Underdog International focuses on enhancing children's education and soft skills through personal experiences with therapy-trained dogs.
Children wearing their Underdog masks following an animal-assisted session. Photo credit: Underdog International.
“Of course they had a nurse. [This] nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog called Nana … Of course her kennel was in the nursery.” – J. M. Barrie, Peter and Wendy, 1911
The classic children’s book Peter and Wendy may well be a work of fiction, but the role of Nana the Newfoundland as a caregiving canine is not as far-fetched as it may seem.
Research has shown that animal-assisted therapy has both mental and physical health benefits, including lowering anxiety levels and blood pressure, reducing feelings of loneliness, fostering feelings of compassion and helping children with autism improve their language skills.
The value of the therapeutic role animals can play in children’s lives is why Underdog International , an animal-welfare charity that matches rescue dogs with new owners and trains therapy dogs, was chosen as the recipient of one of 1,500 donations globally made by RBC through its employee-led Communities Together Fund. Each donation carries a monetary value of £1,500 in a community’s local currency, with the fund committed to providing more than C$2.5 million to address the tangible needs of local charities in communities where RBC employees live and work.
“Underdog International is at a unique junction of children’s education and animal welfare,” says Samuel Asquith, senior content manager at RBC Wealth Management in the British Isles. “When I spoke with Underdog’s founder, Nadine Kayser, and heard her vision for the charity to positively impact one million children and dogs by 2025, we knew this was a great application for the Communities Together Fund.”
The fund awards money to local charities with a pressing need, as chosen by community partners in collaboration with RBC employees. There’s just one condition: employees must volunteer for their chosen charity with at least two RBC colleagues.
“Volunteering is the key to the success of the RBC Communities Together Fund,” says Desiree Clarke Noble, managing director and head of Brand and Marketing for Europe and Asia-Pacific at RBC Capital Markets. “By coming together as a team and experiencing first-hand the impact of what community partners do, it helps foster stronger connections to our local areas and demonstrates why communities and businesses are so important to each other.”
When Underdog International needed help transforming an old storage room into a fully functioning animal-assisted therapy room, RBC Communities Together Fund volunteers were on hand to assist.
The charity utilises animal-assisted therapy to help children with special educational needs and disabilities feel more confident and empathetic, as well as to develop literacy skills through “reading to dogs” sessions.
“We focus on empowering children’s education and soft skills through personal experiences with animals,” says Kayser. “Animal-assisted therapy projects are scientifically proven to have a positive impact on the happiness, emotional wellbeing and brain functionality of children. This means the therapy rooms we use need to be environments that children find comforting and relaxing.”
Underdog International also runs a “Dogs in Schools” programme across the UK. “We take trained and approved dogs into local schools so children can experience their calming effect,” says Kayser. “The fact that dogs listen without judgment makes it a calming environment for children and helps nurture their enthusiasm for reading.”
The organisation is just one of more than 800 charities being embraced by the RBC Communities Together Fund. In the British Isles alone, employees have volunteered for multiple social enterprises, including the Royal Society for Blind Children , The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust , FREEDA (formerly Jersey Women’s Refuge), Bow Foodbank and many more.
It’s clear that when businesses partner with local communities, they can drive positive change together.
“The fund has enabled us to make a tangible difference to local charities that are aligned with our personal values,” says Asquith. “There is real substance behind this approach – and the fund reaffirms that, with every relationship, there is an opportunity to make a genuine difference.”