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Animal magic in the classroom

The Dogs Trust delivers 500 workshops in Glasgow schools every year, using our four-legged friends to teach about the cost and responsibility of caring for an animal. Jackie Cosh reports

The Dogs Trust delivers 500 workshops in Glasgow schools every year, using our four-legged friends to teach about the cost and responsibility of caring for an animal. Jackie Cosh reports

I am sitting with a group of Primary 6 children, working out the yearly cost of a dog. Ten-year-old Connor McKenna used to have four dogs, so he thinks we should start with insurance. That's pound;18 x 12. Then there's the cost of dog training classes at roughly pound;60. And so on.

It's turning out to be a costly business and the P6 children from St Bride's Primary in Bothwell, just outside Glasgow, are totally engrossed in the calculations.

At the end of the exercise, all the groups gather at the front to compare notes. One group has come up with a figure of pound;724; another has a total as low as pound;334. Meanwhile, Lorraine Hare, the Dogs Trust's education officer for Glasgow, has an estimated figure of pound;914. Every group has underestimated the true cost of owning a dog.

The largest dog welfare charity in the UK, the Dogs Trust delivers more than 500 workshops to schools in the Glasgow area every year, allowing children to learn about dogs, learn through dogs, and spend some time with Donny the Dog - Ms Hare's own pet labrador.

Today's workshop is called "Cost of a Dog". It is designed for children aged seven to 11 and its aim is twofold - to teach the boys and girls about owning a dog and that as responsible citizens they should carefully consider whether their family can afford one; and to spend some time doing maths in context.

Ms Hare says: "When schools book a workshop, I ask if there is a curriculum area they want me to focus on. All the workshops are different and can be tailored to the school. It works better if there is a specific focus and it can be linked back to the class. They can also use our online resources."

The children had been studying the economy in class, and when their teacher Alison Mechan informed them that the workshop would tie in with their economy work, they were a bit perplexed and asked how.

"It's been good," says Mrs Mechan, "because it gets them looking at budgets from another angle. But it also gets the message across that a dog is not just for Christmas."

While Donny relaxes at the front of the class, Ms Hare gets the children thinking about the different costs of having a dog and all the things it needs. They are allowed to give him water from his bowl, and Donny gives a "high five" when he is given a dog biscuit.

The children are full of ideas but also listen intently as Ms Hare explains about neutering, dog tags and vet bills. They hear about Marley, a two-year-old terrier cross whose owners could no longer afford to look after him.

A bed costing pound;10, two bowls costing pound;6. all the items which a dog arriving at the Dogs Trust needs are totalled up and the children spend a bit of time doing some mental maths.

Tomorrow Mrs Mechan plans to follow up on what they have learnt.

"I'll get them to make a leaflet giving advice for getting a dog, maybe including costs etc. But I don't want it to be a leaflet promoting getting a dog," she says. "I want it to promote the responsibility aspect."

This ties in with what Ms Hare feels she has achieved.

"The children have been engaged and enthusiastic," she says, "and I feel they have taken away the main message I wanted to put across: that a dog is expensive, hard work and not something to be entered into lightly. These are the dog owners of tomorrow."

Paws for thought

The Dogs Trust provides a selection of free school workshops:

- Responsible Dog Ownership: understanding the importance of caring for dogs;

- Safety Around Dogs: pupils learn how to interact safely with dogs;

- A Dog's Needs: what does a dog need to be happy and healthy?

- Inspector Paws - Science: linking to the five senses, children discover what a dog sees, smells, hears, feels and tastes;

- Cost of a Dog - Mathematics: learning about the costs involved in responsible dog ownership, understanding the realistic costs of caring and providing for a dog;

- Careers - World of Work: discovering animal welfare careers;

- Enterprise: some schools choose to fundraise for the dogs and this workshop supports their efforts and thanks them for their hard work;

- Eco Schools: supporting the Eco Schools programme, this workshop highlights ways that dog owners can help to care for the environment and local community.

- The Dogs Trust's education website includes fun online games and resources covering pre-school, primary and secondary, categorised by subject. There is also a free CD-Rom.

www.learnwith dogs.co.uk

Lorraine.Hare@dogstrust.org.uk

0141 773 5142.

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