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Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses Exhibit at Reading Public Museum Teaches Kids about Health Concerns

While most students visiting the Reading Public Museum recently had seen some overweight dogs, many were very surprised to learn that horses can get asthma.

“Do they cough and wheeze like my brother does?” a third grader named James wanted to know.
Students of Commonwealth Connections Academy, a public cyber school that enrolls children throughout Pennsylvania, toured the “Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses” exhibit at the museum in October.

Developed by Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and its partners, the interactive exhibit is intended to teach children that humans and animals share some common health ailments, and that steps can be taken to prevent those problems.
The exhibit is sponsored locally by Penn State Health St. Joseph.

Students, who attended the exhibit with a parent or other caregiver, followed the plight of Hot Dog, an overweight canine, and Holly Horse, who suffers from the equine version of asthma, known as heaves.

The exhibit appeals to children because it presents scientific and medical information in a fun way, said Jacquelynn Danek, manager of STEM education at the museum.

“These are serious issues, but teaching about them using animals makes it more palatable for children,” Danek said.
Commonwealth Connections students had a lot of questions, and left the exhibit with some important information about obesity and asthma.

“Obesity causes the same problems in dogs as it does in humans,” explained Colin Gallen, an education and events assistant at the museum. “It makes it harder to exercise and move around and do things in everyday life.”

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The exhibit also teaches viewers the connection between obesity and other health concerns, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Included in the exhibit is information about what dogs should and should not eat – something that caught the attention of Noah, a sixth-grader from Honey Brook, Chester County.

“I not only learned more about what I should eat and not eat, I found out what I should feed to a dog,” Noah said. “A lot of things that are good for me are good for a dog, but not everything because dogs shouldn’t eat grapes.”
Following their lesson on obesity, students were encouraged to participate in Hot Dog’s fitness challenge, which included jumping jacks, taking on a punching bag, running up and down a stair set and other exercises.

Gallen used the story of Holly Horse to explain that horses and cats, as well as humans, can suffer from asthma. Students were intrigued to find out that breathing inhalers also are available for horses and cats.

Katelyn, a sixth-grader who traveled with her mother from Breezewood, Bedford County, to visit the Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses exhibit, enjoyed seeing examples of the inhalers for animals and humans.

“I live on a small farm and have three cats, but I didn’t know that cats and horses have inhalers,” Katelyn said.
Wendy Koller, manager of humanities education at the museum, said many school groups have visited the Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses exhibit, and that it’s been enthusiastically received.

“Kids not only learn about these diseases and how they can be prevented, they get to interact with the displays and burn off some energy with the fitness challenge,” Koller said. “It makes it more fun for them when they get to run around and punch the punching bag.”
The exhibit, which opened Sept. 5, is available through Sunday, Jan. 17. The museum is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

More information is available at www.readingpublicmuseum.org.