PETS IN WAR TIME

This post from A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War is dedicated to our beloved Foxy, a Belgium Shepherd who shared our home and our lives during the war.

 

I don’t remember actually planning to get a dog. We were, after all, in the midst of a civil war when it happened. And before any of us could exercise an ounce of common sense, Foxy Lady, a German shepherd, joined our family. She was more high-spirited than most dogs. No doubt that was because we were a lively family and our personalities informed her behavior.

Foxy—unlike most German shepherds who generally responded to only one master—had four to whom she was entirely devoted. She primarily depended on my husband, Michel, for her walks but I fed her and let her share my bed. From our eighth floor apartment she could decipher the sound of the children’s school bus out of a street full of traffic when it was still a block away. Her ears would stand straight up like fine-tuned antennae tracking the exact location of the bus. She followed its noisy engine and knew precisely the moment it stopped in front of our building. At that point, she would walk to the front door and sit at attention, waiting for the sound of the elevator, then the giggling voices of Naim and Nayla as they ascended to the eighth floor. As soon as they arrived and the elevator door opened, Foxy announced their arrival with joyous barking.

I had become quite good at storing bits of traumatic baggage I did not want to think about. Eventually this got me into a lot of trouble. At the time there was so much going on in our lives, so many lift-threatening incidents, that it did not seem helpful to dwell on any one of them. Now when I think back to one particular day, when I had to rescue my children from school under the bombs, I realize how blessed we were to have had Foxy in our lives and how she helped all of us survive.

Our son, Naim, was quite animated when describing our return home that day. “Bombs were following us the whole way. I was watching them in the side view mirror. Some of them fell right behind us. You should have seen Mommy. She had her foot to the floor the while time. She could hardly control the car.”
I wanted him to stop. Couldn’t he see how distressed Nayla was? Couldn’t he see how any relief she might have felt about arriving safely had suddenly vanished while listening to him? Couldn’t he see how her jaw had slowly fallen open when she understood what a close call we had had? When she got up from her chair, walked over to the mattress in the corner of our shelter and sat down, back against the wall, knees pulled to her chest, I had no idea what Nayla would do with this bit of news. Naim did not seem to notice his sister’s reaction but Foxy sensed something was wrong. She got up from her spot in the middle of the room and sat down beside her. I watched the way she laid her head in Nayla’s lap, the way she looked up at my daughter with her gentle eyes. As she began to stroke the soft, silky spot on Foxy’s head, her shoulders went limp and she began to breathe more deeply.

When I was bedridden with meningitis, Foxy sat beside my bed, attentive as a nurse, resting her head next to my face. These are but a few of her stories. It was also the way she made us swell with pride or belly laugh at one of her escapades. It was the way she made me angry when she managed to topple my chicken off the stove and onto the floor and eat it; the way she tore up my bed, throwing the pillows and bedspread on the floor when I had left her alone for too long. It was never having the heart to reprimand her and the compassion I felt when she cowered under my bed during the bombing. It was the times I felt her almost human, sitting on her rump in my car, paws gripping the partly rolled down window, peering out at the sights. It was the need to cuddle her in my arms and sink my face into her soft fur or the lick on my cheek that welcomed me home, taking the edge off a stressful day.

In war, when life as we had known it was forever changing, a pet was a reassuring constant, and it was important that we were held to that task. This was what Foxy did for all of us.

This book is available for purchase here.

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