When I first saw Bojack, he was a month old, about the size of my foot, and was unsuccessfully attempting to climb a single stair in the basement of my apartment building. A group of women squealed in delight at the sheer cuteness of it all. I couldn’t help but stop to see what the fuss was about as I left the gym and headed for the elevator.
After all, it was just a puppy ... what could be the harm in taking a peek?
“You’re bringing him where? How long is that flight?” asked bemused travellers just behind me in line as Bojack and I geared up for yet another crucial step in our long journey together five months after that fateful first encounter.
However, Bojack’s remarkable journey began long before our paths crossed. He was born a stray on the streets of Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank. He was scooped up by a shelter when he was only a few weeks old, and brought to Tel Aviv to be adopted.
Shortly after I had first laid eyes on him, Bojack’s owner wrote a message in the apartment-wide group chat. She was moving out and couldn’t bring the dog – would anyone in the building take over and foster him? I almost dropped my phone in the sink.
Halfway through my year in Israel, I was in a funk. Alone in a studio apartment, my work had slowed down, some good friends had left and my fate hung overhead like a cloud, controlled by a handful of graduate school admissions offices on the other side of the world. I had been longing for a real companion, and suddenly, he was one short text away. After a few minutes of going back and forth – with myself of course, since I didn’t have a pet or houseplant to consult – I wrote what turned out to be three fateful words:
I’ll take him.
I didn’t anticipate how quickly things would move from there, but she was eager to start the transition, and within a week, he was mine and I was his. I had grown up with dogs, but we had never had a puppy and I never had much responsibility caring for them.
And yet, all of the sudden, here I was: alone, on the other side of the world, attempting to raise and train a month-old puppy from scratch by myself. I named him Bojack, or בֹּא (Bo — the command to come) and as we walked the streets, he learned his name quickly, and assumed he was being summoned whenever others would call their own dogs to come.
Contrary to everyone’s concerns – including my own – Bo and I quickly developed an almost telepathic understanding that made training easy. Within less than a month, he was (mostly) house broken. Soon enough, he knew how to sit, lie down and stay. He even learned to take it upon himself to wait by the front door and whine when he needed to be walked.
We spent all of our time together. I took him to the park and the beach, to restaurants, bars and grocery stores. Pretty much wherever I went, he went. Every morning after his walk, he would sunbathe on the patio while I worked from home.
Five months later, the little runt who couldn't climb a stair was crammed into the biggest carrier allowed on a plane. He had grown twenty-something pounds, and firmly into my heart as my closest companion. We were now set to undergo the biggest challenge of his life: the 20-hour door-to-door journey from Tel Aviv to Southeast Michigan.
“We prepared for this. You can do this.” I said, trying to sound assured for him (and myself) as our cab headed to the airport. It might have been silly to say out loud at the time, but it was true.
I had moved my flight back 10 days (forcing us to stay on a friend’s couch) in order to meet the US requirement that incoming animals receive their first rabies vaccine 30 days prior to entering the country. I had put Bojack in his carrier every day for a month, hoping to get him used to it before the grueling flight. I took him to the dog park to run around and keep him as lean as possible so he might stay under the weight limit. I looked up the regulations and even made contingency plans in case the airline decided he was too big. (Spoiler: He was.)
I knew we had an intimidating journey ahead; the two of us had carved out our own little life in the Florentin neighborhood of South Tel Aviv, and while I was a regular at a few places, everyone knew Bo. He had friends everywhere – two other dogs who lived in the building, two big dogs who sat outside the bike shop next door while their owner worked, the owners and workers of the local pet stores. And last but certainly not least, his actual, biological sister.
When I adopted Bo, I asked about his parents in an attempt to find out how big he might grow to be. The foster agency had no idea, but sent me a picture of his sister as a sort of consolation. While it seemed useless at the time, that picture would come in handy when, only a few weeks later, while walking Bo, I saw another dog on the street and immediately stopped in my tracks. It might as well have been a carbon copy of Bojack.
I went up to the owner and asked about the dog, and showed him the picture I had of Bo’s sister. “What the … that’s her. That’s Leila! What’s going on here?”
I don’t know how to say this, but this is her brother.
Until that point, I had never seen Bojack get aggressive with another dog. But at first, he and his sister fought like, well, siblings. Luckily, Leila lived two blocks from Bo and they soon became practically inseparable. The puppies pretty much parent-trapped us.
As we headed to the airport, I was nervous, to say the least. But my nerves seemed like steel compared to Bo, who was whining inside his carrier and breathing as though he had just finished a marathon. Maybe he sensed that the marathon was just beginning.
As we waited in line at the airport, Bo remained nervous, and fellow travellers couldn’t help but coalesce and feel sorry for us both. I felt it too, but I was more concerned about getting him through security. Remarkably though, just as the crucial minutes that would decide his fate approached, a calm overtook Bojack.
He laid silently in the carrier as I answered the standard questions – “Why did you come here? What did you do here? Did anyone give you something to bring home? – and I couldn’t help but think of that day I first saw Bojack.
Was it a coincidence, a divine gift or simply two actors randomly exercising their agency that had brought us together? Who really gave me this dog? How did I end up with him, here, in this moment?
He must have been deep in reflective thought as well, sensing the gravity of the moment. He remained absolutely silent as I was ushered to the Delta check-in counter, the ultimate hurdle between us and getting home. Bojack didn’t make a sound. He was so quiet that I even had to point out I was travelling with him.
“Oh, a dog!” squealed the kippah-clad baggage worker who, unknowingly, held the future of our relationship in his hands. “Yeah, here’s his paperwork,” I replied sheepishly, knowing he was over the weight limit. “Perfect, let me just show my supervisor and you’ll be all set!” He walked away and a few minutes later came back with a tag for the carrier without even checking the carrier, let alone weighing Bo.
Bojack and I made it home unsullied; he went a full 16 hours before the “sweet release” offered by the concrete outside JFK. And together, day by day, we’ve (re)adjusted to the dog-sniff-dog world of Huntington Woods.
I left home because I was looking for adventure, not companionship. Travelling to Israel is always an emotional experience. Maybe it’s because there's a combination of new and familiar like nowhere else in the world. And if you let it, your time there will almost certainly change you for the better, dog willing.
Corey Lipton spent the year in Tel Aviv working for ANU, a nonprofit that works to improve civil society for everyone in the state of Israel. He graduated from the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan in 2020 and is returning (with Bo) this fall to pursue a dual JD/MPP.
You can follow Bojack's American adventures on Instagram @grow_with_bo.