The Dog Project
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” Mahatma Gandhi. I saw this quote this morning written boldly on the blackboard of one of the Parikrma school’s entrance as the Thought of the Day. I smiled to myself with secret pleasure hoping that finally the schools were getting the message that children need to be taught how not only to take care of themselves, their society and their environment but also their animals. It has taken me several sessions with the teachers and administrators to make them understand that children can also learn compassion and responsibility by taking care of animals. To prove this point I found a dog for each of the schools and the children were given the responsibility to take care of them. This is what we did. The message went out that we were looking for abandoned street dogs. I was very clear that we did not want the nice looking pedigreed dogs but the tough street dogs that were survivors, very much like the Parikrma children themselves. So, the little pups started arriving at the four Parikrma schools. But we took it a step further. I told the kids that we needed to have a proper christening ceremony of each of the pups and choose names from Shakespearean plays that they would have to read, to qualify for their dogs. And, that week we saw children in the library with their teachers scouring through Charles Lamb’s tales of Shakespeare. No doubt it was a bit of a short cut to Shakespearean plays but I was happy that the Dog Project got the kids to enjoy reading some fascinating Shakespeare minutely, which in any other circumstance would have been a drudgery. The boisterous black snouted dog in Jayanagar got named Bianca from Merchant of Venice. The white nervous little dog in Koramangla got named Titania from Midsummer Nights Dream. The strange light hazel eyed dog with erect ears in Sahakaranagar earned the name of Portia from Merchant of Venice. She would run away from school and land in our office whenever the children would practice for sports or any festival. She is considered the only drop out we have had in school and now spends more time in the office and my home. She is a disgrace to the education fraternity but even drop outs have to be taken care of and have to be vocationally trained. So, to replace her we found Romeo that was soon followed by a Juliet and they make a handsome pair in our school compound. But wait ,that’s not all. Our youngest school in Nandini Layout found an Isabella from Tempest to guard the doors. The Parikrma family is now complete with the dog mascots in place. The children now needed to be taught that dogs are loving and loyal if taken care of. We had to teach them that dogs have feelings, they want love and feel sad when neglected. We had to teach them that they get hurt when their ears are pinched and tails are pulled. We explained to them about the anatomy of a dog’s ears and why they get scared during thunderstorms and when people burst crackers. I was overjoyed when children themselves decided to have a Green Diwali and not burst crackers not only to reduce pollution but also because of what it would do to Bianca, Portia, Titania, Isabella, Romeo and Juliet – If their dogs got distressed with crackers they realized what it does to other dogs on the streets who have no place to hide. A big step towards compassion. As days progressed we got the dogs to enter the kindergarten classes for Show & Tell. Our little five year olds who get exposed to English for the first time in school itself, were taught to feel Bianca’s fur and learn the words soft, brown, and short. They began to count numbers by prying open Romeo’s mouth and peering into his teeth. They learnt action words by observing Titania and Isabella. Our dogs were better teaching aids than even the Salman Khan Academy videos! Our dogs too learnt to be patient and follow class rules. Taking the dog for a walk is a far more cherished award than several stickers and smiley face stamps. We try and teach our children to observe and guess what their dog is feeling which is a great lesson on contemplative observation. If children are taught to be sensitive to emotions that are not always verbalized much of the conflict we face in adulthood would be reduced. Dogs are the best such teachers. It bothers me when I see dogs being stoned on the streets when they bark, shooed away when they are hungry. It is absolutely true that the real test of character is revealed by the way one treats animals and other creatures who don’t speak the human language but have the same emotions. I hope that the Dog Project would help bring up kids that have to struggle to do well in life but will also look at the world not only as a home for humans but all living creatures. And no one can teach us this as well as dogs.
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