What can you do when love comes with a Rottweiler

A few months into our relationship, the Israeli called to say he was dog-sitting for the weekend. I wasn’t surprised. This former kibbutznik is your typical right-hand man. He said he and Layla, the dog, would be right over.

I’ve never liked dogs. They stink. They beg. And I’ve had enough of cleaning up someone else’s poop, thank you. I’ll take a cat over a dog any day. Some of my earliest baby pictures show me cuddling with our family cat Blackie. Cats are independent. They also bury their own poop.

But … Layla. Her name means “night” in Hebrew. How lyrical, I thought. I imagined some sweet, dark-haired pooch. I pictured my 6-year-old daughter tossing Layla a ball and patting her head when she retrieved it.

When I opened the door, however, some brute thing lunged at me. She was half Rottweiler, half pit bull. I stumbled backward.

“Don’t be scared,” Yossi said, gripping her collar. “She’s nice. She just wants to smell you.”

“She doesn’t look nice,” I said warily.

“Ah, c’mon, just look at her.” He scratched under her chin. He was laughing.

“I don’t want her anywhere near Mae.” I’ve been raising my daughter, Mae, as a single mother since she was a baby. Sure, I can be a little overprotective. I was picturing the terrible things this monster could do to my kid.

The Israeli lowered his head, heartbroken. “But I love dogs,” he said. “I want to have a dog someday.”

I know that Judaism had a lot to say about being kind to animals. “A righteous man knows the soul of his animal,” says Proverbs 12:10. Judaism has always made a correlation between the way a person treats animals and the way they treat humans. Someone who is cruel to a defenseless animal will undoubtedly be cruel to defenseless people.

Fine, then. Layla could come inside for 10 minutes. Tops.

Just then, Mae came out of her room. “Hold that dog tight,” I warned the Israeli. “Don’t let her go.”

“Put your hand out,” he told Mae. “Let her sniff you.”

Layla licked Mae’s fingers. I held my breath. This dog was twice her size. But Mae giggled. Layla’s tail jogged in the air.

For the rest of the afternoon, Layla was on Mae’s heels. Whatever Mae commanded, the dog obeyed. “Sit!” “Down!” “Roll over!” Look at her, being so dominant. You go, girl!

Later, when I learned that Layla had been rescued as a puppy from the streets of Oakland — an American-Israeli couple found her at the pound — I felt a twinge of compassion for her.

Layla was growing on me. In some ways, it was the perfect set-up. Yossi took care of Layla for half a day; he and Mae got their fill, and Layla went home.

Then, last spring, Yossi got the call: Layla’s owners were moving to Tel Aviv and taking Layla with them. When I told Mae, she burst into tears.

The weekend before Layla’s flight, I invited her to my Mother’s Day picnic. What was supposed to be a celebration of me turned into a goodbye party for the dog.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Tel Aviv. Nine people died and 60 were wounded. Then another suicide bomber blew up a bus in Tel Aviv. Yossi was glued to the TV news in my living room. As I put Mae to bed, his cell phone rang.

He was speaking in Hebrew, but I kept hearing “Layla.”

He tiptoed into Mae’s room. “Honey, I need to talk to you.”

In pure Yossi style, he did not wait to discuss this adult-to-adult. “How would you feel about adopting Layla?”

“Layla!” Mae exploded from under the covers. “I want Layla!”

Given the turmoil, Layla’s owners reconsidered taking her to Tel Aviv. She’d be happier here, running through the Berkeley woodlands.

And that was that.

Now I’m thinking about getting a “My Rottweiler is smarter than your honor student” bumper sticker. Yossi likes to brag he got the instant family he wanted, dog included.

I just tell everyone: “We both came into this relationship with a daughter.”