Teacher Steve Aldridge (far right) with his Grade 10 carpentry students. Photo by Jeanette Neufeld.
Teacher Steve Aldridge (far right) with his Grade 10 carpentry students. Photo by Jeanette Neufeld.

Students build community with dog houses

Roberta Charles stands behind the dog house she built and painted by hand in her Grade 10 carpentry course at Senator Myles Venne School in La Ronge, Sask.

The house is painted pink and the bold writing on its side really pops.

While this house won't go home with her – her family's dog already has a house – it's one of 10 dog houses that will be distributed to families in need who live in La Ronge and the surrounding area.

"It feels helpful to a dog that needs it," says Charles, who describes herself as more of a dog person than a cat person.

The Northern Animal Rescue (NAR) community group first introduced the dog house building project for high school students a few years ago.

One member of the volunteer-based animal rescue group noticed that some local dogs had no shelter, and that some community members couldn't afford a house for their dogs. In northern Saskatchewan where temperatures can go as low as -46 degrees Celsius in the winter, dog houses are a necessity for the animals that live outside year-round.

"We just noticed there are a lot of animals out in our climate — in the winter time — that don't have anything and people that don't have the resources to get a dog house," says Joanne Dickson, one of NAR's founding board members.

In 2016 NAR formed a partnership with the high school, which is part of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. To start, students built five houses for those in need.

"We really wanted the students to be involved. They showed a lot of pride when they finished the first five dog houses," says Dickson.

This year, the project received funding from Nestle-Purina, and the support allowed Grade 10 students to produce 10 houses in their carpentry class. The partnership came about because of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine's service learning program in La Ronge.

The dog house project serves a dual purpose. The families in need of shelter for their animals receive homes for their dogs, and the students learn valuable skills.

"The hands-on skills that they pick up are really useful. These are kids that are going to be out in the bush doing stuff, in their houses fixing things, and it's really useful to learn how to use the tools and start to get an idea of what materials cost," says Steve Aldridge, the high school's carpentry teacher.

Aldridge taught the students how to build the houses during a month of daily classes.

"If nothing else, it's a fun opportunity for them to stay in school," he says.

The students also earned an online safety certification through the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association, and they can work toward the Saskatchewan Youth Apprenticeship program through completion of the class.

Charles says she enjoyed the carpentry class, in part because her dad is a carpenter and he taught her some skills beforehand.

"I find it easy to do because he showed me when I was small, and I'm not scared to use any tools or anything," she says.

She plans to use what she learned in school for larger projects.

"I can use the skills to build it bigger — maybe something like a shed or fixing a shed," she says.

Dickson says the project is popular, and by the time the 10 houses were built, all had been spoken for. She says the group is grateful for the funding from Purina that has allowed them to continue to involve the students.

"It's just a nice thing to drive around, seeing all these dog houses," says Dickson. "It's a good community project, but it also reaches those people that really need the help, and the students are helping to build. It's great."

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