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These disabled animals want to teach your kids about compassion and empathy.

"You will never get someone to blossom without attention and love. If you want to change somebody, treat them kindly."

These disabled animals want to teach your kids about compassion and empathy.
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Dignity Health 2017

G.I. Joe was in a bad place.

He was homeless, living on the street scavenging for food. He was bullied constantly by other dogs — even attacked violently. After losing the use of his hind legs to an injury, Joe had to drag his lower body along the ground when he wanted to move. He was vulnerable, angry, frightened — and a target. Then one day, G.I. Joe was rescued. He was given love, time to heal, and a wheelchair. It's taken years, but empathy and compassion have transformed him. Take a look for yourself:

Joe — better known as G.I. Joe — is happy, healthy, and thriving, thanks to love. All images via Alison Smith/Triple H Farm Miniature Horse Rescue, used with permission.


Now, Joe has a new mission: using his experiences to help teach young kids to prevent bullying by using empathy and compassion.

That’s the idea behind Alison Smith’s Compassion Crew, a little team of dogs and cats with disabilities that team up to help kids understand the abstract concepts of empathy and compassion — and put them to work.

As many adults well know, empathy and compassion aren't skills we're necessarily born knowing how to use well. As the Compassion Crew demonstrates, sometimes the "people" who have the best chance of teaching kids how they work aren’t even people at all.

Smith didn't have the Compassion Crew in mind when she opened her sanctuary farm, Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue, more than a decade ago.

"When I told my accountant that I wanted to open a rescue farm for miniature horses, he laughed at me," said Smith. "He was concerned whether we'd be providing a service anyone needed. I told him if we never rescued a miniature horse, then that was good news since they were clearly all safe and well cared for."

Alison Smith and some members of her multiplying menagerie.

The Triple H farm welcomed its first two miniature horse rescues — Pebbles and Coco — two days after they opened their doors. Since then, they've rescued more than 500 horses and many other animals, including goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and, of course, cats and dogs.

In the winter of 2015, it occurred to Alison that in addition to healing from bullying, the animals at Triple H might be able to teach others a thing or two about bullying itself.

"Kids are sick and tired of hearing about the same old bullying speeches from teachers," said Smith. "I wanted to reach kids in a different way, and introduce them to animals with disabilities. I wanted to tell them why they shouldn’t bully, but also tell them how and show them."

That spark of an idea became the five-member Compassion Crew, where each member has a special message to share.

There’s G.I. Joe, a 3-year-old terrier mix with his trusty wheelchair.

G.I. Joe on the move in the yard.

As a survivor, G.I. Joe has a lot to teach kids about how being the victim of bullying can change us. While G.I. Joe is full of love most of the time, he can still be fearful and even aggressive around other dogs.

"That doesn't make him less lovable," Smith noted. "It teaches kids that being a bully doesn't always happen because someone is just mean. Sometimes really mean things happened to them that made them that way. And G.I. Joe gets better every day because we show him empathy and compassion."

There’s Max, a little 7-year-old shih tzu with a custom wheelchair of his own.

Max may only have three legs, one eye, and half a jaw, but he's still the cuddliest love bug you'll ever meet.

Max's owner didn't give up on him when he was hit by a car; she helped him recover and got him his wheelchair. But after she passed away, Max didn't have a home, so he came to Triple H.

"We like Max because he shows how we can be different and still be loving and nice."

There’s Roy, who was left in a tiny aquarium at a mall pet store, overlooked because of a terrible haircut.

Roy (top left) with a snazzy clip his two best pals, Max and G.I. Joe.

13 years later, Roy is a dashing, handsome poodle who catches lots of eyes. As a member of the Compassion Crew, he's a reminder that judging others by their looks — like bad haircuts or strange clothes — doesn't give them a chance to show us what they're like inside.

"Think of your best friend," Smith said. "Imagine if they were wearing something weird, or had bad hair when you met them. Would you have decided they weren't worth being friends with? Think of all the wonderful memories and experiences you'd have missed!"

There’s Mowgli, who showed up at Triple H rescue one day with untreatable infections in both eyes and now thrives without them.

Mowgli enjoying some time in the autumn leaves.

Mowgli's blindness means she needs a little more help sometimes. Smith said helping her is a great way to practice empathy in real time.

And then there's Martin, a young Labrador cross puppy with boundless love for everyone he meets — even though, like Mowgli, he can't see them.

Martin sits like the very good boy he is.

"Martin loves everyone. He doesn’t care if you’re tall, skinny, have weird hair," gushed Smith. "The only reason he wouldn’t like you is if you treated him badly. Because he can’t see, he can’t prejudge you on your appearance, or make an opinion. He likes you because you’re nice to him."

Very soon there'll be another member of the Compassion Crew, a young mother cat named Nina.

Little Nina and one of her wee kittens.

She was found in the middle of a dusty backroad, huddled atop her three tiny kittens. Nina’s recovering from an eye infection, and she has a birth defect that splits the hemispheres of her lovely little face. She doesn’t look perfect, but she’s a loving mom.

So far, Smith’s Compassion Crew has only visited one school — Highland Acres Elementary.

Compassion Crew! ASSEMBLE! *sounds of arfs and meows*

"When we went to Highland Acres, we said we could stop bullying in 30 seconds or less — if they use empathy and compassion," recalled Smith. "We told them that all of us have superpowers and they’re called empathy and compassion. It was crazy the effect it had on these kids. I didn’t expect that."

From the many letters Smith received afterward, it was clear the visit really resonated.

One of many thank-you letters Smith received.

Starting this winter, Smith will start reaching out to other schools that could welcome the Compassion Crew. "I feel like empathy and compassion are going to be the ticket in turning some of these kids around," she said.

"You will never get someone to blossom without attention and love. If you want to change somebody, you have to treat them kindly. That's true for bullies, too."

Lainey and baby goat Annie. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse
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Oftentimes, the journey to our true calling is winding and unexpected. Take Lainey Morse, who went from office manager to creator of the viral trend, Goat Yoga, thanks to her natural affinity for goats and throwing parties.

Back in 2015, Lainey bought a farm in Oregon and got her first goats who she named Ansel and Adams. "Once I got them, I was obsessed," says Lainey. "It was hard to get me off the farm to go do anything else."

Right away, she noticed what a calming presence they had. "Even the way they chew their cud is relaxing to be around because it's very methodical," she says. Lainey was going through a divorce and dealing with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis at the time, but even when things got particularly hard, the goats provided relief.

"I found it impossible to be stressed or depressed when I was with them."

She started inviting friends up to the farm for what she called "Goat Happy Hour." Soon, the word spread about Lainey's delightful, stress-relieving furry friends. At one point, she auctioned off a child's birthday party at her farm, and the mom asked if they could do yoga with the goats. And lo, the idea for goat yoga was born.

A baby goat on a yoga student. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Goat yoga went viral so much so that by fall of 2016, Lainey was able to quit her office manager job at a remodeling company to manage her burgeoning goat yoga business full-time. Now she has 10 locations nationwide.

Lainey handles the backend management for all of her locations, and loves that side of the business too, even though it's less goat-related. "I still have my own personal Goat Happy Hour every single day so I still get to spend a lot of time with my goats," says Lainey. "I get the best of both worlds."

Lainey with her goat Fabio. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Since COVID-19 hit, her locations have had to close temporarily. She hopes her yoga locations will be able to resume classes in the spring when the vaccine is more widely available. "I think people will need goat yoga more than ever before, because everyone has been through so much stress in 2020," says Lainey.

Major life changes like Lainey's can come around for any number of reasons. Even if they seem out of left field to some, it doesn't mean they're not the right moves for you. The new FOX series "Call Me Kat", which premieres Sunday, January 3rd after NFL and will continue on Thursday nights beginning January 7th, exemplifies that. The show is centered around Kat, a 39-year old single woman played by Mayim Bialik, who quit her math professor job and spent her life's savings to pursue her dreams to open a Cat Café in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jeff Harry started making similar moves when he was just 10-years-old, and kept making them throughout his life. After seeing the movie "Big,"Jeff knew he wanted to play with toys for a living, so he started writing toy companies asking for next steps. He finally got a response when he was a sophomore in high school — the company told him he needed to become a mechanical engineer first.

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