Armed with plastic baggies, bottles of water and bags of treats, a dozen campers and their four-legged companions started their week of summer camp with a nice, long walk in the woods at Lake Accotink Park Monday morning, July 17.
“We like to start them out with a walk to allow the dogs to get to know each other and let them and the kids burn off a little energy,” said Ginger Colon, director of the Doggone Fun Camp at Lake Accotink. “We like to let the dogs sniff around and get used to each other.”
During a typical week, Colon will supervise between nine and 12 children and their dogs while they play games, go on nature walks and learn about dog safety.
“We help the kids become responsible pet owners,” she said.
PLANNED ACTIVITIES during the week include having the campers make bandannas for their pets with their dog’s paw prints on them, to bond the children and their dogs. In addition, animal control officers, veterinarians and other pet-related professionals visit the camp to teach the children ways to keep their pets safe.
“The kids will learn pet first aid and CPR,” she said. “At the end of the week, a woman comes in who makes her own dog treats that the kids can eat too, and she teaches the kids how to make them,” Colon said.
Doggone Fun camp brings together dogs of all shapes and sizes, but Colon said she hasn’t had to send anyone home for being a bad dog.
“We did send one dog home once, but that was more because he was an old dog and it was a really hot day,” she said.
Following their morning walk, the children and their dogs filed into the air-conditioned office of the park, down the hall to a darkened break room where they watched two videos on bite prevention. The videos, which provided such useful tips as putting hands in one's pockets and standing very still if approached by a wild dog, were occasionally interrupted with the short bursts of barking when two dogs got too close to each other. The overwhelming sound in the room while the children were watching the videos was the panting of dogs, too hot to go outside in the 90 degree heat.
The campers had as many reasons for signing up for the camp as they had varieties of dogs.
“I wasn’t spending enough time with my dog, so I wanted to do this for her,” said Olivia Rauch, who brought her dogs, Sunny and Leo, along with her friend Yvonne Hernandez. “I wanted to do something fun with my dog.”
Olivia had the leash of Sunny, a small collie with dark hair, while Yvonne held on to Leo, a Great Pyrenees dog that stood 4-feet tall at about 1 1/2 years old.
Jacob Tiss, who brought his friendly dog Toby, said he hoped he could “bond with my dog” during the camp.
“I’m hoping she’ll become a little more obedient,” said Tory Nagel, who is attending the camp with her small dog, Tinkerbell.
“I've been wanting to go to a camp with my dog for a long time,” said Abby Roney, waiting for her dog Savannah to get a drink of water from one of the large blue plastic self-refilling water bottles inside a fenced-in area where the dogs and their owners gathered.
BEFORE THE CAMP begins, organizers tell parents to provide their children and dogs with snacks during the morning, said Katie Furman, one of the camp counselors.
To keep the campers and their pets cool, the counselors will plan activities in the woods, so campers can enjoy the shade. Sometimes, the activities move inside if it's too hot, she said. The camp also provides two plastic wading pools for the dogs to splash around in to keep cool.
Doggone Fun Camp is "my favorite time of day," Furman said. "Everyone is tired by the end of the week, but we've all had a lot of fun," she said.
Stopping by to check on her two dogs, Aleta Rauch said she was more concerned about how the dogs were introduced to each other than how they'd cope with the heat.
"You can take your dogs to a park or for a walk in the neighborhood, but it's another thing to put the kids and the dogs all together at the same time in a new place," she said.
Looking in on Leo and Sunny, "they look like they're doing just fine," she said. "I'm amazed at how calm they got the dog on the first day."
The camp is just another program to "promote responsible pet ownership," said park manager Tawny Hammond. "We want kids to grow up with the principals associated with taking care of pets. If people have more places to take their pets, maybe we can enhance the quality of life for these families, maybe we're keeping some animals out of shelters."