For many, a summer camp treat involves chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers, but at the Pawz Academy Minicamp, assembling a snack involves peanut butter, dog food and a rubber cone.

“My favorite thing is making the dog treats,” said Greta Griffin, 11, of making stuffed Kong and frozen biscuit concoctions. “I love dogs.”

Preparing delicacies for the dogs was just one of many activities on the menu during the weeklong camp at the Coulee Region Humane Society, which wrapped up on Friday afternoon with kitten playtime and a run through the agility course with shelter dog Maddie. CRHS education and pet therapy coordinator Erin Olson focused each day on a different aspect of the care and welfare of both domestic animals and wildlife, with an overall theme of animal advocacy.

“The biggest reason that I do these camps is to help the kids to feel comfortable coming to the shelter, because I won’t have this job forever, and we’re raising our next generation of animal welfare workers,” Olson said. “I want them to learn that every animal that comes here has a story and needs a home.”

“We believe strongly in education and the sooner we can educate kids about animal welfare, wildlife rehab and adoption the better,” agreed Samantha Luhmann, community outreach coordinator for CRHS. “These are kiddos who have a passion and a love for animals. They’ll have a lot of power when they are adults and it will be so valuable as they grow older to continue that movement.”

This is the second year the camp, open to ages 8 to 13, has been offered, and animal lover Georgia Arnage was eager to come back. The owner of two goldfish and a dog has an affinity for turtles, and was captivated by the turtle living in the shelter’s garage, as well as one housed in the education room. Landon Phillips, 9, whose family is planning to adopt a dog this summer, signed up in part to scope out the available canines but was all about the kittens on Friday.

“This is the best,” Phillips said, dangling feather and ribbon toys in front of 8-week-old Belinda, one of three rambunctious kittens who eagerly played and climbed on the campers.

“This is so good for them,” Olson said of the kitty trio, who recently returned to the shelter from foster care. “Sometimes when they get back they turn into little puffballs, they’re so nervous. The kids are the best thing for them. The socialization makes them so much more adoptable.”

In addition to the cats and dogs, the campers had a chance to handle the little critters at the shelter, from guinea pigs to birds, and take a peek at a live skunk. They brainstormed a list of names, including “Mr. Nibbles” and “Sprinkles,” for the shelter’s incoming animals, and learned how to identify the best pet for a family.

“If people like to lay on the couch a lot, you want a dog who lies down a lot,” one camper explained.

“Puppies should be with kids,” added another.

For a lesson in the rehabilitation of abandoned and injured animals, the group composed enrichment toys stuffed with Cheerios for the squirrels in the outdoor rehab structures, and made special toys for the cats in isolation in need of some extra love.

Compassion for animals of all kinds was one of the key lessons of the week, and one that Griffin, who will begin volunteering at the La Crescent Animal Rescue this weekend, took to heart.

“There are a lot of animals here that don’t have homes,” Griffin said. “It’s important that all the strays find good homes.”

Pawz Academy will return next summer, and the shelter offers additional programming for young animal lovers throughout the year. Crafts for Critters, held one Friday a month, gives kids a chance to create toys and other items for the shelter animals, and Stories for Shelter Cats, offered bi-monthly from June through August, lets kids and preteens practice their reading skills in the company of cats.

Children 12 and older, accompanied by a parent, are also eligible to volunteer with dogs, cats or small animals at the shelter. For more information on volunteering or youth activities at the shelter, visit www.couleehumane.com or call 608-781-4014.

“The biggest reason that I do these camps is to help the kids to feel comfortable coming to the shelter, because I won’t have this job forever, and we’re raising our next generation of animal welfare workers.” Erin Olson, CRHS education and pet therapy coordinator
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Emily Pyrek covers human interest stories, local events and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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