Finding Their (Mitzvah) ‘Mania’


From making toys for pets to repairing low-income homes, more than 800 volunteers joined in the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's fifth annual Mitzvah Mania.

Daniel Tyman lost a dog when he was a child. It didn’t die or run away. It just saw a better opportunity with the neighbors who lived behind Tyman’s home and so made an exit. The dog seemed happy there, and the families agreed to maintain the arrangement. 

Years later, Tyman was canvassing for a political candidate in Philadelphia when he ran into a pit bull who chased him for four blocks.

“Dogs just don’t like me,” he said.

Tyman now shares his West Chester home with cats and appears to be at peace with the resentment of most canines. In fact, he was among those creating pet toys, dog beds and cat boxes on Sunday for the Paws Up Project at the Jewish Community Services Building.

An attorney who teaches LSAT classes at the Princeton Review, Tyman joined several colleagues around a table as they sketched illustrations on ping pong balls that would help fight feline boredom at animal shelters. Using magic markers, the results ranged from amorphous globs of color to a slightly accurate planet Earth.

Community-service-minded Philadelphians could pick from a list of volunteer opportunities Sunday at different spots throughout the city and suburbs. The Jewish Federation of Greater Phila­delphia’s fifth annual Mitzvah Mania saw more than 800 volunteers spread throughout the region. Among the activities, volunteers  winterized gardens and made repairs at the homes of low-income families.

This was the first year Mitzvah Mania staged a community service event for pets. The program was a collaboration with Animal Lifeline, a Warrington-based nonprofit that raises money through a thrift store.

Bryna Donnelly, an Animal Lifeline board member, was formerly a genetics professor at Delaware Valley College and now travels around the country with college students to help renovate animal shelters. She has been to over 25 states and said Pennsylvania is among the worst in the country in terms of the number of puppy mills and the lack of enforcement of laws that protect animals.

The Dog Law Advisory Board reached the “disturbing conclusion” that close to 500,000 dogs and 2,000 kennels were at risk because of the state’s failure to enforce regulations included in the dog law, according to a September report. Donnelly said the Dog Law Enforcement office is “horribly understaf­fed.” She said she does not oppose responsible breeding but encourages people seeking a pet to first visit an animal shelter.

“Unfortunately, we’ve become such an instant gratification society,” Donnelly said. “Getting a dog should be more like getting a child where you have to wait nine months.”

On Sunday, Randi Rush, 56, and her daughter Jennifer, 29,were filling plastic toys with peanut butter that would then be frozen and given to dogs at shelters. The elder Rush, who lost one of her two dogs in August to old-age, offers guests to her home a simple, straightforward warning, “If you don’t like dogs, don’t come in,” she explained as her daughter laughed.

“I think this is a wonderful thing to do,” Randi Rush said. “There are so many homeless dogs out there.” 


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