Four-Legged Educator Brings Love to Elementary Students

When Mary fostered a dog named Ellie, she helped share her story and inspired a school to open their hearts to adoptable pets.

Mary + Ellie

Ellie was a pregnant foster dog who tested positive for heartworm. Mary was a teacher who believed in bringing awareness of shelter animals, and how others can help. Through sharing Ellie’s story, Mary and Ellie helped children understand the importance of kindness, compassion, and love.

"On our show-and-tell-more day, 80 pounds of fur came lumbering into Mrs. Jones’s room. The students were ecstatic! Hugs, pets, giggles, talking about their passion project experience, and meeting Ellie made this a memorable day for everyone."


Even before Ellie set paw in a local elementary school, she was a four-legged educator. She has helped me serve our community and has brought awareness to the life of shelter animals.

For five years, I enjoyed speaking to groups about humane education topics. In January of 2020, I visited Mrs. Jones’s class. They needed a “passion project.” I jumped at the chance to tell them about a shelter dog and her puppies that my husband and I were fostering. Of course, I shared a plethora of pictures I had on my phone. Nothing like passing your phone around a class of fourth graders! The momma dog was heartworm positive. We discussed heartworms, treating dogs like family, and being a more humane community. After I left, they decided to “give their hearts” to Ellie as their project. We were asked to visit the class on Valentine’s Day.

On our show-and-tell-more day, 80 pounds of fur came lumbering into Mrs. Jones’s room. The students were ecstatic! Hugs, pets, giggles, talking about their passion project experience, and meeting Ellie made this a memorable day for everyone. They shared their project with Ellie and me. Instead of buying Valentine’s cards for one another, they saved that money to help Ellie. The class was going to donate $80 to the shelter to help with Ellie’s heartworm treatment cost. Thanks to Ellie, these changemakers learned more about compassion, responsibility, and kindness. As a retired teacher, it made me smile big time.

The next Wednesday, we were guests at an assembly celebrating one of this school’s accomplishments. Walking into a gym full of students and dignitaries was a little unnerving for me, but Ellie handled it like a champ. Six hundred students wanted to pet this huge, fluffy dog. We had a fantastic time. February was a busy month for us. We became foster failures on February 8 when Ellie joined our family!

In March of 2020, COVID-19 sent the children home to learn virtually. My job ended, and Ellie’s life inspired me to share her story. My read-aloud was videotaped so that teachers could share it with their classes. Again, she made lots of people smile.

Slowly, but surely, this scared, pregnant, heartworm-positive shelter dog turned into a pup with a sweet personality. 

Today, our girl helps us stay in shape. She expects to be walked every morning and smiles and jumps around until we take her outside. We laugh when she “noses” us to move in the right direction. She helped me complete a 110-mile walk/run challenge in July, in the Alabama heat. That’s love!

She adores being brushed and having her stomach rubbed. If I stop too soon, she lets me know. When one of our pack died in June, she comforted us. She stays close just in case we need her …and just in case we want to share our snacks. Ellie has added so much to our family.

Each year, Petco Love Stories invites adopters to share how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by Mary won Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama a 2021 Love Stories award.