It was an idea I toyed with for our summer camps several years ago, but at that time it just wasn't feasible. Back then our camps consisted of up to 24 kids at a time confined for the most part to just one room. Restricting the number to a smaller group would have meant a loss of income for HAWS. And there wasn't any way for us to pull it off with 24 kids.
The idea was that a small group of kids would have the same dog to work with for an entire week. With the building addition the idea became much more realistic since we now have two fairly large rooms in which to hold camp. This year's camp consists of two sessions running at the same time. So while one room can hold 24 kids attending a "regular" session of camp, the smaller room can allow a group of 15 kids to attend a different camp during the same week.
Tomorrow will be the last day of our first session ever of "Camp Gone to the Dogs", and it couldn't have gone better. Kids between the ages of 9 and 13 years were placed into groups of 3, and each group assigned a dog for the week. During the camp day the kids are responsible for walking, grooming and training "their" dog. If the dog poops on a walk the kids have to pick up and dispose of it. When the dogs are taken out of or returned to their kennels the kids have to ensure that the kennel is clean -- if it isn't they have to clean it.
About half of the 7 hour camp day is spent with the dogs. The rest of the time the campers are involved in other activities such as watching short PowerPoint presentations on dog safety, training, and canine body language. They meet other HAWS animals such as cats, rabbits, turtles and HAWS education snake. They baked Salmon Training treats, and then had the opportunity to use them in training.
Not only do the kids love this camp, but the dogs are gaining huge benefits from it as well. With a minimum of 2 walks and 2 training sessions a day, as well as opportunities to just "hang" with their kids to get petting, massages and brushing - they get more attention and exercise than any other dog in the shelter. And I'm amazed at what a wonderful job they are doing with the dogs. The training is fantastic -- I never thought they'd be able to lure Jersey into a down -- but she's doing it with just a verbal cue already! And our little Bichon Sherlock looks so handsome now that the girls gave him a bath and spent a lot of time brushing him.
I want to thank the kennel and adoption staff for putting up with this camp program this week. Shelter Manager Kelly made sure we had enough kid-suitable dogs by going to Milwaukee Domestic Animal Control Commission and transferring a large number of dogs to HAWS a few weeks before camp started. Our kennel staff has had to endure kids wandering through the kennels to take out and return dogs to their kennels. And our adoption staff had to let potential adopters know that they couldn't take the camp dogs home for a week. This really was a shelter collaborative effort!
We have two more sessions of Camp Gone to the Dogs left and I'm excited at the impact this will have on both the kids and dogs involved. I'll let you know how it goes.