Laura Burban, director of the , was the type of kid who spent all her time outdoors, covered in mud from her various explorations. As a child, she would have loved to attend an animal summer camp. This summer, she and other shelter staffers are making that childhood wish a reality for local Branford kids with Animal Camp. Focused on respecting all living creatures and learning to trust – both children's own instincts and each other – the day camp will feature all of the usual recreation activities like crafts and games, but focusing on animals, both domesticated and wild.
In an age where many kids might otherwise spend the summer indoors, Animal Camp encourages getting kids into nature, where they can gain some experience – and an understanding of their responsibility to both animals and nature – interfacing with the world around them. Burban mentioned that at the shelter, they often see young adults on their own for the first time who select the wrong pet for their lifestyle, because they've never been taught how to be good animal owners. One of the goals at Animal Camp is to help children understand the responsibilities of animal ownership at a young age. Burban developed an acronym to help them remember the six core values: FLEMDS, which stands for Food, Love, Exercise, Medical care, Discipline, and Shelter/socialization. Learning how to care for the animals around them will help children become compassionate, empathetic, and sympathetic people in all aspects of their lives.
The first session of animal summer camp begins on June 27th, with two additional sessions to follow in August. Children can attend one week or all three; each session will cover similar topics, such as shelter, wildlife, dogs, fish and sea animals, and local insects and trees, but with different activities. For instance, in the first session, campers will learn about agility training from a dog trainer, but later sessions will feature different experiences with dogs. Children will also have the chance to make contact with wild animals, such as owls, seagulls, and bats that are being rehabilitated by local specialists. Guest speakers include two wild animal rehabilitators from Branford and Guilford, a dog trainer and rehabilitator, a veterinary technician, and an animal control officer. Counselors include staff members at the shelter and seasonal staffers hired to work at the camp. The camp will take place at giving children the opportunity to interact with wildlife through animal tracking and tromping through the woods themselves.
"We want them to really experience the whole outdoors," Burban said. "We want to let the kids be kids. We want them to be messy." But, she promised parents, "We'll clean them up before we send them home."
The camp has two separate age groups: grades three and four and grades five through seven. Kids 14 and older who would like to earn some fun community services hours can volunteer to be counselors-in-training. Camp runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the cost is $100 per week. Children bring their own bag lunches. A tent will be provided on site at Young's Pond to keep campers cool in the summer heat, and water activities are being planned. The Community House serves as an alternate indoor location. Session 1 runs June 27 through July 1; session 2, August 15 through 19; and session 3, August 22 through 26. There is still time to sign up for any of these sessions; children can even register on the first day by calling the at 203-488-8304.