As the director of Paws On Wellness, a St. Louis-based pet therapy program, Marion Endress has always known that animals have a lot to teach us. So when she discovered the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, she felt right at home. Coordinating her efforts with our friends at Purina, she brought the Curriculum to Hancock Place Elementary School where she met fourth-grader Tyler Saal. Together, they’re embarking on a year-long effort to demonstrate what compassion and care are truly about.

Marion Endress, Tyler Saal, and Tyler’s grandmother, Brenda, spent November 27 — also known as Giving Tuesday — at Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles, Missouri, just outside St. Louis. They were there to help the no-kill shelter raise money and find homes for its dogs and cats. But they were there for another reason, too: to celebrate Tyler’s being named a Mutt-i-grees National Student Ambassador.

As an ambassador, Tyler will not only be role model for other students, he’ll also do some fundraising for Five Acres, an organization he chose on his own. While Tyler snuggled with Rascal and Reggie, two Beagle mixes looking for homes, Marion told the staff at Five Acres about Tyler’s commitment and his plans to organize a fundraising dog wash along with other projects. She also announced that Purina, which supports Marion’s work at Hancock Place Elementary School, will match every dollar Tyler raises for Five Acres, 100 percent.

Marion said she’d been proud to nominate Tyler for a Mutt-i-grees ambassadorship and even prouder when he was chosen as one of only 19 ambassadors nationwide. “Tyler comes from a family environment that would challenge an adult,” said Marion. “And being only 10 years old makes it even harder. But he’s a good student with an excellent attendance record and tremendous leadership potential. He loves and takes really good care of his own dog, a Pittie named Mater, and works hard to help other animals, too.”

Kimberly Beardslee, Public Relations Strategist in the Community Affairs department at Nestlé Purina, enthusiastically endorses Tyler, Marion, and the Curriculum. “Over the years we’ve had partners come to us to ask how they can incorporate humane education into their lessons. Mutt-i-grees not only touches on humane education, but also brings in the social emotional learning aspect, and in a really engaging way by incorporating dogs into the mix. The feedback we’ve received from schools using the program has been amazing. The kids are always so engaged and excited! And Marion is so very passionate about the work she does at Hancock Place Elementary. We’re grateful for the inroads she’s making with compassionate students like Tyler.”

Marion, who’s been in education and pet therapy since 2012, say the Curriculum is an invaluable tool in her work. “Mutt-i-grees is a great way for children to relate their feelings to each other, grown-ups, and animals. And kids really identify with shelter pets. I have two rescue dogs who work with me in Paws On Wellness, Desi and Punkin. I always tell the children that both of them may have had challenging starts, but now they have a really great life. Anything is possible!”