Pet care and other lifetime lessons learned at Critter Camps |

Pet care and other lifetime lessons learned at Critter Camps

While working in the animal rescue field, Sarah Wilfahrt, of the Friends of Animals Utah Rescue and Rehab Ranch, has seen a lot of animals with ailments that could have been prevented.

"Some are turned over to the shelter because people don’t know they have options to help correct behavioral problems with basic obedience techniques," Wilfahrt told The Park Record. "(Owners) don’t know that if they follow basic prevention steps when they first get an animal they will eliminate those problems."

That’s the main reason Friends of Animals Utah offers its Critter Camps at the ranch in Brown’s Canyon during July and August.

The camps are designed to help children understand basic care for dogs and cats through activities, art and hands-on instruction and workshops.

Each of the four sessions run for five days. The first will run July 11 through 15. The second is scheduled from July 25 through 29. Next month’s sessions start Aug. 1 and Aug. 8.

"We bring in guest speakers from different animal-related occupations such as search and rescue workers, police officers, veterinarians, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation," Wilfahrt said. "Personally, I think that’s cool, because a lot of kids enjoy working with animals, but they think the only thing they can do is become a vet, and they may not like being around sick animals.

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"During the Critter Camp, we can tell them about being a service-dog trainer or an animal control officer or a wildlife rehabilitation person, so they can see there are more options out there."

Safety is another important lesson.

"The kids will learn the proper way to approach a dog on a leash," Wilfahrt said. "We’ll teach them which questions to ask if they want to pet an animal."

The camp will also incorporate visual art with the lessons, she said.

"The kids design their own T-shirts and re-usable shopping bags, because we want to promote animal rescue, but also promote general concepts of sustainability.

Also, local artist Sarah Berkowitz will help the kids paint noise-dampening tiles that will be used to cut down the barking decibels when all the dogs are in the kennels.

"At the very end of the week, we make picture frames, and kids can choose an animal they played with or saw at the camp and get their picture taken with them," Wilfahrt said.

One of the hands-on highlights of each session will be a trip to an animal shelter with Cathy Clark, operations and adoptions director at FOAU’s Furburbia Adoption Center, and rescue a dog.

"That’s a big learning experience for them because it gets them thinking of what they are looking for in rescuing an animal," said FOAU executive director Claudia McMullin. They start to ask themselves, ‘Do they pick the cutest one?’ ‘Do they pick the one most in need?’ That experience stays with the kids."

The children will also have the opportunity to work directly with select animals to help with obedience training and other activities.

"We’ll hold dog games and search and rescue where the kids will run into the field and the dogs will have to search them out and rescue them," Wilfahrt said. "We will also have activities with cats. The kids can go into the cat room and socialize and learn about cats and behavior."

Furthermore, kids will learn the importance of spaying and neutering.

"Even though puppies and kittens are super cute, we’re overflowing because we don’t have homes for them all," Wilfahrt said. "So just getting that idea into their heads when younger, it will hopefully bring down the number of pets being turned over to the shelters."

The dogs the children will be working with during the camp will not come from the ranch.

"We don’t do a lot with the Friends of Animals dogs, because the camp is a chaotic environment," Wilfahrt said. "We don’t know what the animals’ experiences have been with the kids, so I bring in several dogs that have been kid tested. They’re former service dogs or therapy dogs and have had a lot of interaction with kids. Some of them are my personal dogs and some are Cathy’s dogs and I have some dogs from friends.

"We usually have six dogs for the kids to work with, and we split the kids in groups, so each group has their own dog to train and take on an agility course.

"They’re big dogs and it’s good for the kids to see they can handle big dogs."

Each session is designed to accommodate 20 students, Wilfahrt said.

"If we can start by teaching the kids that it is important for their dog to get out and get some exercise or that grooming helps them bond with the animal, or doing an obedience class with a puppy will teach them the fundamentals, we can start to cut down on those types of cases that come in to the shelter."

The Friends of Animals Utah Critter Camps will offer five-day sessions starting July 11, July 25, Aug. 1 and Aug. 8 for children ages nine through 12. The hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuition is $175 per child, and includes a morning snack, lunch and supplies. Contact Cathy at or by phone at 649-5441 to register.