Animals in Literature

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JJ The American Street Dog and How He Came to Live in Our House

Maya wants a dog. When her parents finally decide to buy her one, a stray dog comes into her life. While unsure at first, Maya’s mom agrees to let Maya take the dog in, and they name him JJ. While looking for his owner, Maya and her family learn about homeless animals and how they can be part of the solution to end pet overpopulation.

Why use this book?

  • Highlights the strong connection and relationships people have with animals, known as the human-animal bond.
  • Highlights the appropriate and responsible actions that should be taken when finding a stray dog (checking for identification, calling a shelter, going to a vet, etc.)
  • Highlights several important themes including responsible pet ownership and pet overpopulation. Domestic animals have both physical and emotional needs and this book highlights these needs, including enrichment and veterinary care which are just as important as the need for food, water and shelter.

Animal Welfare Considerations:

  • Maya is seen hugging JJ in a few illustrations. While this is a common portrayal in many picture books, most dogs (even your family pet) are probably not comfortable being hugged. When dogs feel uncomfortable there is a potential for them to bite.

Ask your students:

  • What does the term stray or street dog mean? A stray animal is one that either has a home but is lost, or doesn’t have a home and is fending for themselves.
  • How do you think stray dogs feel?
  • How can we help pet overpopulation? Spay/neuter your pets, adopt from an animal shelter, ensure your pet has up-to-date identification
  • What should you do if you see a stray dog or cat? Tell an adult. Check for identification, call animal control/shelters, take dog to vet, etc.


  • Do dogs like hugs? – As a class, watch this short Alberta SPCA video where dog behaviour specialist, Kris Rooney, answers the question: Do dogs like hugs? Then, as a class come up with a list of other ways to show dogs affection or respect. Taking on a walk, giving a treat, brushing, playing, petting or scratching, , giving dogs space (if they are uncomfortable with dogs), etc.  Next, take a poll of your class to find out “what is your favourite way to show dogs you care for them/give them respect.” Students can collect the data and create a bar or pie graph to display the data.
  • Pet Overpopulation – In small groups, have students research what can be done to help end pet overpopulation. Students can create posters or collages to hang in the school to help spread the message.
  • Needs of Dogs – As a class, go through the book and make a list of everything the family does to meet the physical and emotional needs of JJ. Then individually or in pairs, have students pick a different animal (pet or farm) to research how to meet the physical and emotional needs of their chosen animal. Students can compare their list with the class list about JJ. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

Additional Resources Related to Book:

  • For additional information on dog safety (reading dog body language, safely greeting a dog, etc.) visit The Family Dog website
  • For additional information on what to do with lost and found animals visit the Alberta SPCA website.
  • For additional information on how to help a stray animal visit the Humane Society of the United States website


Diane Rose-Solomon, 2012


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