It’s summer Animal Camp season at the SPCA. Each Monday, a new group of 40 eight to twelve-year-olds visits our campus for a week-long day camp led by our Humane Education and Outreach Coordinator — Miss Darlenne to the kids — and her talented team of junior counselors.
This popular SPCA mainstay since the 1980s offers children a unique mix of fun and educational hands-on experiences that nurture compassion and respect for all living things, and makes a difference for animals in our care. And, every now and then, the kids work their parents over and end up adopting a dog, cat, bunny, guinea pig, snake or bird they’ve met during the week!
My two kids are three-year camp veterans and they enjoyed camp this summer every bit as much as they did our first summer here in 2016. No doubt, Audrey will apply for a counselor position when she’s eligible, age-wise, in a few years.
No camps offer what we do. Campers learn about animal-related jobs from professional guest speakers including SPCA Humane Investigators and Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation staff technicians. They make enrichment toys which they get to give to shelter animals. They hike our oak-studded, 200-acre campus. And, of course, plenty of fur fixes with animals in our main adoption center and barn. This week, a kid cannonballed into our pond. That’s definitely NOT in the brochure or part of the program…kids will be kids!
Education programs aren’t easy to measure in terms of their success or impact on the kids. Still, we get the feedback we need. Kids, like my own, want to come back for seconds (and thirds!). Campers apply to be counselors — far more than we can accept. Campers have joined our staff, years after their camp experience.
As a former teacher, I can’t imagine not having camp and other kids programs, and fully believe they are at the heart of our mission. We’re teaching kids not to make the mistakes we see adults making, we’re fostering compassion and empathy in kids already leaning that way. We meet kids who are hesitant, if not fearful, because all they’ve ever experienced is neglected, “scary” dogs.
In addition to the changes we see firsthand, we receive loads of anecdotal information, like kids who tell us they convinced their parents to spay or neuter the family dog or cat or bring that family pet indoors, to make them part of the family.
My day today started with this message from an SPCA friend, which I couldn’t wait to share with Darlenne and her team.
“I was in veterinary ophthalmology office yesterday with Chex for post-surgery follow-up. Chex was wearing his cone, practically glued to me. Not thrilled to be there. A little girl, sitting next to us, asked (very sweetly) if she could pet Chex. Hmmmm. Strange place, wearing cone, unknown little girl, Chex is rarely, if ever, around kids. What could possibly go wrong? I said ‘yes’ and asked her to go very slowly. The kid was a pro. She moved slowly, sat on the floor, didn’t crowd him, held out her hand for Chex to sniff. She spoke soooooooo softly and was very gentle. She rubbed the side of his face very gently and told him he was a good boy. I asked if she would like to give him a Charley Bear (always in my pocket) and before I could get all ‘instructive’ she put the treat on the flat of her hand, offered it slowly, and Chex took it very gently. ‘You did a really nice job. Thank you for asking first and for being so gentle,’ I said.
‘I learned how to do it at SPCA camp,’ she replied. Kudos to your Humane Education Team!”
If you have children or know any who might enjoy our unique experience, please spread the word. Camp is a hot ticket, but we have a few remaining spots in some of the summer sessions.