under proBy teaching vulnerable children about empathy and kindness, the Underdog Project is helping address social and animal welfare in vulnerable areas of South Africa.




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By pairing vulnerable children with shelter dogs, the Underdog Project is helping teach empathy to youngsters, while helping rescue dogs find new homes.  The project recognises that domestic abuse and gang-related violence go hand-in-hand with animal cruelty. That’s why the valuable work of teaching kindness to animals is having a powerful effect in communities.

The Underdog Project has been working in child development and community upliftment for the past seven years. Through daily workshops, the programme combines life skills and humane education with basic dog training, to benefit two vulnerable groups in society.

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Children gain confidence, social and emotional development, as they learn communication tools and team-working abilities, to help provide relief from anxiety and trauma. The dogs, on the other hand, become well-socialised (especially with children), which improves their adoptability, while exercise and outdoor stimulation helps reduce their kennel stress and anxiety.  Current adoption rates of these dogs is around 90%, bearing testament to the project’s success.

Through highly successful animal assisted activities and therapeutic workshops, at-risk teens and children are taught about empathy and insight, as they help rehabilitate shelter animals.  In the Hout Bay community centre, 24 children attend classes weekly, and spend between 8 – 16 week in the programme with an option to repeat as many times as they like.  Working with 6 different dogs, each dog gets four 1-hour sessions a week. 

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The plan is to upgrade and expand its wendy-house style classroom to reach more vulnerable children and shelter dogs through more sustainable services  through the Thuso Fund ,MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet will be funding the upgrades.  To date, hundreds of children have passed through the space over seven years, to learn about empathy and kindness with a focus on animal care. 

Its vision is to create a more functional classroom that doubles up as a clubhouse for Underdog graduates, that they can use as a safe space to read and do homework outside of session times.  Upgrade plans include opening up the side of the classroom to create a more open calming space, to insulate the space against harsh summers and winters, to add a book library and to add a bathroom and electricity.