Of all the great pairs, kids and dogs is one of the sweetest. At one local summer day camp, there are plenty of both, but the partnership is more than just cute.
The Kids and Critters Day Camp at the Bakersfield SPCA, which kicked off this week with more sessions this month, aims to help both kids and animals. Teaming up with a dog in the shelter's care for the week, children ages 8 to 12 work to teach the dogs obedience to help their adoption chances. At the same time, the kids are learning responsibility and compassion for animals.
The camp has been going on since 2010 and includes special guests like dog trainers, groomers and Roaming Reptiles, as well as field trips to CALM. Kids also work on arts and crafts and can visit with the cats at the shelter too.
"They're packing so much other stuff in," said Julie Johnson, SPCA executive director. "We really try to immerse them in animals — even reptiles. We really want them to have that human-animal bond."
The camp runs Monday through Thursday and can accommodate 28 children each week. Future sessions run the weeks of July 16, 23 and 30. Some spaces are still available for each.
On Monday, campers "adopted" a dog to work with for the week. The SPCA staff figures out which animals in their care would be good for campers, dogs that aren't too shy or aggressive and ones that get along with other dogs.
Usually each child would get a dog, but because there are fewer dogs in the shelter at the moment, most dogs had two children. Campers Mia Brink and Rilyn Oakes, both 9, didn't mind sharing their dog, Boomerang.
"Last year, we didn't do partners," Brink said. "When you do partners with someone you don't know, you get to know them."
"The dog brings you together," Oakes said.
On Tuesday, the campers were visited by Julio Torres, a dog trainer through the Wounded Heroes Fund. Typically he trains service dogs for veterans like himself, but for the third year the Marine has joined the SPCA camp to help kids train dogs.
"Talking to them in a positive manner is going to get a lot out of them," Torres told the campers. "It doesn't matter what language you speak, they understand."
As the kids walked with the dogs on leashes, Torres told them the importance of communicating with the animals. Many of the dogs came in from the streets and didn't have positive interactions with humans until now. He encouraged them to speak to the dogs comfortingly, telling them it's going to be OK and that they'll find homes.
"We're trying to teach these dogs basic obedience with the hope of them being adopted soon," Torres said in an interview after working with the kids. "A well-behaved dog gets adopted sooner."
Torres said the campers' pure hearts and energy give the dogs the reassurance and comfort they need after living on the streets or in a bad home. In return, the children get a lesson in responsibility and all the affection a grateful dog can give.
"They're helping these dogs find a home," Torres said of the kids. "They see them locked in the cages and start to see that helping animals is the best feeling in the world and could potentially lead them to help others."
Though there's no pressure or obligation for campers and their families' to adopt a pet, a lot of the dogs do end up going home with the kids who worked with them, Johnson said. Even if their families aren't looking to adopt, the camp is still a good opportunity for kids to learn and interact with animals.
"I think this is nice, especially if kids like animals," said camp director Ann Dolinar. "It's a great camp for kids to come and learn to handle dogs."
Sisters Cadence and Ashlyn Rodrigue enjoyed hanging out with their camp dog, Roxy, and were excited about what the rest of the week at camp would bring.
"It's really fun," said Cadence, who will turn 12 next week. "We don't only play with dogs. We also made lizards (as a craft) and later in the week we make a blanket for our animals at home."
Both girls said they would recommend the camp to their friends.
"I would tell them that it would be fun," Ashlyn, 8, said. "You get to hang out with dogs ... and you get to make new friends."