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Rabbi Freehling’s pet project

by Rachel Heller

September 25, 2008 | 1:12 am

Rabbi Freehling, Mayor Villaraigosa

Rabbi Freehling, Mayor Villaraigosa

Daylong synagogue attendance is rare among most Reform Jews. It's even rarer for their dogs.

For almost 12 years, Lucy traveled each day to University Synagogue in Brentwood with her owner, Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, then the synagogue's senior rabbi. The golden retriever mix soon became one of the most popular members of the Reform congregation.

"The kids coming in for Hebrew school used to arrive early, come to the rabbi's study, and hope that they would be the ones to take Lucy for a walk before going to class," Freehling recalled. "She was delighted to spend the whole day in my office. If there wasn't someone to pay attention to her, she would usually just sleep under my desk."

Freehling, now the executive director of the City's Human Relations Commission, found Lucy at a city-run animal shelter in the San Fernando Valley. Through a series of community workshops he is helping to facilitate for Los Angeles Animal Services, Freehling is urging other local residents to seek pets from city shelters, too.

L.A. Animal Services has been sponsoring its "Humane L.A." workshops -- a series of 11 free, public panel discussions -- every other week since August to educate Angelenos about what they can do to help make the city a "no-kill" haven. The workshops, which will continue through mid-December, focus on different facets of the agency's "no-kill equation," such as low-cost spay and neuter, rescue groups, foster care and adoption programs. Common-sense factors like these, the agency believes, can, in time, reduce the number of unwanted animals euthanized at city shelters.

"We do have a responsibility in terms of taking good care of the animals that are a part of our population," said Freehling, who is sharing the role of facilitator with three other members of the Human Relations Commission. "Spay and neuter has to become something that is accepted by everyone, because the only way to curtail the population of animals is if they are not reproducing on a regular basis. For people who wish to have animals, for them to consider adopting as opposed to purchasing would also be a step."

The senior rabbi at University Synagogue for 30 years, Freehling and his wife, Lori, adopted Lucy with social interaction in mind.

"Not wanting to leave Lucy home by herself, we purposely found an animal that would be good with adults and children," he said. "An animal is a marvelous provider of comfort. That was the role that she played at the synagogue. Being greeted by her was, more often than not, a comforting experience."

Lucy eventually died of cancer, and the Freehlings adopted Pearl, a black lab and pit bull mix, from an animal rescuer in Riverside. Pearl hasn't had the same opportunity to follow Freehling to work since he was appointed to the commission in 2002.

"Here at City Hall it's less likely that someone would bring an animal to the office on a regular basis," he said.

Asked if it's possible to make Los Angeles a no-kill city, the Chicago native does not hesitate before saying, "Yes." But profound changes must first occur in the local population's attitude toward its four-legged neighbors.

"I hope people will begin to understand what a no-kill city is all about and what our responsibilities are as part of that community, and not simply leave it up to a particular department within the city to solve the problem by euthanizing an extraordinary number of animals," Freehling said. "It's something we're all in together."

For dates and locations of the remaining "Humane L.A." workshops, visit www.laanimalservices.com/humanela.htm

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