Saturday, November 26, 2011


I first came to Israel as a tourist as the last stop on a trip through Europe with a friend after graduating university.  The country fascinated me, and after a few days, I cancelled my return ticket and decided to stay, to the chagrin of my family back in the US. 

Of course, I had to find a place to live and a way to support myself – and of course, it was not to be a conventional one.  I found a riding stable on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and got a job as a general mucker-outer, and after gaining some experience and proving that I could stay in the saddle and did know something about riding, as a trail guide and junior instructor.  I was in heaven!

What could make life better?  Well, some people I had met who discovered that I was an animal addict, decided that what I needed was a puppy.  So one day when I got home to my tiny rented apartment, I heard a whimpering coming from the utility closet next to my door – and when I opened it, there was a small brown puppy looking up at me.

There was no question but that he would stay.  He was about two months old, reddish brown with white chest and feet, and a bit of black mask on his muzzle, standing ears, and a curled tail which was usually in motion.  When I asked my friends what kind of dog he was, they told me, “That is a Canaan – an Arab dog, they are all over the country.”  So I named him Sheikh.

Sheikh went everywhere with me. He was a very well behaved puppy, quite happy to be petted, but reserving his true affection and enthusiasm for me.  When, after a short time, I was offered a room at the horse stable, and could give up my town apartment, he was thrilled.  Here he had a huge territory to explore and enjoy.  He loved following me and the horses when we went out on trail rides.  He knew the trails perfectly, and when the weather was hot, he would go part way, find a convenient shady spot, and wait for me to come back, then accompanying us to the stable.  He very quickly learned that there were many people coming and going during the day time, and that he was not on duty, but at night, no one could get near my room without a warning.

There was another dog on the farm, a boxer, much beloved by the owner.  Sheikh, however, didn’t really think of him as a dog, and mostly ignored him.  You could see him thinking, “Wow, this dog is really slow!” when they were on guard duty – Sheikh would be running forward to make his presence apparent, with the boxer following  way behind. 

Sheikh knew very well how to achieve his own goals.  In the evening, when the boxer was given his food, Sheikh had the habit of suddenly starting to bark in a frenzy and run off towards the fields.  The boxer, sure that something important was happening, would leave his dish and rumble off in the direction of the action. Meanwhile, Sheikh would circle around to the food dish and quickly finish off the remains of the portion.  The boxer never learned that Sheikh was “crying wolf” – every time he would run off, and Sheikh would profit.

The farm was quite close to the Yarkon river.  Sheikh would sometimes disappear and come back with a whole fish.  I never really knew if he did the fishing or if he stole them from a local fisherman.

After almost a year at the horse farm, I decided it was time for a change.  A ‘spaghetti western” was to be filmed in Eilat, in the far south, and I was offered a job working with the horses there.  I had never been in Eilat, and the idea of working in a movie was exciting.  So with all my belongings in a knapsack, and with Sheikh wearing an old belt of mine as a collar and leash (he had rarely had to be leashed until now), we hitchhiked to Eilat.  Sheikh had no problems with any form of transportation, whether car, bus or truck, and curled up docilely at my feet.

In Eilat, we got a room in a very cheap hostel on the beach – in those days, Eilat was a very small town with a very long beach, and many young people lived in beach shacks.  There were plenty of dogs around also, running free and scavenging at the back doors of the hotels for leftovers.  Sheikh very quickly became king of the beach, getting his due respect from the other beach dogs.  We made friends with the kitchen staff at one of the hotels, and he was well provided with high quality restaurant food.  He also had many friends on the movie set, and would lie in the shade supervising the buzz of activity.

When the movie was complete, I stayed on in Eilat for a time, running a riding stable there.  In Eilat, it was always quite hot, so Sheikh had his set shady places at the beginning of the trail, where he would wait for me and the other riders to return. (“How stupid can these people be, riding around in the heat of the sun! No self respecting Canaan would do that!”)

For family reasons, I had to go back to the US for a while.  There was no possibility of taking Sheikh with me. But I had some good friends in Eilat who adored him, and were willing to keep him.  So Sheikh continued his life as king of the beach.

Sheikh was my introduction to the Canaan Dog.  His intelligence, adaptability, resourcefulness, devotion, imagination made him so different from the dogs I had known before.  It was the start of my addiction to the breed.

To the memory of Sheikh, my first Canaan Dog.

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