Ace made a big impression on pre-k and kindergarten students at Baltimore’s Lakewood Elementary School yesterday, dazzling them with tricks, soaking up their pats and hugs and swearing in two classrooms whose students took the “Oath of Kindness,” a pledge to be kind to animals.
How this latest stop in our continuing travels came to pass was actually pretty simple, and amazingly bureaucracy-free.
A teacher friend asked if we’d visit. We said yes. She got the necessary clearances and, before you know it, a 130-pound Rottweiler-Akita-chow-pit bull mix was being snuggled, stroked and hugged by a bunch of children half his size.
Karma Dogs, the therapy dog organization of which Ace is a member, came up with two more volunteers who visited the school along with Ace and me — Janet Shepherd and her dog Tami, and Kathryn Corrigan and her dog Puddy.
Together, we covered six classrooms in just over an hour, administering the oath, passing along some basic dog safety tips and stressing the importance of treating animals kindly.
Karma Dogs developed the “Oath of Kindness” after the death of Phoenix, a pit bull puppy who was set on fire by Baltimore teenagers in the summer of 2009 — not the first, or last, case of its type in the city.
The oath reads: “I … pledge always to be kind to animals. I promise never to hurt an animal, be it dog or cat, furry or fat. I promise to tell my friends to be kind to animals and if I see an animal that is being hurt I will tell an adult right away. Scaly or slimy, feathered or blue, to this promise I will be true.”
After reciting the pledge, the children receive a certificate,which is “pawtographed” by the dog, in this case, Ace. The hope is that children who have openly declared they will not be violent towards animals will remember that, tell their friends and inform adults when they see an animal being taunted or abused.
Of the students Ace and I appeared before, about a dozen raised their hands when I asked who was afraid of dogs. But only one declined a chance to pet Ace. Several more had some trepidations, but those seemed to melt away as they watched the other children interact with him.
They were eager to ask questions, and talk about their own pets. One girl spent three minutes talking about her Chihuahua, which she said had the same name she did. Not until the end of her dissertation did she reveal that her dog was a stuffed toy.
I cautioned them against approaching stray dogs, told them to always to ask the owner before approaching a dog, showed them how to let dogs sniff their hands as an introduction and encouraged them to treat dogs as they’d like to be treated — calmly, kindly and lovingly.
Ace made an impression on the children in several ways, I think –through his size alone, his gentleness and his back story: a stray adopted from the shelter, like most of the other Karma Dogs, who went on to try and help humans.
He also made an impression with his pawprint, stamped on each of the certificates that was handed out.
The teacher behind the event (who also took these photos) was Marite Edwards, a longtime friend of Ace’s. When she took the idea to her principal, she learned that the school and district were looking at ways to add dog safety and kindness to animals to the curriculum.
That another case of animal abuse surfaced in Baltimore over the weekend — that of a cat set on fire by two teenagers — confirmed just how much those lessons are needed.
You can find more information about Karma Dogs at its website.
(Photos by Marite Edwards)