What do middle school girls and puppies have in common? Both love to squirm.Both make high-pitch noises. And both tend to be a little lost and looking for direction.

It's primarily because of this last reason that a new program called Unleashed is helping to pair middle school girls with stray puppies to help both parties find their way. The program pulls stray puppies out of overpopulated shelters and gives them a second chance on life. At the same time, it teaches the girls enrolled in the program how to become animal welfare advocates for the puppies: how to care for dogs, fight for their rights, and raise community interest around their cause. The girls find foster homes for the dogs, write Petfinder listings, and interview adopters, while also raising funds for the program via marketing and public speaking.

It's such a brilliant idea. The puppies — most of which were destined for euthanasia — certainly win. And the girls do, too. Instead of focusing on petty arguments or suffering from low self-esteem, the girls in Unleashed learn to think about others, solve complex community issues, and, most importantly, gain confidence about their ability to make a change.

Girls and puppies partner in NYC's Unleashed
NYC program pairs middle school girls with stray puppies and offers both guidance and direction.