Paintings of shelter dogs on display at Calgary Central Library


The Grade 4 students create a presentation about their animal and paint a portrait of the dog

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Dogs waiting to be adopted in local shelters are now getting some prime advertising space in the Calgary Central Library, thanks to the efforts of a local teacher and her students.

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Rebecca Carruthers-Green started the Empathy Pawject in 2019 with her Grade 4 students at the Foundations for the Future Charter Academy’s southeast elementary campus.

The Empathy Pawject has each child in the class receive a unique story and photo of a dog in a Calgary animal shelter. The students create a presentation about their animal and paint a portrait of the dog.

Carruthers-Green said the project was born out of her master’s thesis, in which she studied whether empathy can be taught or if it needs to be sparked within people. The idea to focus on animals was inspired by Canmore-based photographer Rachel Rodgers, who started an Instagram account that featured photos and stories of adoptable shelter dogs.

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“She’ll get different animals and take photos of them on mountain adventures and hiking adventures,” said Carruthers-Green. “And then she posts those and gets awareness for them that way, through Instagram.”

It seemed the Instagram images were leading to fast adoptions for the animals, so Carruthers-Green reached out to Rodgers for ideas on how to incorporate her idea into the classroom.

“She offered me all of her photographs and all of her stories to use,” she said.

Carruthers-Green now gathers some of her own photos and stories from local shelters, but also uses some of Rodgers’ material.

Aside from pictures of the dogs, students get a history of the animal with information on their temperament and medical needs.

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“They can learn that just like people, animals have differences and how to accept those differences,” she said.

All of the students’ portraits and write-ups on their assigned animals have been posted to Instagram, which may have helped spark many adoptions. This year there’s another way people can see the portraits and learn about the pups.

“For the last two years of the project, we weren’t able to present the kids’ work at a public forum due to COVID,” said Carruthers-Green. “This year, we’re able to do that, so they’re at the Central Library downtown. It’s a big deal for the kids.”

She said there were so many portraits, they weren’t able to display them all at once, so they’re doing them in two shifts.

Carruthers-Green said the students get excited when they learn one of the dogs they painted has been adopted. She recently heard from an adopter who is hoping to bring their dog to the school to meet the students.

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Aside from the Instagram account, Carruthers-Green has posted her lesson plans on the Empathy Pawject website so that other teachers can incorporate the project in their teachings. She said she’s heard from multiple teachers who are using the material, including one in Saudi Arabia.

Rodgers got to meet some of the young artists at the opening of the portrait display at the Central Library.

She said she’s happy to see the project picked up around the world.

“I think Rebecca would have been onto this with or without seeing my project, but I’m happy for any small role my home-finding project played,” she said.

The Empathy Pawject paintings will be on display at the Central Library until June 22.

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