Teacher's Pup

September 21, 2018
CANINE CARE Student Abby Walker, 13, cuddles a rescue dog.

“Hi, Brody! Hi, Shelby!” Abby Walker says as she enters her principal’s office. Brody is a mix of Labrador retriever, Great Dane, and German shepherd. He runs toward Abby. Shelby is a border collie mix. She is also eager to be petted.

Abby, 13, is a student at Shell Bank. Shell Bank is a junior high school in Brooklyn, New York. Brody belongs to Principal Teri Ahearn, and Shelby belongs to a teacher. Abby likes to visit the pups. “When I was new to Shell Bank in sixth grade, it was hard to settle down,” Abby told TIME for Kids. The dogs, she says, soon helped her “meet new people.”

BACK RUBS A student at Shell Bank pets a relaxed Brody.


Class Pets

Shell Bank uses Brody and Shelby as part of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum. Yale University’s School of the 21st Century and the Pet Savers Foundation, a division of New York’s North Shore Animal League America, created Mutt-i-grees in 2010. The curriculum brings dogs into classrooms to help students develop empathy.

Matia Finn-Stevenson is the director of the School of the 21st Century. She says the curriculum trains students to look at a dog’s body language. “Students ask themselves, ‘Is the dog wagging its tail? Is it shaking? And what does this show about the dog’s emotions?’ You can apply this skill to people, too,” Finn-Stevenson explains. “By learning how to read a dog’s body language, you can learn how to read people’s body language and see how they feel.”

Mutt-i-grees also teaches the importance of rescuing pets from animal shelters (see sidebar, "By the Numbers"). Brody and Shelby were adopted from a shelter. Principal Ahearn says “the dogs have made kids feel better about themselves.”

LESSONS ON A LEASH Students at Fenway High School, in Boston, learn empathy from dogs.


A School’s Best Bud

More than 4,000 schools, libraries, and community centers across the United States and Canada teach the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum. Marion Endress teaches at Hancock Place Elementary, in Lemay, Missouri. She uses her rescue dog, Desi, to teach compassion. “Before Desi was adopted, he was treated badly,” Endress says. “My students and I discuss the consequences of bullying.”

Mutt-i-grees also inspires kids to support animal shelters. For example, Shell Bank raised $500 for a shelter. Sal Amato, 15, says the school used the money to buy food for the pets.

Sal recently graduated from Shell Bank. But he still visits Brody and Shelby. The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum motivated him to do well in school. “My grades have gone up,” Sal says as he pets the friendly mutts. “And it’s all because of these guys.”

PUPPY LOVE A rescue pup visits Stepping Stones Museum for Children, in Connecticut.


By the Numbers

Each year, millions of pets end up in animal shelters. The numbers below show the extent of the problem. They also offer hope: Each year, more than 1 million dogs are rescued and wind up in loving homes. Don’t worry, cat fanciers. The figure is the same for felines.

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters every year.

  • Of those, around 3.3 million are dogs.

  • An estimated 1.6 million dogs are adopted from shelters every year.

Stop & Think! Whom did the author interview for the article? What perspective does each bring to the story? If you could hear from more people, who would they be, and why?

Assessment: Click here for a printable quiz. Teacher subscribers can find the answer key in this week's Teacher's Guide.

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