Unleashing a Good Time at Camp Barks & Rec

SHS continues to invest in kids’ humane education. Incredibly, these kids often become our most passionate advocates.

“Are we in front of our dogs?” Volunteer coordinator Amanda Bennett’s voice rings through Kennel One as several kids in bright yellow shirts pour into the room, neon orange clickers dangling from their wrists. While most kennels have papers on them — info about the dog, it’s adoption status, the last time it was walked — some of the dogs have another special sign.

On Chester’s cage there is a bright yellow page cluttered with green and black paw prints that reads, “I’m going to be training Chester. – Matthew.”

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Farther down the aisle, a girl takes her place next to a sign reading, “I am being trained by Violet,” in pink and purple. Lucky, Violet’s trainee, eagerly puts her paws against the front of the cage, sporting a big doggie grin. Another sign with a blue striped border, sweetly requests that if someone would like to adopt Markee that they please wait until the end of the week, at which point they should be sure to walk him every day.

Camp Barks & Rec is the perfect opportunity for young animal lovers to learn how to have healthy, humane relationships with animals of all sorts, including wildlife.

These kids are participants in Camp Barks & Rec, a week-long program put on by the Spokane Humane Society each month of the summer for kids who are not yet old enough to volunteer (ages 7–9). For many of the kids, the opportunity to claim a dog as their trainee for the week is their favorite part of camp, and their enthusiasm is palpable. Having just learned some basic clicker techniques in a brief training, the kids put their new skills to the test, clicking when the dog does something they like and following up with a treat.

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On Wednesday and Thursday of each session, the campers also read to their dogs, bringing in their favorite books and settling themselves on a blanket outside each dog’s cage. The majority of the campers’ time with the dogs is through the chain link of the cages for legal reasons, but the campers are often able to take their dogs for a walk with a parent after camp.

The dogs are just a small part of the camper’s humane education. Camp Barks & Rec is the perfect opportunity for young animal lovers to learn how to have healthy, humane relationships with animals of all sorts, including wildlife. “It allows them an intro into the animal world,” Amanda says. “I enjoy being part of that stepping stone.”

Over the course of the week, speakers come to share with the campers about the various animal-related programs in our city. The visitors for this session include Colton Hodgson from Turnbull Wildlife Refuge, Officer Adams from SCRAPS, and Paul Buchmann and his working dog Talon from the Spokane Police Department.

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During the week of camp, the kids learn how to prevent dog bites and safely introduce themselves to a pet, they learn what the different types local animal facilities do, they learn about service animals and special needs pets, and they learn basic training techniques. They play in the cat room, and do fun, messy activities like making birdfeeders out of corn, birdseed and peanut butter. At the end of each day, they also have a little extra time and a composition book for whatever type of reflection they’d like to do. This often includes excited chatter about their dogs and sharing stories from their previous Barks & Rec experiences.

Camp Barks & Rec, like so much of the work SHS does, is as good for those involved as it is for the animals. It benefits the dogs who get to have a friend for the week, the other animals who also get cuddled and played with, and the kids who often choose to return to camp each year until they’re old enough to volunteer.

During the week of camp, the kids learn how to prevent dog bites and safely introduce themselves to a pet, they learn what the different types local animal facilities do, they learn about service animals and special needs pets, and they learn basic training techniques.

Since Jenna Carroll started the program four years ago, it has become a catalyst for meaningful, ongoing relationships between families and the Spokane Humane Society. A child’s connection to animals in need often leads to a desire to give their time and money to the shelter. For her birthday this past year, our camper Violet collected gifts for critters and donated half of her birthday money to the shelter.

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“We actually have lots of kids that do this,” Amanda says. “Our facebook is littered with pictures of kids with the goodies they collected” — and this behavior isn’t limited to campers, either. Kids love animals, and we love to see that spark ignite.

These are the kinds of relationships that have kept us alive for 120 years. Whether it’s pennies from school children or a large sum in a will, a lifetime of support can start as early as the first time a child adopts a pet or attends Camp Barks & Rec. No matter what the future holds for these kids, we feel blessed to know that we’re sending yet another handful of educated young citizens into the world who will help us build a more humane society and always have a place for us in their hearts.