breathed in the vast space of a view to the south, from a Canaanite graveyard covered with wildflowers, all the way to Jaffa and the towers of Tel Aviv. Bongo was a special dog, with a special life. He loved all who came to call. Bongo loved the tortoise that found its way into our garden. Bongo loved the moles that dug holes in the soft earth, digging also with glee at the first sign of motion. Bongo loved everything. Bongo loved from his essence. It was hardwired into his existence … loving. He knew when someone needed his administrations. He knew when someone was hurting.

I sat on a plastic chair at our veterinarian’s office. There was a magnificent view of the sea, but I was grappling with the fine print and failed to notice. Bongo stood next to me, in front of me, tight against my leg. He weighed in under par. He was sick, from ingesting the eggs of tiny red worms. Dung beetles also abound in the reserve. They lay their eggs upon grass and dung, and Bongo became a connoisseur of grass, and of cow-pies, and he guiltily consumed eggs from beetles locked in evolutionary symbiosis: cow, dung, beetle, dog. He had been treated for months to overcome the growth of a cocoon embedded upon his esophagus, but to no avail. Bongo eventually, suffering from the start, succumbed. My right hand dog sat, and then laid down on the floor in front of me, as I spoke to my son traveling throughout South America on his post-army trip. We videoed together and said our goodbyes, together. My wife and I spoke. We called our son studying at Tel Aviv University, working hard to build his mind with electrical engineering. He called us back, but just as the injection began to flow through Bongo’s veins. My phone rang, over and over, sitting on the counter, over and over; I had to let it ring and knew my son would understand. I pet Bongo’s head and chest, hugging him, loving him as I was able. I felt his heart beating, then stop. I felt his breathing, then not. His eyes were open when he passed; looking into the void of what once had been the wall of the veterinarian’s office. Bongo was gone. Then a sound emitted from outside the room - a siren. At first I thought it was an incoming missile warning, and then I thought it must just be the wind; then, later, realized it was only a test of the emergency warning siren system. Bongo went out with full fanfare, as was deserved for such a wonderful companion in so many adventures, and in so many ways.

We will miss you Bongo. Love, love, love…

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