Short Stories and poetry
Jamie Glaser | A friend of Natalia

A friend of Natalia

Natalia Myer sat excitedly on the carpet of her kindergarten classroom, crossing and uncrossing her legs, trying to contain the excitement over today’s special visitor. A representative from the local Humane Association was going to visit her class and talk about what they do to help cats and dogs who do not have homes. And they were going to bring a dog!
Natalia loved dogs. She did not have one. Dogs bark, loudly, and loud noises make her brother Solly, cry. Natalia loves her little brother. He is three years old and they are best friends. They play together. Sometimes Solly plays a little differently than Natalia but that’s ok. Solly’s favorite thing to do is look at books. He can even read some words. He loves to learn about new things. Solly loves animals and learning all about them. But they just cannot have a dog in their house because loud noises make Solly cry.

Last year Natalia went with her dad and her best friend Rebekah to the Purim carnival. She had so much fun but Solly had to stay home with mom because the carnival is too loud for him. When Natalia got home she threw a special carnival just for Solly with silly costumes and games and hamantaschen. It was a lot of fun and Solly didn’t cry.

Finally Morah Liana announced to the class that the representative, Mr. Aaron was on his way to come talk. Many of the children in her class know Mr. Aaron because he attends the temple that their school is a part of. The children who know Mr. Aaron love him because he works with animals at the shelter and has a lot of pets. He is always showing the boys and girls pictures of his pets and telling funny stories about them.

“Boker tov chavarim!” Mr. Aaron greeted the class. “ Boker tov!” They replied back. Usually Natalia looks at the person speaking when they come to her classroom, but this time she could not help but look at the dog next to Mr. Aaron. She was a tan pit bull mix, with her tongue hanging out. She appeared to be smiling.

“Class, this is my friend, Addy. Addy lives at the Humane Association shelter. The shelter has many special animals. We have dogs and cats, but cats don’t like car rides much, and most cats don’t like a bunch of people looking at them. So a dog is who is visiting us today! Addy loves people and she is very friendly, not to mention smart. Later I will show you a few tricks she can do! But for now, I have a question for all of you. Can anybody tell me what a mitzvah is?”
Natalia raised her hand. Mr. Aaron smiled at her but called on her friend Leo.

“A good deed?” He asked,
“Exactly” Mr. Aaron replied. “ A good deed. There are many, many mitzvahs that we can do to help the world, or Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam means to repair the world. Many things in the world need the help of kind and caring people. Homeless animals are one of the things that everybody can help in one way or another. You can adopt a pet from a shelter, and if you are not able to do that at this time, no need to worry, there are plenty of other ways to help! You can volunteer your time by coming into the shelter and doing some work. This work is fun! Adults can walk dogs and while children are not able to, they can make toys, dog treats, and play with the cats with a parent in the room. There is also a program where children read to the dogs in the shelter. He smiled. I know the kindergarten class is learning how to read, and what better way to practice your skills than reading to a shelter dog. They love the company. It may even increase their vocabulary!” The class laughed.

Aaron showed the class the tricks that Addy could do. She could sit, lay down, roll over and speak. Natalia laughed excitedly at all of Addy’s tricks, with the rest of the class until Addy “spoke”. Her bark was loud and a few kids in her class covered their ears. Natalia didn’t but she knew that if her brother heard Addy bark, he would cry. That was why Natalia knew she could never have a dog. But at least she could visit them at the shelter!
After the presentation Natalia went to ask Mr. Aaron about reading to dogs at the shelter. She scratched Addy’s ears as Addy panted happily. Mr. Aaron smiled at Natalia. “Addy likes you. She’s up for adoption you know.” He winked.

“I know”, Natalia replied. “But mommy and daddy said we can’t have a doggy because of Solly. Too loud.”
Mr. Aaron nodded.

“I understand. But you can come to the shelter and read to the dogs on the weekends! If I have some time and I’m at work that weekend, I can even let you play with a few puppies if your parents come in the playroom with you.”
Natalia tried not to squeal. “I’d love that.” she replied excitedly.
That very next Saturday Natalia came to the shelter with her dad. Solly stayed home with mom.
“Good afternoon.” A woman approached them. My name is Shelia. “Aaron told me we’d be expecting some helpers today.“
“Can I read to dogs?” Natalia asked excitedly. She had brought five of her favorite books, that she could read.

Sheila smiled. “Right now there is a whole group of Girl Scouts in the dog room reading to dogs. I’m afraid all of the kennels have a reader. But don’t worry. It’s twelve o-’clock now and they leave at 1. When they leave you are welcome to come and read to a dog. But until then would you like to help make dog toys, or play with kittens?”
“Play with kittens!” Natalia replied excitedly. Then she looked at the big box with dog toy supplies on the table. She looked at her dad. “Daddy, should we make dog toys first, then play with kittens?”
“That’s a great idea!”, her dad answered. Double mitzvahs!

Natalia actually had fun making the dog toys. It was relaxing and she enjoyed putting different color rubber shapes together on rope.
“How about we ask Sheila if we can bring some toys home for Solly to make too?” her dad asked. “I think he’d like that”, Natalia replied. Still, she wished he would like a dog to take home.
After making a few more dog toys and playing with some of the cutest kittens she’d ever seen, Sheila told her it was time to read to a dog. As she walked past one occupied kennel after the next she found it almost impossible to choose. Until finally she saw a tall, long haired black dog. He had big pointed ears, like a cat, and a long nose. He seemed to be looking at her as if to say “hello”. But he didn’t bark. Instead he had his tongue out, like he was smiling. She looked up at Sheila.
“That’s Freddy”, she replied. “He would love some company!”

Natalia smiled and sat down. She took out a Fancy Nancy book and began to read. At first Freddy stood still but after a few minutes he sat down, paws out and seemed to be listening intently. After all five books were read, and she read the Fancy Nancy one over(Freddy seemed to like that one the best!), it was time to go home.
“Sheila,” Natalia asked, “Would it be ok if we took some toys home for my brother to help make? He’d love to come here except for it’s really loud and he doesn’t like loud noises.”
Sheila smiled. “Of course, we would love his help. And thank YOU and your dad for all of your help today. We hope you come back again.”
“Oh, I sure will!” Natalia replied. She looked at her dad. “Can we?”
“Absolutely” her dad answered. “This is a great opportunity to do a mitzvah and have fun while we’re at it.”

Back home, after dinner, Natalia and Solly sat at the kitchen table, and she showed him how to make toys. Solly was a fast learner and assembled the toys, naming the colors and shapes as he worked.
Solly, do you like doggies? She asked him.
At first he didn’t look up. Solly had excellent concentration and sometimes when he was busy doing something he really enjoyed you had to ask him a question more than once.
Natalia asked again. This time he looked up.
“Yes”. He replied seriously. Then he gave her a few fun facts about dogs. Some she knew and some she did not. Solly was smart. He could work at the shelter some day if he wasn’t afraid of loud noises.

The next Saturday Natalia took her friend Rebekah to read to dogs with her. Both girls had a great time. When they were finished Rebekah met Natalia at Freddy’s kennel.
“Guess what?” Rebekah asked excitedly.
“I read books to Addy, the dog who visited us! And I have another surprise. She got adopted and is going to a new home soon!”
“Whoa,” Natalia exclaimed as she and Rebekah jumped up and down.
“Addy barked goodbye to me.” Rebekah exclaimed. She looked at Freddy and looked confused.
“Why doesn’t he bark?”
“That’s a good question.” Natalia replied. She never thought about why Freddy didn’t bark. Just that she enjoyed spending time with him. But now she was curious.
When Sheila came to thank the girls and say goodbye, they asked about Freddy. Sheila smiled. “I was wondering if one of you would notice that Freddy was quiet. A few years ago, when he was still just a puppy Freddy had a tumor on his throat. It was big and it made it hard for Freddy to eat and drink. So he had surgery to remove it, and because it was so big they also removed his larynx, the part of our throat that helps us make sounds. So Freddy can do anything! Except bark.”

“Wow.” Natalia replied. “I have never met a dog that didn’t bark before!” Sheila smiled. “Freddy’s special. Now all we need is someone who agrees so they can adopt him and give him a happy home.”

It was Shabbat and Natalia and her friends were having a wonderful time playing tag after Oneg Shabbat, the dessert meal after the service. Some of the kindergarten class’ younger siblings joined in the fun, and the kindergarteners pretended to run slower so the younger children could tag them! Natalia looked over at Solly, holding their mother’s hand, and looking in his picture book. Sometimes she wished he would join them. But Solly doesn’t like noisy games.
“Tagged ya!”

Natalia heard a grown up voice and looked up to see Mr. Aaron grinning at her. She giggled and wished him Shabbat Shalom.
“I heard that you and your dad spent some time volunteering at the shelter recently. You even invited a friend to join?”
“Yes.” Natalia replied. “ Rebekah, it’s been so much fun. Did you know there’s a dog there that can’t bark? Freddy.”
“Oh Yes, I know Freddy.” Mr. Aaron replied.
“He’s a wonderful dog, of course every dog there is wonderful in their own way, but Freddy is special. He is very patiently awaiting the right person to come along and adopt him. Whoever does, will not be disappointed. He is such wonderful company.”
“I read him some books!” Natalia replied excitedly. “At first I didn’t notice he didn’t bark until Rebekah asked me why he was quiet. He’s a great listener. I think he likes Fancy Nancy best.” She smiled.
“Well, I hope he finds that special family soon.” Mr. Aaron replied. “We will all miss him when he gets adopted but it will be a happy day.”

That night Natalia was in her room playing with her stuffed dogs, when Solly came in.
“Kiss goodnight?” He asked.
Natalia kissed his curly brown head. She was one of the very few people her brother would ever hug or kiss besides her parents.
He patted her stuffed dog. “Good night puppy.”
“Solly? she asked, before he left. Do you want a dog someday?”
He turned around.
“But you don’t like noisy dogs, right?”
“Ok, goodnight.”
Hmm. Natalia had a few questions for her parents tomorrow. She hoped their answer would be yes.

The next morning Natalia ate her breakfast with her stuffed dog at the table with her. She had brought her that morning for good luck. She really hoped this question would yield the answer she wanted to hear.
“So, mom and dad, she began, as you both know I have been reading to dogs at the animal shelter.”
Her father smiled. “Yes, he answered, we know, we are your ride!”
She smiled back.
“Mom and dad, all of the dogs there bark except for one. His name is Freddy. He doesn’t bark because he doesn’t have a, um, bark box? He got it taken out when he was a puppy. So, he’s really quiet. He’s a very good listener, he likes to listen to me read books to him. Mr. Aaron says he needs a home, a special family. I think…. We’re a special family. I think we CAN have a dog but we have to have a quiet one. Because Solly doesn’t like noise. So, I was thinking, Freddy might be perfect for us!”

Suddenly she started to feel really hopeful but she didn’t want the hopeful feeling to go away. So she started making promises.
I’ll feed him every day by myself! I promise. I’ll walk him too. Solly will help, right Solly?”
He looked up from his dinosaur book.
She wished he would come help her beg, but she accepted that she would be the one to do that!
“Whoa, slow down.” Her father interrupted her excited stream of sentences.
“You haven’t given us time to say yes yet!”
Natalia paused and looked up.
“Well, her mother continued, not yes or no JUST yet, but I don’t see any harm in coming to meet Freddy. He sounds wonderful and I think a pet, a silent one would benefit all of us. And I know Solly wants to meet the dog, right Solly? But we have to try to avoid the noisiness of the other dogs somehow.”
“We can ask Mr. Aaron.” Natalia volunteered. “Everybody wants Freddy to have a new home. Especially us.”
After school on Monday Natalia’s father was in the living room. Solly was with him and he had her stuffed dogs with him. She had never seen him play with her dogs before, she was glad he was getting excited about meeting Freddy,
“Natalia,” her dad said once she had settled in. “Mr. Aaron called me today and said that on Saturday we can come to the shelter and the whole family can meet Freddy! He said the waiting area will not be loud and we can meet Freddy in a meet room which is sound proof. The loudest thing we will hear is the phone ring and Solly doesn’t mind that!”
It was true. Solly didn’t cry when he heard a noise he was used to, only noises that he is not familiar with.
“Did you hear that Solly? We get to meet Freddy next weekend! Isn’t that exciting?”
“Is he loud?” Solly looked worried.
“Nope.” Natalia replied. “He cannot bark at all. You will love him. All he wants to do is be your friend and play.”
Solly smiled. He thrust a stuffed dog at Natalia and made the other one jump.
“Love to play.” He said.

It was nothing short of a miracle. Usually Solly liked books, his toy trucks and blocks. It was very rare for him to want to play pretend. But that afternoon before dinner Natalia and her brother pretended to be animal caretakers to practice taking care of Freddy if he were to come home with them. Natalia hoped it was so, with all her might.
On Saturday Natalia and her brother were both feeling scared, for two very different reasons. Solly was always a little scared in a new place, even if that place was quiet, and Natalia was scared that Solly would be afraid of Freddy. Though he didn’t bark, he did have a habit of getting too close sometimes, and Solly sometimes didn’t like that.
“Good morning, Myer family.” A young man greeted them. “My name is Mike. Aaron is walking a dog right now but he will join us soon. If you would like you can come into this room and I will bring Freddy in. He has just been on a walk and feeling good and relaxed. I bet he is very excited to meet you.”

A few minutes later Mike came back with Freddy. He put his paws up on the glass door, to get a better look at these new people. Mike gently led him down and opened the door. The whole time Natalia prayed that Solly wouldn’t cry. Or this all might be over before it began. Very slowly Freddy made his way over to each member of the family. He sniffed Natalia’s hand, instantly remembered her and licked it. She giggled. He sniffed her parents shoes and licked them also. Then he approached Solly who was holding his mom’s hand. He looked scared. Oh no, thought Natalia. Slowly he sniffed Solly’s hand. Then he gently nudged it.
“I think he wants you to pet him.” Natalia explained.

He slowly took his hand out of his moms and pet Freddy. Freddy’s nosed touched his hand. “Cold.” Solly exclaimed, but he was smiling. Freddy licked his hand and he began to giggle.
Natalia and Solly took turns petting Freddy. She tossed a rubber ball to him and he went after it. Solly looked a little nervous but laughed as he tossed the ball in the air, tried to catch it and missed. He picked up the ball, tossed it, and caught it himself.
“Like this, Freddy”.
Their mom and dad laughed.
Just then Mr. Aaron came in the room. Freddy ran to him for pets.
“Hey man, these are the people you’re supposed to ask for pets! Aw, ok.”
He pat Freddy’s head.
“How are we doing in here? Having fun yet?”
“Yes!” Natalia exclaimed. She looked at her parents.
“Guys? What do you think?”
“Well, we love him, but the most important thing is that every member of our family loves him and I think this is the case.”
“What do you think young man?” Mr. Aaron asked Solly.
“He doesn’t bark!” Solly replied. “I like him.”
The following weekend Rebekah was at Natalia’s house for a playdate. It was a rainy day, so they were coloring in books, and Freddy sat lazily between them.
“He’s so cute.” Rebekah said. “I hope we get a dog next. We just have to make sure my cat likes em!”
Natalia laughed. “Good luck!”
“Natalia, time to feed Freddy! Freddy, time to eat!”
Freddy bounded into the kitchen and Natalia followed him, not as quickly. She stuck to her promise to be the one to feed him every day, though her parents had to help get the dog food bag off the counter for her so it was really a group effort. Solly was excited about his job of filling up the water bowl. He took it very seriously, like he took every job he did seriously.
“Mommy.” Natalia said. “Mr. Aaron said that helping dogs and cats in need is a mitzvah, a good deed. But I think the best part is that we have a dog! It doesn’t feel much like work.”
“Sometimes,” her mother replied “when we do a kind thing for another living being we feel so good it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all.”
“Whats a sacrifice?”
“A sacrifice is something that we give up to help another. In this case we welcomed a dog into our home and promised to take care of him, but you are right, we are the lucky ones. We were lucky to find a special dog for you and your brother to enjoy.”
“Mommy, when I first met Freddy I didn’t know he couldn’t bark. I don’t think I noticed until Rebekah asked.”
Her mom smiled. “I think, she replied, that when we really enjoy being with someone, that’s all we notice. How much fun we are having, and nothing else matters.”
“Maybe that’s why I like to play with Solly. He plays a little different, but, its ok, because I like him. He’s a lot of fun.”
Her mom smiled. “He sure is. He’s lucky to have a sister like you, and now you both have another wonderful thing in common. A new pet, who you are doing a very good job taking care of. I am proud of both of my children.”
“Full of mitzvahs!” Natalia exclaimed. “Yes, she replied.
In your own special ways, you both help our world.”  

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