Launched in 2010, our Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum uses the natural affinity between kids and pets to teach social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that are critical to academic success and a successful life. Where would be in our lives without empathy, self-confidence, teamwork, and ethical decision-making. What makes our program unique is its experiential component. Via humane education we connect students to the plight of shelter animals and the importance of rescue. The students take this journey and learn how shelter animals make wonderful companions, and that all of us — including kids — have the power to make a positive difference in our communities and in the lives of homeless animals.

The Curriculum was developed by Yale University’s School of the 21st Century in partnership with North Shore Animal League America. Today, our versatile Curriculum, is used in schools, afterschool programs, special education settings, and other venues. Additional versions: “Mutt-i-grees in the Library,” “Cats Are Mutt-i-grees 2,” “The Shelter Guide,” and “Paws Down Tails Up,” a physical fitness application and Muttigrees At Home for parents and caretakers.

Research has shown that, by bridging the fields of humane education and social and emotional learning, this Curriculum has the potential to enhance student achievement at all grade levels. Equally important, it inspires kids to become caring, responsible citizens who see the link between a civil society and the humane treatment of animals.

Meet the Mutt-i-grees Team

Matia Finn-Stevenson, Phd

Creator and
Chief Knowledge Officer

Matia Finn-Stevenson is a research scientist at Yale School of Medicine, Child Study Center, where she is also the director of the School of the 21st Century and associate director of the Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. Her work focuses on children’s development and education reform with emphasis on the application of research to policy and practice. She has been instrumental in the development of several national programs. Most recently she created the social and emotional learning model that is the basis for the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum, a program developed in collaboration with the Pet Savers Foundation and Yale University. Dr. Finn-Stevenson is also establishing efforts at Yale to examine the benefits of human-animal interactions and their implications for children’s development and education.

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Dr. Finn-Stevenson is the author and co-author of numerous publications related to school reform, evaluation of school-based support services, and child development and social policy. Among her publications are books entitled Children in the Changing World; The School of the 21st Century: Linking Child Care and Education; Child Development and Social Policy; and The First Three Years and Beyond: Brain Development and Social Policy. She has been an advisor on domestic policy issues to the staff of the White House Office of Policy Development and a consultant to the Connecticut legislature’s Committee on Work and Family, the Committee on Education and Labor, the U. S. House of Representatives, and the U. S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Youth, Families, Alcohol, and Drug Abuse. She regularly advises school districts and state departments of education on programs and services for children and serves as a consultant to state and federal policymakers and foundations. Dr. Finn-Stevenson earned her doctorate from Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology at Yale University.

Misty Ginicola

Mutt-i-grees Training & Evaluation Associate

Kimberly Spanjol

National Education Trainer & Evaluation Associate

Jayne Vitale

Director, Education and Youth Programs

Joanne Yohannan

Senior Vice President of Operations, North Shore Animal League America

Diana Zaferiou

Vice President, Strategic Development Partnerships

Thomas Frisina

Social Media and Outreach Coordinator

National Trainers

Teri Ahearn
Principal, Shell Bank I.S. 14
Brooklyn, NY

Barbara Aragon
Director, Fenton Primary Center
Lake View Terrace, CA

Dr. Brandon Beck
Elementary Teacher, Professor, Author, Speaker, Coach
Ossining, NY

Judy Clay
Early Childhood Special Education Director, Arch Ford Education Cooperative
Plumerville, AR

Jody Kashden
Senior Director of Clinical Development and Performance Improvement, Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health
Sarasota, FL

Cindy Konomos
Former Director of Special Education, Independence Public Schools
Independence, MO

Deb Swink
Senior Associate, Yale School of the 21st Century
Former Special Education Director, Clinton School District
Van Buren County, AR

Nancy Vidal-Finnerty
Assistant Professor
Speech Communication Studies
Iona College​

Peer Trainers


Shelly Hink
Mutt-i-grees Events Coordinator
Clinton School District
Van Buren County, AR

Natalie Horton
School Counselor, School-Based Mental Health
Van Buren County, AR

Jennifer Pennington
Director, South Side ABC & Day Care
Van Buren County, AR

Co-counselor & Canine Reading Specialist, School-Based Mental Health
Van Buren County, AR


Crystle Carpenter
Teacher, Fenton Primary Center
Lake View Terrace, CA

Shannon Coulter
Teacher, Fenton Avenue Charter School
Lake View Terrace, CA

Mary Gunckel
Upper-Grade Science Specialist, Fenton Avenue Charter School
Lake View Terrace, CA

Martha May
Teacher, Fenton Avenue Charter School
Lake View Terrace, CA


Stephanie Mullins
Teacher, Ponderosa Elementary School
Boyd County, KY


Shanna Fletcher
Teacher, Bixby Central Intermediate School
Bixby, OK


Ruth Musolf
Horizons Elementary School & YMCA School of the 21st Century Afterschool Program
Appleton, WI