The problem may be complex and divisive, but for the children defined by immigration law as “unaccompanied minors,” the needs are fundamental. With no home, no parents, no family, little English, and a country of origin where violence has made life unlivable, these kids need a chance to be kids, if only for a moment. That’s how Mutt-i-grees® is helping.
They are the children behind the headlines: thousands of refugees separated from their families at our southern border, waiting while politicians and others sort through this complex and divisive problem. Many of these children have been brought to New York and placed in temporary care. Our Mutt-i-grees Outreach Team recently joined with Catholic Charities to bring a bit of canine comfort into their lives.
For decades, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of New York, has helped immigrants reunite legally with their families, obtain proper work authorization, learn English and civics, and prepare to pass citizenship exams. Catholic Charities also provides legal advice and assists immigrants in avoiding exploitation by unscrupulous practitioners. Today, this organization is working with other area agencies to help the many children who find themselves alone and terrified due to recent policy decisions by the federal government.
According to Jayne Vitale, Mutt-i-grees Director of Outreach and Youth Development Services, the Curriculum brings “something simple yet powerful” to both the children and the staff at Catholic Charities. This is how Jayne described a recent visit.
“First we gave staff a chance to hold the three puppies we’d brought, take a deep breath, and decompress from the emotional stress of their work. Then we joined the children who were waiting to talk to legal professionals. We rearranged the room with desks against the wall to form a circle with the dogs in the middle. When we arrived the children were frightened, serious, anxious. The puppies relieved much of this. We also used this as an opportunity to teach a bit of English connected with social emotional learning. We brought a board with dog photos displaying different emotions. We also brought paper ‘bones’ that had words for various emotions in both Spanish and English printed on them. We asked the children to match the Spanish word on the bone to the feelings they saw in the dogs’ faces, and we matched the English. This gave them an opportunity to identify feelings with body language and see that dogs have feeling like ours. It was clear they felt quite special as they became teachers — teaching us the Spanish words and how to pronounce them. They laughed so hard at my trying to pronounce the Spanish. To see them simply smile is a gift.”
The leadership at Catholic Charities has nothing but praise for Mutt-i-grees. “We are so excited and deeply grateful for our visits from North Shore Animal League America,” said Anthony Enriquez, Director of Unaccompanied Minors Program for Catholic Charities. “The young people we work with face persecution, forced flight from their homes, and instability that has robbed them of the security and safety that every child deserves. Yet with the help of North Shore Animal League America, we can provide them with a powerful gift: the chance to feel like a kid again.”