Although Irv ate steak almost every night for dinner he was a lifelong lover and defender of animals of all kinds. We always had a dog in the house, and he taught my sister and me one of the most merciful provisions of Jewish law: always feed the animals before you yourself eat. He, above any of the rest of us, took care of the dogs, walking them, feeding them, giving the most pitiful of them daily injections of insulin for her diabetes in the last years of her life. There is a great photo of him lying on his back on the sofa, exhausted after work, his glasses on top of his head, with Winnie, the Westie, on his torso, cradled in one of his sleeping arms.
He could not encounter a small dog any place we visited without picking it up, under the armpits, and giving it a few gentle swings. The little dog’s front paws would always be held stiffly in front, an incomprehensible expression on the dog’s face. No dog ever nipped or protested this treatment, his good will evidently came through to them. He used this same technique on selected young children, sometimes with more mixed results.
Although he long professed a disdain for cats, and let us stipulate here that they are largely stand-offish creatures, he recognized my cat, Oinsketta, as an individual and grudgingly came to regard cats as OK. Oinsketta, for the record, was one of the most dog-like cats I’ve ever known. A great individual.
Human love of sympathetic animals, the first was the dog, goes back 14,000 years, we learn (cats only 12,000 years). The first domesticated dogs and humans made a mutually beneficial pact back in very primitive times. That bond has never been broken. My sister and I get this love of dogs directly from our father. And from our mother, who also had a great love for dogs, for most animals, even if my father was the main caregiver.
Although he ate steak almost every night during his working life, a sign of affluence that meant a lot to him in those days before the harmfulness of eating a lot of red meat was known, he cut way back later. He also joined PETA. This tenderness toward animals will assume a more poignant tone as you get to know Irv better.