From birds to bunnies, dogs to horses, and everything in between, a classroom full of children has been learning all they can about animals this week at Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center’s summer youth program.
“They focus on different animals,” Saving Grace Volunteer Coordinator Trina Wheeldon said. “They do everything from animal care to animal body language.”
The 16 campers at Gracie’s Critter Camp have participated in a wide variety of activities this week. They have made cat and dog treats, shadowed at the spay and neuter clinic — where they saw an actual surgery — and have been introduced to some of the area’s animal-centered organizations, such as Duchess Sanctuary and Wildlife Safari.
“They can actually carry this education into their homes by helping to care for their pets at home a little bit better and also being advocates in the community for the importance of spay and neutering their pets,” Wheeldon said. “Or just being kind to others and compassionate toward animals.”
On Thursday, campers reviewed some of the lessons they had learned by answering questions about animal body language, what to do if they see a sick animal and the proper way to introduce themselves to a new animal.
“I know that it gives kids an opportunity to interact with some of the animals, to observe what the staff does and to appreciate how hard people work to care for animals here,” said Humane Educator Barby Dowd. “And to learn that this is really a safe place. It’s not like the concept of a pound, it’s the concept of a shelter.”
Dowd has been helping with the camp for about six years. She said she is always surprised to see how attached some of the kids become to the animals.
“They don’t spend a lot of time with them — not really, not like we do as employees and volunteers — but they almost get sad if they find out an animal has been adopted,” Dowd said.
Animal interaction was definitely the main reasons 12-year-old Audrey Salter wanted to attend camp.
“I wanted to meet all the animals and take care of them,” Audrey said. “I thought it would be fun because I can’t be around cats at home, or bunnies, because my parents are allergic and I love helping out here. It’s really fun.”
So far, Audrey’s favorite part has been making cat crackers and pup-cycles for the animals. She has grown attached to a German Shepherd named Gracie.
Twelve-year-old Skylar Johnson chose to attend camp for the experience.
“I like the class pets, which are bunnies and are one of my favorite pets,” Skylar said while petting a rabbit named Prince Charming.
Ten-year-old Lalia Lowe attended the camp two years ago, but this time she brought a friend.
“My mom just saw it and realized it would be fun to do it again and she brought me and my friend here,” Laila said. “It’s just fun, all the activities that we do and meeting new people.”
“I hope that they learn that kindness and respect to animals really makes a difference and they have the power to show other people that they know that,” Dowd said.