Guest post by Erin Hartiens-Santiago – Pit Crew Graduate Parent, Love-A-Bull Volunteer, Former Foster, Dog Trainer, and founder of The Journey Project
A few weeks ago, the Pit Crew training class of 2013 had a unique opportunity to “strut their stuff.” Students and teachers at The BeHive, an innovative afterschool program for school-age children, invited the Love-A-Bull therapy dog training class to visit them for Parents’ Night at Allison Elementary School. Each semester, The BeHive students complete at least one service learning project, which include activities like participating in neighborhood clean-ups, creating holiday cards for soldiers, creating activity kits for children’s shelters, and donating to the homeless animals in their communities. This semester, the group chose to donate the creations from their latest service project to Love-A-Bull, and our dogs were the lucky recipients of their efforts!
The BeHive has been partnered with Love-A-Bull and the Pit Crew therapy dog teams since 2011. Several of the Pit Crew therapy dogs visit the students and teachers monthly, so the kids are old pros and eagerly anticipate their time with the group. Our current Pit Crew class, however, was getting its’ first “hands on” experience, and we were feeling a little nervous about our visit! All seven dogs and their handlers spent weeks preparing for their first public appearance, and the children and staff of The BeHive were excited to see us! Our dogs were definitely ready to perform, and each one walked into the elementary school on their best behavior. The dogs panted and smiled, wiggled and wagged their tails, then sat patiently in the hallway while we waited for the Parents Night activities to begin. Some of the kids came out to meet us in the hallways, and several of them were taking turns making a video. They “interviewed” the handlers, and took video and pictures of the dogs. We felt a little like celebrities.
Finally, the time came for us to make our grand entrance. Our trainer, Crystal, led us to a group of chairs, and we each sat down and settled our dogs beside us. The children sat down in front of us, and we had a moment to introduce ourselves and our dogs. Crystal spoke briefly about the importance of proper dog introductions and body language. She explained the “nice” way to approach a new dog and how to ask permission to pet it. The children had a chance to ask questions about the Pit Crew dogs, and then they took turns politely meeting each one of them. The dogs were doing great, and the kids were excited to be a part of our training! After the initial meetings, each dog and handler took a seat at different stations around the room, and the children split up into groups. Each group had a few minutes to visit the dogs, pet them and ask questions. It was a fantastic opportunity for the Pit Crew trainees to practice their manners and calm behavior while the children learned more about dog training and practiced their polite petting etiquette!
Towards the end of our visit, the teachers announced that the group had just wrapped up an exciting service project theme called “Kids Empowerment.” These projects focus on encouraging youth voice, self-confidence and learning about the power youth can have in changing lives and their communities. Their most recent work involved a donation drive and toy making for animal shelters. The group surprised the Pit Crew team by presenting their creations during our visit. The kids went around the room and proudly handed out tug-o-war toys made from recycled t-shirts, and bandanas for each dog to wear. They also had many hand-made toys to donate to the Love-A-bull adopt-a-bull dogs, who are still waiting on their forever homes. The gifts brought many of us to tears, and it was the perfect way to end our time with the kids, their parents and their teachers.
Many of us will remember our first visit to the children at The BeHive with great fondness. The group helped bring home an important message – one we hope to share with our community as Pit Bull advocates – we are all capable of sharing joy, a positive message and helping our community by promoting the care and well-being of animals. The children, parents and staff of the BeHive accepted our group of Pit Crew “hopefuls” with open and loving arms, and we should all be so lucky to have that type of acceptance, no matter where we go in the world! To learn more about how you can make a difference in your community, visit www.love-a-bull.org.
The BeHive is a free afterschool and summer program, serving at-risk youth in Texas, in grades K-6th at three separate locations in Austin: Allison Elementary, Oak Springs Elementary, and the Greater Mount Zion community. Students at The BeHive have been found to have high levels of academic potential, and when challenged with difficult concepts and the expectation that they could achieve solutions, have produced work of remarkable quality. For more information about the program, visit www.behiveaustin.org.
Filed under: Pit Crew