I have just returned from a too-short visit to Israel, where I lived for nearly 15 years and where Jana, my golden retriever, was born. An exciting discovery was a new dog park just a few blocks from my mom’s apartment. Even nicer was a long article in the HaAretz newspaper’s weekend magazine about the social networks that are springing up at dog parks around the country. I also noticed a lot more people out walking dogs, water bowls outside shops, and people dining with their dogs at outdoor tables at restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
All of this, I believe, signifies wonderful changes in the status of dogs and dog-loving humans in Israel. When I moved there (in 1990), it was a challenge to find dog food. By the time I left, a few premium brands were being imported. Now, boutique pet stores are common, and they feature a full range of high quality foods, toys, and accessories. According to the HaAretz article, Israel now has more than 60 dog parks, most of them in Tel Aviv. I remember when Jerusalem’s first dog park opened in a park near Israel’s parliament building, the Knesset. When Jana was a puppy, we occasionally went there to play — and usually had the place to ourselves. Since Jana is only 9, it seems that the growth in dog park numbers and use has happened fairly quickly!
The HaAretz article describes groups of dog-park regulars who coordinate their visits to the park; many have formed friendships that extend beyond the dog park gate. The friends have helped each other out in times of economic stress, attended each other’s weddings, and formed open, honest relationships with a broader range of individuals than they otherwise would have been likely to befriend. The descriptions of these dog-centric social circles underscore the growing role that dogs are playing in people’s lives in Israel — a role that American dogs also fill — as friends and social icebreakers. “The dog makes it more likely that strangers will start talking to each other,” one interviewee says.
It also indicates, I believe, that dog owners are taking better care of their dogs and attending to the dogs’ needs for exercise and social interaction with their own doggy peers. When I worked as a dog trainer in Israel, I was often called to work with dogs who had “behavior problems” — problems that stemmed from lack of any attention at all. Not too many years ago, a lot of Israeli dogs spent their lives alone in a yard, often tied up. That still may be far too common, but this visit gives me hope that, for many Israeli dogs, things are looking up.