Congratulations, Sunny Sands Elementary!

Ok, so I’ve never had children, but I’ll never forget one of my best friends saying to me once that when you have a child, it’s like your heart is suddenly walking around out there in the big world, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen – how your child will be received, treated, liked, or loved. You spend years of your life investing time and nurture in that child, hoping and praying that everything will be ok, that they won’t experience rejection or hurt.

Being an entrepreneur is kind of like that. You create something from your heart, and then you put your heart out there and then – you just don’t know what’s going to happen – how your idea will be received, treated, liked, or loved. You spend years of your life investing time and nurture in that idea, hoping and praying that everything will be ok, and that you won’t experience rejection or hurt.

The differences, of course, are obvious. But much of the time you really don’t know, as a business owner, how your ideas and offerings will be accepted in the world. But this morning – this morning was one of those rare moments when I felt like it’s all been worth it. When the careful nurturing, the hours and hours and hours of focused attention and love I’ve poured into my offering, came back to me in spades. I imagine it’s the business equivalent of seeing your child get nominated for “Student of the Year.” That moment when you think, “Oh thank God, some of it is finally paying off. I’m not a terrible parent after all!”

This morning, Sunny Sands Elementary School held their 2nd Grade Reading Celebration and Adoption Ceremony as the culmination of the program I crafted from my heart and have loved from it’s beginning: “How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in the Classroom.” Over 130 children and a sprinkling of parents streamed into the large room, the children clutching the little plush dogs they have named and “fostered” over the past ten weeks, holding them close to their hearts, and proudly displaying their bright, yellow Adoption Certificates. I watched from a distance, taking it all in, until one of them recognized me.

“Hey! It’s the lady from the videos!” said one little boy. “Yeah! It’s the dog lady!” said another (no, that did not insult me in the least, if you are wondering), “Hey everybody look, it’s Dr. Lori!”

One hundred heads turned, and then chaos broke loose. Everybody needed my attention, instantly. One young boy with dark, serious eyes held his dog up to me and said, “Dr. Lori, I give my dog tons of respect. On the way here, I used my Adoption Certificate to keep him out of the sun because it’s too hot for him.” Another boy rocked two dogs in his arms. “I’m babysitting for my friend,” he explained quietly. And then voices came from everywhere, “We LOVE your videos! Thank you for your videos!”

I was almost in tears from this outpouring of gratitude when I got up on the stage to lead their Love Pledge – a right of passage before these students would earn the privilege of taking these dogs home with them to “adopt” and become a part of their forever families. I asked the students to place one hand on their heart, and to please repeat after me:

By accepting this certificate, I promise to always be kind to my dog. I promise to love my dog no matter what. I promise to never pull my dog’s tail or be mean in any way. I promise to tell my dog these things: I am so proud of you. You are so special.You are so smart, and I love you – just as you are.

After the ceremony, I planned to wave to the students to say good-bye. But instead, I received over fifty hugs from thrilled, smiling new “pet parents” as they broke away from their teachers to embrace me in a rush of gratitude. I wish I could show you some of their beautiful, beaming faces.

It was one of those moments when it seemed like everyone present could feel the positive energy in the room, the elevated sense that this is what matters, that this is a slice of the good in the world, and what Aristotle must have had in mind when he wrote, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

There are moments, as an entrepreneur, when it feels like I just want to give up. When it feels like the mountain is just too big to climb, the goal is just too big, when I wonder if it’s all worth it, and when I wonder if any of this is making a difference at all. Today, these students reminded me that it absolutely is worth it, and that we really are making an incredible difference in this world, one heart and mind at a time.

Thank you, Sunny Sands teachers, for your amazing work with these children in literacy and in compassion for animals. I am deeply, deeply grateful for your time, for your commitment, and for your invitation to attend today and remind me of what really matters. You are the real reason for this program’s success, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support.


What One Teacher Said that Surprised and Thrilled Me

IMG_1346When I first designed this program, How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in the Classroom, my intention was to help children become stronger, more confident readers while learning to be kind, safe, and compassionate towards dogs and other animals. We are now rounding the corner to enter our sixth week of the program, and on Friday I had a lunch meeting with the teachers to check in with them and see how everything was going. They told me that “The kids absolutely love this program” and that things were going really well. I was happy to hear all of this, of course, but something one teacher said next took me by surprise.

51tej6UL-lL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_This teacher looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, this program has certainly taught me to be kinder to my dog.” I looked at her. “What do you mean?” I asked. She explained that she had just taught Lesson 5, which features a wonderful book called Before You Were Mine by Maribeth Boelts. This book tells the story of a little boy’s wonderings about what kind of a life his dog had before his family took him home from the shelter.

The teacher explained that she too had adopted a dog from a shelter, and that he had all kinds of undesirable behaviors that frustrated and annoyed her. But then she explained that not only this book, but all of the lessons the children had been learning, had given her new insight into her dog’s behaviors and gave her some context for why, perhaps, her dog didn’t behave in ways that we would hope for. Sadly, especially when an animal has been abused, the fear and trauma from the abuse can lead to excessive chewing, barking, and other anxiety-related behaviors that are sometimes transferred (often temporarily) into their new home. This is not unlike adopting a child who has spent time in foster care and may suffer from separation anxiety or have other special needs. (But certainly, the many benefits of adopting a dog from a shelter outweigh the risks – most of these dogs are already house-trained, and are through the challenging “puppy phase” of their development). Having empathy for what so many of these poor animals have been through before they come into your home can often mean the difference between responding with kindness and love or anger and punishment (which just makes things worse), when your dog exhibits some of these behaviors.

As this teacher explained the shift in her understanding about the life and “special needs” of some shelter dogs, I began to think about the 125 or more parents who have been participating in weekly “BoneWork” (homework) assignments with their children each week during this program. Although I believed that this program would help children to become increasingly compassionate around dogs, I hadn’t really considered the impact it would have on the adults in these students’ lives. It is my hope that these activities and challenges have inspired conversations between children and their parents at home in which these children, now armed with increased knowledge and insight about dogs, can help their parents to learn to interact with increased empathy and compassion around their family pets, just as this teacher was learning. This is especially important because parents of children this age are generally the primary care-givers for family pets.

Stay tuned and I will be able to share more once I send home surveys for the parents to complete at the end of this program (in only a few more weeks) to find out what their learning and their experience has been!