A high school teacher in Jacksonville, Florida is dedicated to teaching his students real-world home construction skills while helping needy animals at the same time. For the past 14 years, Building Construction teacher Barry Stewart has taught his students construction skills through building houses for dogs and feral cats. All the houses made by the students are then donated to local pet shelters and families in need.
“Under Mr. Stewart’s expert guidance, his classes construct, using the exact same methods one would use to build a human house, houses for dogs! And Mr. Stewart then very generously donates those houses to local organizations that can get them in the hands of members of the community that might not otherwise be able to provide their dogs with suitable housing,” explains Friends of Jacksonville Animals, Inc.
The animal welfare group works with the city’s animal control officers to identify people in the community that need better housing for their dogs and arrange for the home to be delivered. The group said, “These are dogs that very likely would be sleeping completely exposed to the elements if not for the progressive and generous thinking of Mr. Stewart.” Many of the recipients are stunned that they are getting the homes for free.
The animals are not the only ones that benefit from Stewart’s initiative. For the students, they learn all the basics of building an actual home, but on a smaller scale.
“The framing technique and terminology for pet housing is the same as for a regular house…The floor system, wall system, roof system and all the actual parts are identical,” Stewart explained to People Magazine. “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.”
The students also learn to adapt a shelter to the needs of the occupant, in this case the animals. That means placing the entrance ways off-centre so that a dog does not get hit directly with wind and rain, and layering the roof tiles to better insulate the home. And the feral cat houses have removable roofs so that caretakers can easily clean up the inside and get to the kittens in order to spay, neuter or give medical care if needed.
“That experience taught students that there is actually a thought process behind most things…Even a really good idea can withstand some improvements,” said Stewart.
In the time he has been teaching shop, Stewart’s classes have built over 600 dog houses and 110 feral cat houses. Stewart has the support of local construction and lumber supply stores who donate the materials to him, so it’s a real community effort.
“Thank you Barry for being an incredible member of our community! And a HUGE thank you to the students of Englewood High School that put the man hours into these houses,” wrote Friends of Jacksonville Animals. “The animals that get to sleep in a warm, dry house are particularly thankful for you!”
This is a wonderful initiative that impacts so many while educating not only the students, but also the community at large.
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