Gabriella Lloyd loves dogs.
She loves them so much, that when it was time to decide on a mitzvah project she decided to help abused and abandoned dogs.
“Animals have it really hard in the world right now. It’s not fair they get abused,” says Gabriella, now 14, who had her bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville. “There are a lot of strays out there and they deserve to have good homes.”
For her mitzvah project, she raised $400 for the nonprofit K-9 Lifesavers, which rehabilitates mistreated and neglected dogs so that they can be adopted.
When adolescents look to do a good deed, many want to do it for animals. That’s not a surprise, says Cantor Larry Eschler, of Temple Beth Ami.
“When a child is developing, the first person he or she will unite with and come to acknowledge is the parents. The second one is the family pet,” he says. “Thirteen is a transition year and the animal is the person is that gives unconditional love. I think there’s a need for that as kids are trying to find their way in the world.”
Eschler says that about a third of mitzvah projects focus on animals. (The other popular projects focus on sports and working with kids with special needs.) He’s seen a lot of animal-related projects over the years. His favorite was a child who raised money to buy bulletproof vests for police dogs.
“It really brought home a new aspect to this whole animal love,” Eschler says.
Zachary Lewis, 13, wanted to be face to face with the animals he was helping. So he went to the Humane Society of Montgomery County and read to the dogs.
“It was one of the only places where I could be with the animals, because at other places you had to be 18 and up,” says Zachary, a member of Or Chadash Congregation in Damascus.
While he read, the dogs nuzzled up to the door of the cage, and stuck their legs out. He visited for up to an hour each time.
Once he started coming regularly, the dogs stopped barking.
Brady Cohen, who celebrated his bar mitzvah on Feb. 9 at Temple Beth Ami, also helped the Humane Society of Montgomery County for his mitzvah project.
He raised almost $300 by selling water bottles and handmade picture frames outside a pet shop. He also collected pet food, leashes, toys and blankets.
When he was in fifth grade, Brady worked with a sanctuary that rescues abused and neglected farm animals, including cows, chickens, horses, geese, peacocks and pigs.
“I really like animals,” he says. “They give you unconditional love. They’re nice to have around.” he said.
After he dropped off his donations at the Humane Society, he spent a couple of hours with the animals.
“It was the best day of my life.”