A group of high school students are making headlines with their recent philanthropic endeavor. Instead of building wooden boxes or birdhouses, shop students from Jacksonville, Florida are using their class time to construct shelters for homeless dogs and feral cats. All of the shelters built by students are donated to shelters, non-profits, and low income families.
Their instructor, a many named Barry Stewart, got the idea while living in North Carolina almost 14 years ago. After hearing about the Houses For Hounds project through Forsyth County Animal Control, Stewart brought the program to his students at the Career Center in 2002.
“Stewart surmised that since pet houses are, in essence, miniature versions of human homes, building them would prove to be both a teaching tool and a chance to contribute to a meaningful cause.” – PEOPLE Magazine
Upon relocating to Jacksonville years later, Stewart decided to keep the project going with his next group of students at Englewood High School.
Wooden shelters have proven to provide the best coverage for animals and it is also an easy material to work with. That’s why the majority of the materials used to create dog and cat houses in Stewart’s are wood based.
Stewart wanted to be sure that he was teaching his students not only valuable lessons in charity, but also building blocks for life skills.
“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. So, every part we use on the pet houses we can reference to the correlating part in the home,” he told PEOPLE Magazine.
I realized that it would be easy enough to work into what we were doing in the classroom. It was a good fit.
Stewart’s students are learning how to properly use power tools, assess and choose the proper materials, and how to construct solid shelters. As well, they are learning design and critical thinking. These skills and improvements are made evident by comparing current models to previous ones.
“Thinking through the functionality of the pet houses led to redesigns, including moving the doorway 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.” – PEOPLE Magazine
That experience taught students that there is actually a thought process behind most things. Even a really good idea can withstand some improvements.
Since 2002, Stewart and his students have constructed over 600 dog houses and 110 cat houses. Each shelter was donated to an animal in need, whether it be homeless, at an animal shelter, housed through a non-profit organization, or a family pet. Currently, the students of Englewood High School are working directly with Friends of Jacksonville Animals and Epic Animals Outreach.
Many of the homes constructed by the students are given to public animal welfare field officers, who donate them to families that they encounter during their daily work. Unfortunately, there are still many pet owners who don’t understand the hazards of allowing their animals to live outside without shelter. During the winter, outdoor pets are affected by freezing temperatures, often falling ill to or even dying from frostbite. The homes built by Stewart’s students save dozens of lives per year.
Keither Murphy, a coordinator of Houses For Hounds, co-founded UNchain Winston, a program through Forsyth County Animal Control that builds fences for low income families. He understands the importance of providing shelter for homeless animals and animals in need, as well as helping owners better care for their pets.
Most of them are just ecstatic
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.
Stewart feels as though he is providing a service to the community and to these young students, as they are learning the foundations of building their own home, while helping those in need. We agree!
If you want to learn more about Barry Stewart and his students, you can follow the Friends Of Jacksonville Animals, Inc. on Facebook, who often post updates on the students’ projects.
It kind of pulls at your heartstrings when you think of the joy people get, especially children playing with their pets.
We hope that this program continues for decades to come. Thanks, Barry Stewart and students of Englewood High School!