Black Is the Color, Female the Gender

Adopting a dog has given me a bunch of new friends and new insights.

For the past two weeks I have been very busy with gender issues, even more than when I was appearing on the television program "Feminine View." My new pals, all acquired in the past two weeks, have returned the color to my cheeks. They are of all ages, I don't have the slightest idea what they do for a living and I met them in the manicured public park next to my house. My conversations with them always begin with the same one-word question: "Female?"

The world of singles brings daily surprises, I told myself the first time a man much younger than I passed by, with a splendid Golden Retriever on a leash, and asked, "Female?" Blunt, I thought to myself, but also charmingly direct. A kind of urban "Me Tarzan, you Jane" of the third millennium. But, on second thought, perhaps a bit offensive because I cannot recall being asked that question since my secondary sexual characteristics made their first appearance. So I paid him back in kind with a "Male?" in a mocking tone.

"Male," the fellow asserted with unmistakable masculinity. "Female," I replied, too, reconciled. He, a tad impatiently, explained, "I meant, is your dog male or female?" Female, actually. I met her exactly two weeks ago. Curly fur, the size of a small sheep, black with shades of red and brown (just as if she'd dyed her hair in Tomer Reshef's hair salon), with long, smooth bangs concealing her eyes, the wise eyes of a Schnauzer.

She was tied to the fence of Tel Aviv's Gan Meir Park, together with other dogs being offered for adoption after being saved from the injection of eternal sleep by the Haver-Li animal rights association.

I was trying to make up my mind between her and another dog, not very big, brown speckled with white, with a wolfish face. The too-short leash with which she was tied didn't stop her from jumping as high as my shoulder. "Take her. No one else will take her, because she was in the pound a long time and because she's big," Puah, from the association, said. And I cracked. The knowledge that it was either me or the syringe did its work. I, who had endlessly recited the statement "Real life begins when the children leave home and the dog dies" - but that was before the children left home and before I understood how empty life can be.

And I don't even especially like animals. I tend to absentmindedly pat any housecats that sit on my lap, and when the opportunity arises I ingratiate myself to dogs in cafes and give them scraps. But I never wanted to study veterinary medicine in Holland or Italy, to volunteer in the zoo or to walk my friends' dogs. I look skeptically at people who conduct intimate conversations with animals. I am absolutely not like that. People, not dogs or cats, are my best friends. Watching a BBC nature film is the worst punishment I can imagine.

The truth is that my ability to distinguish between different types of animals is also a bit defective, unless we're talking about extreme examples, like giraffes, zebras or elephants. Experience has taught me not to try to call them by name. During a two-week safari in Kenya, for my son's bar mitzvah trip, I would call out to him, "Look, there's a four-legged mammal," or "Hey, look at that big winged specimen."

But in practice I knew that every animal has a name. Unfortunately for my beautiful black dog, her original name from the pound was Mishmish (apricot). It was obvious that the name would have to be changed to something that would not sound overly idiotic when shouted on a crowded street. That was a lesson I had learned as a girl, when our cat Akiva went missing. Anyone who did not see my father - 1.90 m tall in his glory days and a self-avowed cat hater prowling the streets of the neighborhood calling sadly, in a deep baritone, "Akiva, Akivaleh" - never saw a sight simultaneously touching and grotesque.

On the other hand, one must find a name that will be appropriate, not too smart-alecky, pleasant to the enunciation, a name that's almost onomatopoeic.

Salvation, as usual, came from the mouths of babes. It was Amitai, who came for supper, who pointed out the dog's remarkable resemblance to Yemenite singer Nissim Garame. Accordingly, after registering the fierce opposition of David (who wanted to call her Anansi), and of Amitai (who preferred Georgia, from the Ray Charles song) and Naaman (who sent instructions from India to name the dog Simala), it was decided to name her Shoshana, for the greater glory of the community of Nissim Garame, which provided us with the greatest of female singers, whose repertoire included 'Sheharhoret.'

At first I thought that the fact that she is black was leading everyone to assume that she was male, in the same that every blonde baby is a girl and every dark one a boy. Afterward I realized that people on the street tend to assume that every dog, even a pregnant bitch, is male and that every cat is female, until proved otherwise.

In the meantime, apart from questions of gender, subjects such as metabolism returned to my life, questions I hadn't dealt with since my last visit to the Well Baby Clinic. "Did she eat?," I asked her stepfather, who took her for a day of fun when I went on a journalistic assignment out of town. "She ate and also shat," he confirmed. "And she's alright, in a good mood?" I asked. "Yes," the dad affirmed, "merry and smiling. She never once asked about you."

Now I meet my new friends in the park at the end of the street or in the dog park in Independence Park. They know me as I truly am, without makeup, in sweats, eyes half-closed, holding a thermal mug with my first coffee of the morning.

It isn't only new friends that I am making thanks to Shoshana, but enemies, too. Three days after adopting her I took her to a fashionable cafe. One woman with big hair (black, too), started shouting at the sight of Shoshana, from three tables away, "What a scary black dog, make sure he doesn't come near me." "You have nothing to worry about," I told her. "It's a bitch, and you're a lot scarier than she is."

"Mommy, look at the big scary dog," shout all kinds of kids, who have been educated to be afraid of dogs, at the sight of Shoshana playing with her tail, merry as can be. And I never tire of correcting them about the gender. "A bitch," I tell them. "A big beautiful bitch. You can see right away that it's a female."