The Crossroads Campus Caring Connections team – 2 dogs and 5 humans – walked into the room. We were greeted by 30 or so restless kids, full of energy after a long day at school. Chaos, tinged with a little fear and a little delight, threatened to break out. Not to worry, the fabulous staff at the Boys & Girls Club of Middle Tennessee managed the kids beautifully. Those who were afraid of the dogs kept a very respectable distance, while those who were the most excited took a seat a much closer to the action.
For an hour the CC Team talked, played games, and demonstrated being safe around dogs. Through games – like bingo – and discussion the kids learned to approach a friendly dog, pet and give treats respectfully, and to over come fear. Together we talked about “being a tree” or “being a rock” when encountering dangerous dogs.
At the end of the hour (it went by in the blink of an eye), every child – even those who were fearful in the beginning – approached and interacted with Nike the Black Labrador Retriever and Spanky the Shih Tzu. Fear gave way to delight as the kids learned how to show respect, empathy and compassion for others who were not like themselves.
That’s the fabulous thing about pairing dogs and people. Through learning empathy for the “other”, in this case a dog, people of all ages can learn to show compassion and respect. When the kids put themselves in the shoes of the “other” it helps build a positive experience, an experience that can be repeated in the future. Through our Humane Education class that day we helped the kids make Nike and Spanky feel safe. The kids learned that some of the same things that make a dog feel safe and calm are the same thing that makes them feel safe and calm, like respecting personal space, using calm, quiet voices, not taking the dogs’ toys or food while they are eating. Those positive experiences help build compassion and respect for those “others” – people and animals who are different.
Compassion. Empathy. Respect. Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of Humane Education. Those are the core beliefs that fuel what Crossroads Campus is doing in the community through our Caring Connections Program.
At the end of the session at the Boys & Girls Club one of the girls approached Nike to pet her and give treats. Then she asked to keep the flower that Nike was wearing. Charlie, Nike’s handler, smiled and gave her the flower. She skipped away with a smile. She was one of the children who were afraid in the beginning. Compassion, empathy and respect…principles that are life changing!