Absolutely Awesome — The Animal Awareness Camp

Absolutely Awesome — The Animal Awareness Camp

July 11, 2002

Heather Dube, Megan Hammond, Jessica Bates, Lindsey Baumann, Linnea Markson and Hannah Kern were looking for something different to do this summer.

They found it at The Absolutely Awesome Animal Awareness Camp of Alexandria.

Started seven years ago by Jeanine Larsen, the animal camp at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is so popular that it needs no advertisement. Sessions fill up almost as soon as they are announced.

This is the first time that the camp has been held at the League’s new location on Duke Street, which just opened 2 1/2 months ago. “It’s a nice new facility for the camp,” said Larsen.

The week before Fourth of July was the first session. Subsequent sessions last into August. Each session is three hours long - from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — and runs five days. Larsen has created a daily schedule that is jam-packed with speakers, demonstrations, tours and hands-on learning. Campers make birdhouses, design T-shirts, watch videos and play animal/environmental trivia games.

The children leave with a new-found appreciation of the importance of spaying and neutering, danger of buying exotic animals, the reality of habitat destruction and pollution, and the importance of recycling. All six campers from the first session came away learning something different.

Megan said, “I learned how important it is to spay or neuter animals.” Hannah agreed, saying that it keeps the pets healthier. Linnea said, “I’ve learned that you need to give more attention to the older cats,” pointing out that the kittens generally get more attention because they’re cuter.

Some of the campers learned interesting facts about the animals in the shelter. Lindsey said, “German Shepherds can be taught tricks very easily.” Heather learned how to tell if a turtle is male or female, while Jessica said, “You can tell how old a dog is by looking at their teeth.”

“EVERYBODY USUALLY WANTS to come back,” said Larsen, who pointed out that they try to take new campers every year, so that everybody gets a chance. With the bigger shelter, they’re hoping that they can have bigger camps. They’re planning to start a series of mini-camps during the year so that more children will have a chance to get involved.

Larsen was a zookeeper at The Bronx Zoo before she joined the shelter 10 years ago. She currently serves as the humane educator. In addition to her role as camp director, she is very involved in the day-to-day activities of the shelter. She is very knowledgeable, not only about domestic animals but also about exotic animals and wildlife, all of which are discussed during the camp.

She seems to thoroughly enjoy working with the children and said that every session is different. The camper questionnaire, which is included with the application form, asks campers why they want to participate in the camp; three things they’re hoping to learn; what animal they’re afraid of; and what animals they have a relationship with.

“We see what kids are interested in and focus on that,” said Larsen.

Since all of the campers in the first group, who just happened to be girls, were very much interested in dogs, they spent a fair amount of time with the dogs in the shelter. Bringing them to the outside visitor area, the girls spent time holding them and playing with them.

“It’s good for the animals — it teaches them socialization skills,” said Larsen. The girls’ favorites were the three Australian shepherd mixed puppies that were brought out. Heather has two dogs and said, “Gabby reminds me of a dog I had named Tony.” Hannah said, “I like spending time with the animals.”

“Most of the kids love animals,” said Larsen.

After the puppies were put back in their cages, the campers went to visit the cats and kittens. A pair of 9-week-old kittens named Bob and Hope kept the girls busy, while Princess, who’s 1 1/2 years old, was a little tamer.

Spending time with the animals would help them decide which animal they wanted to have their picture taken with — one of the final day‘s activities.

<bci>Call 703-838-5042 for more information on the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.