Every Monday, the Flanders family eats mac ‘n’ cheese.
Between 11-year-old Gabby’s dance classes and mother Teri’s salary as a schoolteacher, there wasn’t much room left in the family budget for a donation to the Monterey SPCA.
But at Gabby’s urging, the Flanders family began the low-cost “Mac ‘n’ Cheese Mondays” tradition so they could afford to contribute something to the organization that has been such a significant part of their – and their adopted cats’ and dogs’ – lives.
For the past five years, Gabby has been one of the joyous kids who fill the Monterey SPCA for Animal Camp. The four-day camp – now offered in the spring and fall in addition to its usual summer sessions – aims to educate children about the SPCA, careers involving animals and proper animal care.
“When the campers are here, we really impress upon them how to approach an animal, how to be kind,” says Dawn Fenton, who runs the camp.
These lessons are hammered home as children split their time each week between the SPCA’s barn, animal shelter and other locations across its leafy 213-acre property.
“We go to the Wildlife Center,” Gabby says. “That’s pretty cool, because nobody really gets to go up there and see the animals. It’s like a backstage pass.”
Another major component of the Animal Camp program: weekly enrichment projects aimed at entertaining animals in the shelter. These activities range from crafting cat toys to stuffing puppies’ kong toys with peanut butter and watching the cute carnage ensue.
All of this experience translates well to careers in the animal-care field, another emphasis of the camp.
Guest speakers at Animal Camp, from SPCA Humane Investigators (“animal cops”) to animal behavior specialists to wildlife experts, teach kids how to make a difference in the animal world.
“There’s no such thing as being just a kid here at the SPCA,” says Beth Brookhouser, Director of Community Outreach for the Monterey SPCA. “The kids can really make a difference for the animals, and I think they learn a lot about that while they are here.”
The messages have hit home. “I want to work there when I grow up,” Gabby Flanders says. “It’s nice to know how it works and how to treat animals right and how to be a good animal helper.”
“I’ve had moms call and say, ‘I know she’s only in 8th grade, but can you recommend vet schools?’” Fenton says.
In addition to learning about animals, campers also gain valuable academic and interpersonal skills.
Gabby’s mom, Teri, says she can see how camp leaders have kids practice their public speaking and writing skills. “But the kids don’t even know they are doing academics,” she says, “because they are having fun with the animals.”
Once a child is too old for camp, as Gabby will be next year, they can still return as part of the Critter Crew: teenage camp counselors who help oversee the program.
“I had one little girl, who the first day of camp, she was so quiet,” Fenton remembers. “Being around the animals, I watched her grow and learn and become more confident. By the end of the week she was raising her hand, she was running around. She gained so much more confidence just by being around the animals.”
For complete agendas and pricing for SPCA Animal Camp, see summer camp listings or call 264-5404, www.SPCAmc.org