Max the pit bull was a shelter dog and has a lot to teach children about his breed, animal shelters and compassion.
The third-graders at St. Vincent de Paul Parish School in Elm Grove, Wheeling, recently learned all about Max and from reading and discussing the short book, "Max, the Shelter Dog," by Nicole Rivera.
Claudia Raymer, who works with special needs children at the school, presented the book to teacher Laura Demarest's class as part of St. Vincent's service learning curricula. Raymer has a special interest in the book because she teamed up with Rivera to create "Max's Animal Compassion Curriculum" for elementary school teachers to use in their classrooms.
"I became 'friends' with Max, the Shelter Dog on Facebook," Raymer said, explaining how she became involved with the curriculum development. Rivera sought help with getting the book into schools, and Raymer offered her assistance. She suggested content areas for the book, such as reading, language arts and social studies.
"I also helped her with suggestions to make accommodations for children with special needs," Raymer said.
Rivera, a New York City artist, said the goal of the book and the companion curriculum "is to teach children animal compassion and to inspire them to save a life, so that one day there will be no need for shelters."
Through the book and companion lessons, the students learned how they could help shelter animals by adopting them, volunteering at the shelter and donating food and toys.
The book introduces readers to Max, a brown and white pit bull whose family felt he became "too strong" to play with their child, so they took him to the shelter. There, he made friends with other dogs, waited to be adopted and enjoyed visits from "the nice lady," whom all the dogs loved because she walked them and played with them.
Several of his friends were euthanized, and although Max was young, healthy and well-behaved, he nearly was put to sleep, too. He narrowly escaped when "the nice lady" decided to adopt him.
Rivera was inspired to write the book after she and her husband volunteered at their local shelter, and she made friends with several pit bulls, including one named Max.
Raymer read the book to the St. Vincent's third-graders and led them in discussion. The curriculum comes with coloring page templates, and each child colored a picture of a dog of their choosing. Then, they each drew a "happy ending" they envisioned for the story. They also discussed ways they could help.
In addition, the students e-mailed questions to Rivera, and she answered each question in detail and posted the questions and answers on her Web site, www.maxtheshelterdog.com. Pictures of the students engaging in the curriculum also are included on the site.
"The third-graders at St. Vincent's were absolutely wonderful. They are an intelligent group of children who truly understood the message that Max's Animal Compassion Curriculum was trying to send," Rivera said in an e-mail interview.
"One little girl named Leah impressed me by wanting me to know that she keeps asking her dad if she can adopt a homeless horse because they live on a farm. That to me is priceless, because Leah got the big picture. So did one little boy who asked me why I didn't mention cats in my story and insisted on drawing a happy ending for a cat.
"That big picture is that Max (and the curriculum) is not only about dogs in shelters, it's about all animals - cats, horses, reptiles, etc. It's all about saving a life no matter what kind and about respecting animals."
The students were impressed that Rivera answered all their questions and put them on the Web site. Several of them have adopted animals in the past and several more hope to adopt pets, volunteer at the local shelter or hold fundraisers for the shelter.
Raymer said the curriculum not only teaches the children animal compassion, but that lesson also goes hand in hand with human compassion and "putting others before yourself."
"Claudia has been tireless in her efforts to help with (the curriculum). With her knowledge and expertise, Claudia made it more complete," Rivera said. "She has been invaluable and has become a true and dear friend of mine, and I am grateful to have her in my life."