Critter Camps teach kids about animal handling |

Critter Camps teach kids about animal handling

The Critter Camps at the Friends of Animals Utah rehabilitation ranch in Brown’s Canyon teaches children more than just how to have fun with their furry companions.

The five-day sessions give kids between the ages of nine and 12 a better understanding of how to interact with dogs and cats safely, said camp director Sarah Wilfahrt.

"We highlight safe dog handling as a mainstay at our camps," Wilfahrt said during an interview with The Park Record. "We especially want the kids to learn how to be comfortable around big dogs, because there are a lot of kids who are afraid of them."

The camps also educate the children about the importance of rescuing, spaying and neutering animals in a fun and positive environment.

"We want the children to see how easy it is to have fun with pets and how to develop that animal/human bond," Wilfahrt said.

FOA Utah offers four camps June 25 through June 29, July 9 through July 13, July 30 through Aug. 3 and Aug. 6 though Aug. 10 and the sessions are held from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. for five days, Wilfahrt said.

The cost is $200 and includes light breakfasts and a full lunches.

Each day the children will get to hear two guest speakers, participate in a craft project and have an abundance of hands-on activities with dogs and cats, Wilfahrt said.

"We have an array of guest speakers that range from veterinarians to wildlife rescue personnel and dog trainers," she explained. "We also have sessions with sled and guide dogs, because we want to let the kids know that there are all these different ways they can involve themselves with these animals. Hopefully the kids will see that they can do more than just taking care of a pet. We want them to know that there are careers out there that involve animals.

"Even if the kids have dogs or other pets at home, they may not know of the wide range of activities they can do together or they may not know about wildlife rescue or about becoming a veterinarian or a dog trainer," she said.

A wildlife hander will also visit the the camps.

"The kids will get exposure to exotic animals such as snakes and other reptiles.," Wilfahrt said with a smile. "The handling on those is a little more limited, of course."

Still, if the children want to handle dogs and cats, there is no end to the opportunities.

"During the camps, everyone will get to see all the cats and dogs we have at the ranch," Wilfahrt said. "They will get to walk the animals and do various bits of training and see, up close, what goes on in search and rescue missions, and how dogs are trained for those types of jobs."

The camps also include visits to the Summit County Animal Shelter.

"The kids will help in choose one dog and possibly one cat per camp that will be introduced into the Friends of Animal rehabilitation program," Wilfahrt said.

At the end of each five-day session, the children will break up in teams and run a dog through an agility course.

"These aren’t little dogs, but they are safe and tested dogs that the kids will work with," Wilfahrt said. "I think it’s cool for kids to handle these sizes of dogs, especially if they haven’t had the chance before the camps."

The dogs that participate in the camps include Wilfahrt’s own dogs and some that she has screened to ensure safety.

"We usually have an average of five dogs that work in the camps," she said. "We want to expose them to those things and promote safe handing and general welfare."

The camps are designed to help children learn safe animal handling, but even the Friends of Animals Utah staff needs some training as well.

So, it has recruited Sherry Woodard, who is Best Friends Animal Society’s resident animal behavior consultant in Kanab, to come give the staff a weeklong training session before the Critter Camps begin.

Woodard, who originally worked with Friends of Animals Utah as a volunteer, said it was exciting to see how much the FOA programs have expanded and is happy to be working with the staff again.

"I’m teaching the staff to recognize animals’ body language, so it will be easier for them to understand what the animals are feeling," Woodard said. "I’m also teaching how they can assess behavior, which Sarah already does, but we’re going through it with the whole staff so they all have a better understanding of the animals they come in contact with.

"The training is important for the staff, so they can tell what types of homes the animals would flourish in once they get adopted," she said.

Woodard’s breadth of knowledge regarding dog training and dog safety is helpful for Wilfahrt because she will incorporate all those principles in the Critter Camp.

"One of the things we need to do within the camp is to give the kids a better understanding of the differences between a safe dog and a dangerous dog," Wilfahrt explained. "That way the kids can keep themselves safe during dog interactions throughout their lives.

"Sherry’s sessions enhance our own understanding of how to assess the special needs of the new dogs who come into a shelter environment so that we will make their transitions better," she said.

To register for the Friends of Animals Utah Critter Camps, call (435) 649-5411. For more information about Friends of Animals Utah Rehabilitation Ranch or Furburbia Adoption center, visit