Wolfdogs in the Classroom: An Eye-Opening Experience
By Kim Miles
In the summer of 2000, [the late] Beth Palmer, former Vice President of FLA, had the opportunity of making a wolfdog presentation to an elementary school class. However, by the time the day was done, Beth and her wolfdogs had presented themselves to the entire school: five classes of children that ranged from the first grade to the third grade and their teachers.
Nervous about making a presentation to so many small children, Beth had to determine which of her animals would be the best representatives to meet very young children. The biggest problem she had was narrowing down the numbers to the two best representatives.
She finally decided on her 1-½-year-old rescue wolfdog named Prophet (also affectionately called ‘Crusty’), whom some of you might remember from the FLA Rendezvous in Ocala in April 2000.
Prophet is a big boy and, therefore, might have intimidated some of the children, so Beth also decided to take the puppy that she had recently acquired. After all, kids love puppies—even if it is a wolf or wolfdog puppy.
At school, the Director of the County Humane Society, who had specifically requested that Beth put on this presentation, awaited her along with the teachers and students.
In the first class, Beth opened with the Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs fairytales: “Has anyone ever heard stories about the big, bad wolf?”
This turned out to be a perfect lead-in to a discussion of the differences between fiction and fact and also allowed for a wonderful opening to explain that no person has ever been killed by a wolf in the wild in North America.
Beth then asked the class who the bravest child was; nearly all of the students raised their hands, with the exception of a very few who were actually quite afraid of these animals. She selected the most frightened children to approach the front of the classroom and to pet the animals.
The children tentatively patted the puppy first. When they saw how friendly and relaxed she was, they became bolder and began petting and loving on Prophet—who basked in all of the attention he was getting. By the end of the day, the puppy and Prophet had been mobbed by the children and had loved every minute of it.
Beth had still not chosen a name for the puppy and had explained to the students that she couldn’t think of a name other than the nickname that she had given her: Rotten. The children became excited and an impromptu name contest began. By the end of the day, Beth’s puppy received her official name: WrecksAnne (a combination of two of the names submitted).
Because Prophet and the puppy have very similar coloring, many asked if they were brother and sister. Beth was then able to point out that most wolves were similarly colored because their hair is banded (i.e., the hairs are not made up of one color but different bands of colors) and, therefore, a mix of many colors instead of just one.
In addition to hair color, the children also learned about canine posturing and submission. WrecksAnne constantly solicited attention from Prophet by licking his chin; Prophet finally responded with an aggravated growl, at which point she then promptly fell down and submissively rolled over onto her back.
Beth took this time to explain posturing and how important it was for canines—since they couldn’t speak—to tell each other what they were feeling. She made many of the posturings analogous to people putting their hands out to shake them in greeting, or holding their arms out to a loved one in greeting, or dropping their heads in shame when a teacher or parent catches them doing something wrong.
The children seemed to have a greater understanding of canine behavior after this educational lesson.
The most rewarding part of the whole experience for Beth was being able to watch children change from being afraid and tentative in the presence of the wolfdogs to being delighted and happy to be with them.
Beth and the critters were such a hit with the school and the Humane Society that they have been invited back for the next school year. Kudos to Beth for a job well done!
—Reprinted from Florida Lupine News, Fall 2000