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Laureen Harper visits Le Phare (February 2012)

(Story from EMC Orleans Community Newspaper / Images courtesy of Beatrice Watson-Acheson Foundation)

Laureen Harper and Jennifer Snell talk to the Kindergarten class

Kindergarten students at Le Phare Elementary in Gloucester had a few special guests on Feb. 22 as a part of their kindness week.

Students were already excited to know that Smokey the dog was going to be visiting with owner Jennifer Snell as a part of the Kindness Program, but Laureen Harper, wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, made it even better.

Snell works with the Kindness Program through the Beatrice Watson-Acheson Foundation, which uses animals to teach kindness and respect.

All of the classes at the school participated in the special kindness week presentations, but only the senior kindergarden class was joined by Harper.

"Through various lessons geared to each grade level, our students identify with the animal and are able to transfer the lessons of caring, responsibility and kindness towards others, helping to foster a community of caring and character," school principal Christine Camus-Shepley said in a press release.

"Be kind to animals. That reminds us how important it is to be kind to each other," Snell told the children.

Laureen Harper, surrounded by Kindergarten students, listens to Jennifer Snell teach about kindness towards animals

She also taught them about proper care and respect for animals, which includes the best way to approach an unfamiliar dog.

Each of the students practiced approaching Harper and asking permission to pet Smokey.

Smokey was originally bred to be a sled dog, but was too calm and lacked the competitive spirit needed, so he went to an Ottawa family.

When the family could no longer care for him, the Snells decided to adopt him as one of their own family members.

Harper could relate, and told the class about her own experience adopting animals. She also fosters cats for the Ottawa Humane Society.

When it was time for questions and answers, 'do you have a pet?' was the first question asked.

"I have a cat named Stanley. He came from the Ottawa Humane Society and we love him," she said.

Stanley was almost named Smokie, one of the choices in the poll the Harpers put out to Canadians when they needed help naming their new cat, adopted in July 2010.

They've rescued other cats - and even her daughter's hamster, Yogi, from humane societies in Ottawa and Calgary.

The class was enamored with the photos of the Harper's pets, which they passed around and shared their own pet names.

There was also a surprise visit for Tanya McMurray's Grade 5 class, who were set to visit the hill the following day as a part of their government unit.

Harper stopped by the class after hearing that they'd be coming by to offer a few tips on where to find the animals of the hill - specifically, the cats.

Students were excited as she signed autographs before heading back home to her own pets.

Text © EMC Orleans Community Newspaper. Images © Beatrice Watson-Acheson Foundation.