When I was three, I was outside the post office on 104th Street with my mom. There was a small fence in front of the building. Tied to that fence were two small dogs. One of them was a sweet and loving Black Labrador. The other was a fluffy white dog. I was going back and forth, petting each one when, out of nowhere, the white dog bit my eye. My mom saw and immediately grabbed a taxi to the hospital. I was crying, saying that I wanted to go home.
I found out later that I would need stitches, but not before I had to get a shot to get me to open my eye. I was to stay at the hospital so they could do surgery. After that, I had to wear an eye patch for about three weeks and put eye drops in my eye two times a day. Even though that happened, I still love dogs. Usually when a person is bitten or mauled by an animal, he/she is frightened of that animal for a long time, but not me. In spite of that experience, I love all animals and want to help them.
When I heard that I was supposed to do community service as part of my bat mitzvah preparation, I knew right away that I wanted to work with animals. I love doing community service and have done many different types, including cleaning up city parks with the Girl Scouts, collecting toys for hospitalized kids, packing donated supplies for Hurricane Sandy victims and helping clean up a community devastated by the hurricane, and working as a teaching assistant in the City Congregation’s school. I enjoyed all of these projects, and I love feeling useful, but I knew my own special work would have to be with animals.
In the past I have tried to help dogs and cats at shelters, but it is hard. Nowadays, one has to be 16 or older to work at an animal shelter. One day, though, I got exciting news. My mom and I found a “non-kill” animal shelter that lets teens volunteer. It is called Bidawee and is right here in Manhattan, on East 38th Street. I was so happy. I can play with and help dogs and puppies and cats and kittens. I am now able to work with the animals I love.
When I first walked in to Bideawee, I realized that I was finally doing the community service that I wanted to do for years. Most of the animals at the shelter had been abandoned. If it were not for Bideawee, all of these animals would probably have died in the cold. I knew this was going to be a good place, because the first thing I saw was a room full of cats and a room full of kittens. I knew I was finally where I wanted to be.
Since that first day, I have been volunteering every month at Bideawee. I play with and care for abandoned dogs and cats and help the other volunteers clean the cages. I love helping animals. Animals bring comfort to people. Children like to play with them. Some even help our country by serving in the army. Others help veterans and soldiers. We all know that guide dogs help blind people and people with other disabilities, but I learned that even when people aren’t disabled in any way pets can reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness and in general make people healthier. Pets will also stand by you through anything. Some, like guide dogs, are trained to stay no matter what happens.
Some people abuse or hurt animals, but they don’t realize that animals have feelings too. Animals give love and compassion and will love you no matter what. I read somewhere that dogs don’t stay mad at you if you do something like step on their tail or take away their favorite squeaky toy. They live by forgive and forget. The good thing about animals is that they will always love you, no matter what. Many people feel that their pet is a member of the family, and go to it for comfort and support. The pet is seen as more than an animal, more as a loyal friend.
Working in an animal shelter is not my only way of doing community service but it is my favorite way. It feels more personal and special than collecting money or coats or toys. I also like that I get to do it every month, so I can build relationships with some of the animals and the people who work at the shelter. I also plan to donate a portion of my Bat Mitzvah money to Bidawee. Helping these animals may not make a big difference in the world, but it makes a big difference to each of these animals. Finally, it makes a big difference to me.