How do you instill compassion and empathy in children? For PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society) of Norwalk, the answer is to teach them how to love and care for a dog.
Every Monday and the first Saturday of every month at 11 a.m., volunteers from PAWS bring dogs from their shelter to the Stepping Stones Museum for Children at 203 West Ave. in Norwalk.
The dogs are part of the national Mutt-i-grees Program created by the Yale University School of the 21st Century and the Pet Savers Foundation, the development arm of the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, N.Y., one of the nation's largest no-kill shelters.
The program is funded by the Cesar Millan Foundation. Millan, better known as the "Dog Whisperer," believes strongly in the bond between a child and a dog.
He saw this bond as a way of teaching empathy.
At the museum, the children interact with the dogs.
They learn how to meet a dog, read canine body language and interpret barking as well as how to successfully interact with the animal. The children discover how to be calm and nurturing with the animal.
The curriculum developed by Mutt-i-grees uses dogs to foster social and emotional skills as well as teaching children respect for an animal, which is the first step in a humane education.
As part of the program, PAWS volunteers also teach the children about shelter animals, what you need to do if you want to adopt a dog, and safe handling techniques for animals.
"The Mutt-i-grees program has been successfully implemented throughout the country," Lisa DiDonato, volunteer coordinator for PAWS, said. "Through the program, bullying has stopped in schools and teachers report classes are more quiet and orderly. We are pleased that the Stepping Stones Museum initiated this program because we believe that teaching children how to interact with a dog encourages them to be kind and caring. These are lessons that will help them in all facets of their lives."
I love my dogs. They have taught me unconditional love, comforted me with things get rough and bonded with me on a deep level. I am glad that because of PAWS hundreds of children will have an opportunity to interact with a dog and experience their trust, love and devotion. Mutt-i-grees is a great program and an important step in creating a more humane society.