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Animal Friends summer day camp teaches children how to interact with, care for pets

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Animal Friends considers promoting the animal-to-human bond a major way to solve the animal overpopulation problem.

One of the ways the shelter in Ohio Township works to strengthen that bond is through a summer day camp at which children interact with animals.

This year, 140 children enrolled for the camp, the most since it began in 2006. Shelter officials hope to add more spots next summer.

“We teach that animals have feelings, too, they just don't have the words to express them, so recognizing body language is huge,” said Dana Schultz, education coordinator for Animal Friends. “We meet so many different kids, some who aren't allowed a pet at home for various reasons. This is a way for them to get their ‘animal fix.' ”

The camp programs include Critter Camp for children in kindergarten and first grade; Camp Animal Friends, for grades two to four; PetsPlus Camp, for fifth and sixth graders; and Canine Good manners Camp, for teens 13 to 17.

“They are sort of like levels,” said Schultz. “What kids learn in Critter Camp is applied to the next grade level camp, Camp Animal Friends, and so on. As the kids get older and more experienced, they get to have more responsibility. A lot of kids are excited to move up to Canine Manners Camp because they will finally be old enough to be counselors and help out with the younger campers.”

The campers work with rabbits, cats and dogs.

Schultz said the goal is to teach the importance of animal care and handling, animal to human interaction, body language, appreciating different species and respecting pets.

Christine Michael of Cranberry said she and her daughter, Michaela, 14, participated in the Canine Good Manners Camp and were counselors in the Critter Camp.

“In the dynamics of her being with a dog, she doesn't have to impress anyone,” said Michael, who described her daughter as shy. “There's no peer pressure or pressure to fit in. She taught a female beagle mix named Amber commands. Just watching her allow herself to be free with animals was rewarding.”

The family regularly volunteers at Animal Friends, walking dogs and caring for rabbits.

“My main goal is to teach my kids that if they respect animals, animals will respect them back,” Michael said. “I want my kids to realize that they have a pretty sweet life and give back to the community in some way.”

Chasity Capasso is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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