This year (2019) for the Shabbat of Noach we did an animals theme, and asked several students to share their personal experiences caring for and working with animals. It was quite beautiful and surprising what students shared:


My family, my mother especially, is very into rescue dogs, even before I was old enough to remember, and all throughout my years as well. All our dogs have come from shelters, some from animal shelters, some from kill shelters, from as far away as Mississippi and Georgia. My Bat-Mitzvah project was in support of animal shelters. We have a dog now for 4-5 years who is from a kill shelter down south, he came to us with a broken leg, in bad shape but we nurtured him and helped him and he is a big part of our lives today. Love and good care go a long way. If you have a dog and we talk dogs, one of the first things I’ll usually ask is if your dog is a shelter dog. 


Back in middle-school I got into bees, and began a beekeeping hobby on the rooftop of my building.  Bees are crucial to pollination and while not everyone knows this, there’s some struggle for bees now, so doing my part. Beekeeping in an urban big city environment is its own interesting experience.  Here’s something quite different about beekeeping than most other hobbies. Usually, the more you invest in something, the more you work at it or think about it, the better you get at it and the more you accomplish. Knitting for example: the more you knit, the better you get, and the more you knit the more whatever material you end up with. It’s not the same with bee hives! The more you leave them alone, the less they are disturbed, the more productive they will be. Something are better left alone, to let it do its thing.


While I was a student at Hudson Valley Community College (before transferring to UAlbany) I was involved in an animal outreach group. Most of what we did were bake-sale fundraisers for animal shelters, but one field trip we did was to volunteer at the Berkshire Bird Paradise in rural Rennselaer County. The day we went was an unusual day, they were doing an intake of an emu. It was a bird that belonged to a private owner who could not longer care for him and was now being brought to this bird sanctuary. Emus are the second largest bird in the world, and this particular bird named Charlie was hunkered in the back of his trailer refusing to move out to his new enclosed habitat at the Berkshire Bird Paradise. Us volunteers were all standing with parts of fence between the trailer and the enclosure, and it took a long time for Charlie to finally make his way out of his trailer to his new home. Then… about a year or so later, Charlie made the local news, as he had escaped and one of the local news channels even had a Live Emu Tracker! Charlie is back at the Bird Paradise, but what stuck with me is how hard it can be to transition to new settings and environments, even if it is a better place for us. Like Charlie, we’re often afraid of the unknown. 


We have lots of dogs at home, big dogs, almost all my life. Why so many dogs? A lot of it has to do with the fact that I wasn’t verbal as a little kid, and my mom took me to various therapies and such, and dogs were a big part of my verbal development and healing. They helped me express myself early on and that attachment and connection only grew over time. I feel that a lot of who I am today and how I came to be is thanks to the dogs in my life. 


As part of our LLC (UAlbany Living Learning Community) we went one day to volunteer at an animal shelter. I was so excited. I love pets, and looked forward to seeing and playing with the animals. But we did no such thing. Instead, we sorted tons of bottles and cans to redeem for the shelter and I spent a lot of time washing animal bowls of all sizes. So while we didn’t get to play with the animals, we did help out in ways they needed some help. During this time I was struggling through a class, and really needed help, and as it turned out, another volunteer student at the shelter was good at that subject and offered to help me through it, and indeed, after 2-3 sessions together I aced the next test and did well in that class. And another person I met there helped me in a differerent class, so my takeaway was: If you help others, you get helped through it as well!


Many of you know that I hiked the Appalachian Trail first and then less than a year later did most of the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast. I did these alone, and at many points was alone on my trek. At one point in northern California I was camped for the night in a redwood forest alongside a large lake and went to sleep for the night in my tent. But I kept awaking due to large noises all around me, the sounds of trampling and twigs breaking, and it seemed quite close by. Eventually I realized these were deer. But unlike the deer on the east coast who shy away from humans and run off at the earliest sign of us, these deer came right up to me, and they come in a herd or pack! It appears they like the salt and sense it even in saliva or the slightest traces. I have pictures with deer all around me!


I’ve been working all kinds of jobs ever since I was a young teen. Four of those jobs involved animals, 3 of those had to do with live animals. One summer I worked in the Bronx Zoo. There’s this big path or walkway that traverses through the zoo, and there are signs everywhere. I spent a lot of time in the predators section, you know animals that are alert to the slightest movement and have a knack to recognize patterns or tracks as they hunt their prey. But the dumbest animal I’ve ever come across is the one of the human variety. So often I am asked the way to see the gorillas, when there’s a clear path and marked signs and maps everywhere. I’ve even been asked for the way to see the gorillas from people standing right in front of it!