Cuddly companions teach compassion

Otago SPCA dog Wilbur teaches empathy to Kingslea Puketai School pupils (from left) Jordan and...
Otago SPCA dog Wilbur teaches empathy to Kingslea Puketai School pupils (from left) Jordan and Charlie in Andersons Bay. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.

Dogs teaching compassion to underprivileged children are set to be joined by more cuddly staff.

Kingslea Puketai School assistant principal Jan Stevens said Otago SPCA dogs had taught empathy to the eight pupils at the Andersons Bay, Dunedin, school twice a week for nearly two terms.

For more than 20 years, the school, a Child Youth and Family facility, has been helping young people aged 8-17 put their lives back on track.

The first two animals in the programme have been American Staffordshire cross Tui and blue heeler cross Wilbur, but a greater selection of animals, such as guinea pigs and kittens, were to be introduced to the programme, which would be extended to five days a week next month, she said.

Puketai care and protection residence manager Judy Larking said the animal teachers were non-threatening, non-judgemental, provided unconditional love and taught empathy and compassion.

The programme also displayed how animals were sentient beings, with feelings and emotions, just like people.

Some pupils shunned human contact but felt at ease cuddling an animal, she said.

''The backgrounds of some of the young people may well mirror some of the experiences the animals have had.''

Otago SPCA education officer/inspector Steph Saunders said most animals at the North Dunedin shelter came from ''humble beginnings''.

When dog Tui was rescued from a gang, she was incredibly nervous, emaciated and too scared to eat.

She was introverted and needed regular cuddles and reassurance, so was ideal for the programme.

Wilbur was the complete opposite, an extrovert, who played ball with the children before any suggestion of a snuggle.

For many children, it was the first time they had come in to contact with any animal.

Pupil Jordan enjoyed being active with Wilbur and pupil Charlie enjoyed endless cuddles with Tui.

Charlie said she had ''naughty but good at heart'' dogs growing up and now she was living at the school she enjoyed the contact with the dogs and was looking forward to more animals coming to the school, more often.


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