Mr. Stewart’s high school students are learning a valuable trade and an even more valuable lesson in compassion in his shop class. He’s having the kids build hundreds of dog houses and feral cat shelters for area rescues and needy families.
It all started in 2002 when Barry Stewart, an animal lover and shop teacher at Englewood High School in Jacksonville, Florida, heard about Forsyth County Animal Control’s Houses for Hounds program. The program works with animal welfare groups to give free dog houses to low-income residents. Stewart realized that dog houses were, essentially, miniature versions of human homes and that building them would teach his students a valuable skill.
“The framing technique and terminology for pet housing is the same as for a regular house,” Stewart told PEOPLE. “The floor system, wall system, roof system and all the actual parts are identical. So, every part we use on the pet houses we can reference to the correlating part in the home. I realized that it would be easy enough to work into what we were doing in the classroom. It was a good fit.”
In addition, through the process, his students learned valuable problem-solving skills, too. After building their first set of dog houses and ferel cat shelters, they figured out ways to solve problems and make the houses into more efficient, better shelters for the animals, including moving the entryways from the center to one side, so that the dog would be better protected from winds and rain blowing into the structures; adding two-inch lips to the entryway floors to keep dogs from dragging their bedding outside; and pitched roofs with layered tiles that better trap heat during frigid winters. They also outfitted feral cat houses with removable rooftops to make it easier for caretakers to clean the houses and to fetch kittens when they’re ready for spaying, neutering or other necessary care.
Since he began the project, Stewart and his students have built and donated more than 600 dog houses and 110 feral cat shelters, all of which have been donated to rescues, shelters, and needy families.
“Each year, there are always a few students in the class that are passionate about pets and put a little extra effort into it. They want everything to fit perfectly and spend a lot of time and care on what they’re doing,” says Stewart, who has two pets of his own – a 14-year-old Yorkshire terrier named Rascal, and Zena, a longhaired cat who “rules the house.”