All it took was a tour of the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown and the seventh-grade students at Temple Emanuel Religious School were in.
How could they convert a place of sadness — a shelter for animals that had lost the homes and families they once knew — into a place where happiness can begin again with the adoption of an abandoned pet?
Paint a mural.
Baltimore artist Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen, whose daughter attends Temple Emanuel and who is known for community mural projects, worked with the students to craft a message, convert that message to drawings and, eventually, to murals on the wall space around the building where the animals wait.
Sunday morning, under a clear sky and sun before the clouds rolled in, Schlossberg-Cohen conducted his young volunteers with his voice and his paint brushes. A couple of dozen students and some of their parents — plus members of Perry Hall Girl Scout Troop 5850 — went to work with about 15 gallons of paint in 20 colors.
They painted cats and dogs and rabbits; suns, moons and stars in a nighttime sky; children's faces and hearts and "smiling" houses.
"The message is a loving home," said Schlossberg-Cohen, wearing a blue T-shirt with the words "Keep Calm and Do a Mitzvot," a take-off of the British expression, "Keep Calm and Carry On."
"A mitzvot isn't just a good deed," he said. "It means you have to do this. It is a sacred duty."
Things didn't look all that solemn Sunday. There is nothing children love more than animals, unless it is playing with paint.
"I am an animal person," said Girl Scout Caroline Hickman, 9, of Chapel Hill Elementary School in Perry Hall, as she painted along side her mother, Carolee. "This will show people that all animals need love and respect and a happy home."
Student artists Josh Seaman, Noah Berman and Noah Heilveil, who played a key role in designing the mural, were working together on a giant rabbit. Each had a different shade of brown and yellow and were working together to get the fur just right.
"It makes me happy," said Noah Berman. "All animals deserve a happy home."
"At least they aren't euthanized here," said Noah Heilveil. "That makes me happy."
Asked what it's like to direct a youthful contingent armed with paint brushes, Schlossberg-Cohen laughed. "I've worked with as many as 700 people. It is like directing a film. It is just organization.
"This is community based public art," he said. "This is my expertise."
The artist took the students' concepts and their drawings and outlined the mural on the front of the animal shelter and on the short retaining wall nearby. Much like paint-by-numbers, the students filled in his outlines under his direction.
"I wanted it to feel kid-like," said Schlossberg-Cohen. "I wanted it to have that quality."
Heather Friedman, a Humane Society board member and a volunteer coordinator, led the tour that caught the imagination of the Temple Emanuel students that day.
The Baltimore Humane Society's facility on Nicodemus Road is a nonprofit, no-kill shelter, but Friedman said nevertheless, "it can be scary for a child to come here. It is sad."
But it is important to reach people at such a young age to sensitize them to the needs of animals, she said.
"This mural makes it so joyous, Friedman said. "This is how a pet can bring happiness to a family."
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