Canine Curriculum for Kids

Combating the pet overpopulation problem with education.
By JoAnna Lou, September 2014
Nine years ago, filmmaker Tom McPhee was sent to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans to document animal rescue efforts. After discovering a world where people risked everything to save animals, Tom was inspired to create the World Animal Awareness Society to capture human-canine interactions on film.

Tom's mission led him to Detroit where he witnessed firsthand the dire overpopulation problem (according to Detroit Dog Rescue, over 90 percent of stray dogs in the city are euthanized) and the negative perception around stray animals. Tom was determined to get to the root cause of the issue and believed the key was teaching the kids of Detroit.

Tom worked with two teachers, Beth Molnar and Catherine Potoff, to develop an eight-week curriculum that combines lessons about dogs with subjects such as reading, math, and social studies. People in Detroit grow up learning to run from stray animals to avoid getting bit. The goal of the Good Pet Guardian lessons is to help kids become more aware of dogs and how they interact with them, while creating more empathy.

This month the curriculum will roll out to fourth- and fifth-graders at Dixon Educational Learning Academy in Detroit. The modules were made specifically for the city, exploring the history of human-canine interactions and how negative economic conditions can affect pets. The students will be assigned to observe and record dogs they see around their homes.

In addition to the community centered lessons, the students will also write an essay from the perspective of a stray and learn what to do if they come across one.

I just love this approach to the overpopulation problem. Not only does it spark a much needed mindset shift around animals in Detroit, but it creates a generation of advocates for homeless pets.

Tom plans to eventually bring the Good Pet Guardian lessons to other schools in Detroit and around the country. 4th and 5th grade teachers can request a copy of the lesson plans through their web site.

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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