| True Colors |

Dog City, New Jersey

When my parents moved us down the road from where I’d lived my whole life, we were suddenly Jackson, New Jersey residents. Our new block looked very different from the frum neighborhood of townhouses we were used to in Lakewood, and my parents cautioned us that it was now more important than ever to make a kiddush Hashem, that our new neighbors were used to living around people more like them, and people were often afraid of change. We should smile and say hello to the new neighbors. We should always be considerate. And never park the car in a way that would block a mailbox or turn around in their driveway, of course.

As we carried some of the more fragile items into the new house that we didn’t want to trust to the moving truck, we kids decided that living in Jackson couldn’t be so different. After all, this wasn’t a cross-country move. We would attend the same school, shop at the same supermarket, and take a short drive to visit our old neighbors, instead of just walking down the block to knock at their door. 

But we were wrong — Jackson turned out to be pretty different from Lakewood! There were blue jays and bright crimson cardinals flitting through the huge trees in our backyard, and flocks of wild turkey in the road — you sometimes had to wait to cross the street because of all the turkey traffic! Families of deer appeared at dusk in the backyard to nibble the tiny wild strawberries that grew there. 

Those animals were beautiful, and I loved watching them from the deck. But I have always been very afraid of dogs, and Jackson is full of dogs. There were dogs that barked loudly from their gated lawns as I walked home from the bus stop, and, even worse, unleashed dogs that sauntered down the street on their own. Seeing them would always make my heart race.

Two days after we moved in, my older sister drove us to Target where we checked items off Mommy’s list as we put them into the shopping cart: temporary window shades, check; a new doorknob to replace the broken one, check; a dog toy for Bobby’s new puppy.

Bobby’s new puppy? No way.

I looked at my sister in confusion, and she looked at me. Bobby is my father’s mother who lives in Queens. There was no way in this world — or any other — that that grandmother had gotten a dog. 

“Maybe you read it wrong,” I suggested. “Maybe it says a log from Troy? A baby boy? Metal alloy?”

“It says a dog toy for a puppy.”

“Maybe Bobby and Zaida’s alarm system broke and they bought a watchdog?”

My sister shook her head at that silly suggestion, but we selected a rubber chew toy shaped like a bone.

“Ma… dog toy?!” I questioned, huffing into the kitchen with heavy Target bags weighing down both of my arms.

“Yes, the neighbor’s son, Bobby, just got a little white puppy. An important part of being friendly around here is appreciating the neighbors’ pets. They’re very attached to their pets. So I decided it would be a nice gesture to get the new puppy a toy.” None of this made any sense to me. Or made me any less scared of the neighborhood dogs. In fact, the new puppy next door was still frightening in his own way, as he nipped at his owner’s pants and ran around his legs.

One morning, a few months later, I was waiting outside to put my younger brothers onto the day camp bus. It was only nine o’clock but already very hot out, so we stood under a tree, out of the sun. Just as the bus appeared at the end of the block, wheeling its way toward us, a small, tawny dog appeared from the other direction, trotting slowly toward our driveway.

My brother pointed. “Look how cute!” It was a cute dog, with soft short hair and floppy ears, but the problem was that he was headed toward us. The bus stopped, opened its doors, the boys hopped on. Just as the bus door started closing, I saw the dog scoot under the bus. It probably sensed shade there. 

I could just run in the house now, away from the heat and away from the dog, but it was there — under the bus! That couldn’t end well. I ran toward the bus instead of away (as every instinct was pulling me), banged on the glass door, and yelled, “Driver! Wait!” 

Rolling his eyes, the driver pulled the door lever open again, and asked, “What? Did your brothers forget something?”

“No! There’s a dog that just went under your bus. Don’t go yet or you might—” He understood, and after thinking a moment said, “Want to get something to get the dog out from there?”

No! I wanted to scoot into the house and not think about it at all. I was very aware that standing closer to the bus meant I was also closer to the dog.

“Put some water in a bowl. I bet he’s thirsty.” The bus driver was waiting, dog hunkered under the bus, the little boys all staring at me out of windows. I ran into the house, got a plastic bowl, sloshed some water into it, and brought it at a run, sloshing most of the rest onto myself. The dog must have smelled what was left in the bowl, because he came out from under the bus and stuffed his nose or snout or whatever it is into the bowl to slurp thirstily on our lawn.

As I raced back into the house, the driver called out one more piece of advice. “Best call the town and have them send someone to get the dog before somebody else runs it over.”

Really?! Was there no end to my becoming a caregiver of lost canines?! But I got the town’s number and dialed. The computerized voice told me to press 8 for lost animals (animals even had their own extension number in this town), and the lady who answered began instructing me in proper care for a lost animal: gently take hold of its collar if it will allow you to, lead it to a safe place. Then… The way this was going, I didn’t even want to hear the “then.”

Looking out the window, I saw a man who looked a little familiar from the block coming up our driveway. The dog started toward him, with what could only be called a smile on its face. I politely interrupted the lady at the lost dog desk to tell her the owner had been found.

“Ya did the right thing, honey,” she assured me before hanging up. 

I just hoped that the man (we found out his name was Kevin when he knocked on the door to thank my father for helping his dog) wouldn’t let his dog stroll around by itself again. I had no interest in finding out what the dog-desk lady’s “then” instruction would have been. Open a dog training school? Bake it fresh doggie treats? But I was happy to feel that, as a new Jackson resident, I had done something that made people around us see that we care about others and want to be good neighbors. 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 799)

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