Friday, June 26, 2009

Mystic and the Campers

Because Mystic comes to work with me, and because my office is right off of the room where camp is held, the children attending camp have dubbed him the "Camp Mascot".

It's not unusual for me to have to shoo children away from the baby gate across my office door in order for me to get in and out of my office. Mystic really knows how to play his adoring fans. At the first sound of a childish sing song voice calling out "Myyyyystic!" he comes strolling out of his crate and acknowledges the kids with a sniff, before turning sideways and leaning against the gate so as to make it more convenient for them to pet the entire length of his back. And with 3 or 4 kids squeezed into my office doorway there's plenty of hands to give him a nice massage.

Many of the kids have attended camp in previous years, and so they know that Mystic knows many tricks and that I usually show them off before the end of the camp session. Word spreads to the newcomers, and all week long I get asked when they'll get to see Mystic do his tricks.

Yesterday I was appalled when guest speaker Ginny Marchel, who is a HAWS dog trainer, brought in her American Eskimo Seika and showed off all of her tricks. Seika not only knew all the tricks Mystic knows, but she knew a few more. How could I follow that act?

One of the things Mystic does do, that Seika does not, is Agility. In the past I've used the kids as obstacles -- they've made jumps out of their arms, weave poles out of their legs, and tunnels as a group. Mystic has gone through kid made obstacles one at a time, and at Winter Camp we paired kid weave poles with a kid tunnel. But I decided to try to expand on it.

In the video you'll see 3 jumps, a set of 6 weave poles and a tunnel. Mystic had a beautiful run this afternoon!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Step by Step

One of the things I try to do is make sure I try new things at our camps. Many of the kids return from year to year, or even from session to session within the same year, and I want camp to be a new experience for them.

At last weeks camp for 10-12 year olds we tried a new activity called "Responsible Pet Ownership, Step by Step".

The kids were paired off with one of the pairs being blindfolded, and the other guiding them through an obstacle course our counselors put together for them. Each partner had an opportunity to play each role.

The kids had a fantastic time doing this activity -- it was even mentioned as a favorite on the survey we ask the kids and parents to fill out after camp is over. I know I heard a lot of laughing going on throughout the room!

As much fun as Step by Step was, we had an ulterior motive. Kid's N Critters Camp tries to make learning fun, and so the idea behind this activity is to show the kids how our pets are utterly dependent on their humans for their every need, and to teach them how important that responsibility is. When blindfolded the kids reported they felt insecure and unsure of what was going on. They had to trust that the person leading them would make good decisions. A good lesson for all of us with something to care for.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

They're Heeeere!

Summer doesn't start on June 21 as the calendar tells us. It doesn't start after Memorial Day. It doesn't start when the public pools first open. Here at HAWS we know summer has started when our first session of Kid's N Critters Day Camp begins.

The relative quiet of HAWS Activity Room outside my office was shattered on Monday when 28 kids between the ages of 7 and 9 descended to have fun and learn about animals. This week consisted of two 2-day camps -- we had 7-9 year olds on Monday and Tuesday, and 10-12 year olds on Wednesday and Thursday.

Our camps run from the middle of June through the middle of August. Five of the sessions are 2-days, and 6 are full weeks. Our goal is to introduce the kids to animals they may not be familiar with, teach them appropriate behavior around animals, get them thinking about what being responsible for a pet entails, educate them about issues common in animal sheltering and rescue, and create empathy and respect for all living things.

The kids who came on Monday and Tuesday had a wonderful time -- as you can see by the photos. They met the 4 week old puppies one of our employees is fostering until they are old enough to go up for adoption. Great socialization for the puppies, and a good lession for the kids about being quiet and calm so that the puppies wouldn't become afraid of them.

They learned about bottle feeding orphaned kittens, held a snake, and met a rabbit named Hop-A-Long and a guinea pig named Ella.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pet Myths: Cats and Litterbox Problems

Many times I'll hear from both children and their parents that they had to "give up" a cat because it stopped using the litterbox. Many people believe that if a cat stops using the litterbox there really isn't anything to do about it, and so they give up on their cat.

Fortunately this just isn't true. There is a lot that can be done about a cat who stops using his litterbox - you just have to find the reason for the behavior change and make adjustments within your own home.

The first thing you should do when your cat has changes in their bathroom habits is to take your cat to the vet. Just because an animal isn't acting sick doesn't mean there isn't something medically wrong. There have been many cases of both cats and dogs who have urinary tract infections where the only symptoms is frequent accidents.

If your cat has been medically cleared then you need to consider a few other things. First of all -- cats can go for years with the same litterbox set-up and not have a problem. Then one day -- sometimes for a reason only the cat knows, they will start to not use their toilet area consistently.

Some other things to consider when trying to resolve this problem are:

Do you have enough litterboxes? Experts recommend that you have one box per cat plus an extra in different areas. Having two litterboxes side by side counts as only one box.

Is the box big enough? Many of the commercially sold litterboxes are too small for many cats. Try to get a bigger box, or purchase a large, flat storage box to use in it's place.

What kind of litter are you using? Typically cats do not like litter that is scented or has a deoderizing agent. It may smell better to us, but it could keep a cat away. Purchase several different types of litter and set them out in different boxes. The box your cat uses tells you which type of litter he prefers.

How much litter are you using? Most people have the motto that "more is better". But if there's too much litter the cat may feel that the surface under his feet are unstable and not feel comfortable in his box.

How often are you cleaning? Cats are extremely clean animals. It's recommended that a litterbox be scooped at least once a day. Cats don't want to use a dirty toilet any more than we do.

How noisy is the area where the litterbox is kept? Did something scary happen in the environment where the litterbox is kept while the cat was there? Keep litterboxes away from heavily trafficked areas, and away from appliances such as the furnace or washer/dryer. You may try moving the box to a new location.

There are other solutions for resolving a litterbox issue. For more information I can highly recommend the booklet called "The Fastitidious Feline" by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. You can also check out the website by Cats International -- which is a wonderful resource for any feline behavior problem.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Creative Projects for HAWS

I have many wonderful teachers in Waukesha County that contact me on a regular basis to come and speak to their classrooms. Most of teachers use my visit to teach their students about giving back to the community, and work on a classroom service project to benefit HAWS.

Of of these teachers is Ms. Killian-Janicek at North Junior High School in Menomonee Falls. Once again students in her Creative Projects class made beds and toys to benefit HAWS (seen in the photo with Mystic). As someone who is totally devoid of any sewing skill whatsoever, I'm in awe of the beautiful work -- which must have taken them hours and hours.

Thank you Ms. Killian-Janicek and your students!