To watch a video of Allison and her dog in action, click here.
Allison Basinger was happy and fulfilled teaching high school theater. But in 2013 when she heard there was an opening for a humane education manager at Wayside Waifs, one of Kansas City, Missouri’s largest no-kill animal shelters, the pet lover wanted to learn more. Once she found out that the position entailed going into some of the greater metro area’s schools to implement prevention programming with trained companion animals, Allison was all in for the unexpected career change.
At Wayside, her first order of business was to update the nonprofit’s anti-bullying materials. “I knew from my work at the high school level that if violence prevention isn’t addressed with kids early on, it only gets worse,” says Allison, 40. “The sooner, the better.” Her goal was to come up with interactive lesson plans appropriate for third- through fifth-graders that emphasize preventing bullying rather than reacting after it has already occurred—an important distinction, she notes. The revitalized curriculum, called “No More Bullying!,” teaches students the importance of five core values: responsibility, compassion, self-control, integrity and being humane. “This is truly a primary prevention program because it teaches students values and behaviors that, if practiced every day, stop bullying before it even occurs,” says Allison.
Central to her vision was incorporating companion animals into the lessons, which are designed to be taught for an hour a day over five days. “Bringing a dog into the classroom is a huge game-changer,” says Allison. “Without exception, the kids are fascinated by the fact that there’s a furry friend in the room, and it changes the dynamic in the best possible way.”
Julie Bover, a fifth-grade teacher at Korte Elementary School in Independence, MO, agrees. She says some of her students were eager to hug Allison’s dog, while others were just content to wonder where he would end up choosing to sit. Either way, “I think the relationship between dog and owner that Allison models is invaluable,” says Julie. “Her compassion sparked much needed conversation in my class.”
The Power of Two
By 2015 there was more demand for humane education from Wayside Waifs than Allison could reasonably handle. Enter Ashley Stanley, 30, a former program director for YMCA youth development services. “I mostly wanted to work at Wayside so I could bring my dog Maisy to work every day,” she jokes. But then she turns serious. “Seeing the effect that Maisy has on children has been huge for me. As the week goes on, they’re just loving on her like there’s no tomorrow,” Ashley says. “I can see changes in their hearts because of her. It’s incredible.”
Typically, Allison and Ashley are booked six months to a year in advance. They always intend to take a breather when school lets out, since the work can be emotionally draining. But inevitably their focus turns to brainstorming tweaks to the curriculum to make it even more effective. “All kids should have love around them and grow up feeling valued,” says Ashley. “Wayside’s program is our way to make that a reality.”
For more information or to purchase the curriculum, visit waysidewaifs.org.