Program gives kids pointers on how to care for their pets

Posted
Tuesday July 27, 2010

PITTSFIELD

For animals who need training to be good pets, there's obedience school. For youths who need lessons in being a good pet owners, there's Camp Humane.

Camp Humane has been based at the Berkshire Humane Society on Barker Road since the shelter opened in 1992. The program has expanded this year to give kids in Grades 3 through 8 the opportunity to learn about proper pet care as well as topics such as wildlife and animal welfare.

Anna Grace Nimmo, 10, of Stockbridge, has been going to the camp for four years.

"The first year I was here because I wanted to get a dog and my mom told me I'd have to come here. But I keep learning more and more, every single time. And I get to see what's new," Nimmo said.

The girl, by the way, did get her dog -- a beagle-German shepherd mix named Maisy. She also helps out at home with two cats and four fish.

Each camp session runs a week for each grade level, offering age-appropriate activities. Third-graders, for example, got to meet shelter animals and see a presentation on beavers from the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Next month, eighth-grade students will visit a farm animal rescue program in Peru.

"I've really tried to step it up with the program to keep it current and interesting, and to make responsible pet owners," said camp coordinator Karen Karlberg, who also heads community outreach efforts for Berkshire Humane Society.

Last week, 23 fifth-graders got a visit from Matt Gabriel of Stoughton-based Animal World Experience. The presenter brought with him a herd of furry, squirmy and scaly friends, like Amber the bearded dragon, Milky the rabbit, and Maddy the hissing cockroach of Madagascar.

Clementine, a nearly 3-year-old corn snake, drew several "ewws" and "awws" -- and a few mildly panicked looks from the student audience.

"Don't worry, she doesn't eat people: She eats mice. She's very nice," Gabriel said, allowing the kids to pet and hold the elaphe guttata.

Also there to interact with the younger kids are several high school students Karlberg recruits as camp counselors to help keep kids both engaged and safe while interacting with animals.

"[The kids] are pretty good and they ask a lot of questions," said counselor Andrea Kirby, 16, of Pittsfield.

Zach Gross, 17, of Pittsfield and Great Barrington, has been with the camp for eight years, first as a camper and now as a counselor. "The activities have changed but the main idea is still there, to teach kids to be nice to animals and to take care of them well."


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