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Sacramento SPCA: Build-A-Bear Youth Humane Education Grant Report

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

In September of 2015, the Sacramento SPCA was awarded a Youth Humane Education Grant in the amount of $10,663 for the purpose of educating and inspiring children ages 6-14 to care for and love pets at an early age. When the grant was received, we communicated with the Petfinder Foundation that our funds would not be used until the following year when we had our next summer Camp Kindness week-long workshops.

Camp Kindness at the Sacramento SPCA is a fun-filled way for kids to learn about dogs, cats and other companion animals. Designed to foster awareness about animals, Camp Kindness includes games, crafts, tours, guest speakers, animal-related education, professional demonstrations, veterinary observation, discussions and plenty of fun. A total of 203 children aged 6-14 attended our 2016 summer Camp Kindness classes.

Thanks to the grant from Build-a-Bear, the SSPCA was able to purchase 300 plush stuffed cats and dogs to use at the 2016 summer camp and 200 more for the 2017 camp. We chose to use the animals as an educational tool for the children by taking them through the process the animal goes through when they come to the shelter.

Because of the grant from the Petfinder Foundation and Build-a-Bear, the children in our camps were able to visualize what life in a shelter was like for animal, as well as what the adoption of an animal meant for both the family adopting the animal and the animal’s new life. Without having a stuffed animal to use as an example of a shelter animal, the experience would not have had as profound of an impact.

Having the children discuss what they thought the animals were feeling while going through the shelter helped them to develop empathy for the animals. Camp counselors overheard some of the children saying things like, “I’ll bet that older dog is more scared in the shelter because he was living in his home for a long time” and “I need to tell my mom about those cats in our alley. We need to get them fixed or there will be too many!”

Thanks to the Petfinder Foundation Build-a-Bear grant, the children took their stuffed cats and dogs home with them and hopefully continued the conversation about animals. Ultimately, we believe the children’s experience at the SPCA Camp Kindness sessions will help them grow up to be responsible pet owners and ambassadors for the kind treatment of animals. Their stuffed animals will remind them of their camp experience for a long time. Detailed below are some highlights of the camp sessions.

For the summer camp, each child was given a stuffed animal of her choice and was told that she was going to learn about the process of animal sheltering and re-homing animals -- with her animal as the one going through the process. We started by having the children name the animal and write the animal’s name and phone number on the tag that was on the animal’s collar. We then had the children fill out a surrender form with the animal’s name, age, breed, an explanation of why the animal was being surrendered, and personality traits.

The children were able to give their animal an identity and create a history of who the animal was. During this process, the camp organizer explained to the children the various reasons why people surrender their animals and asked the children to put themselves in a person’s or family’s shoes. They discussed alternatives to surrendering and asked the children what ideas they had to be able to keep the animals in their homes.

Then, our animal-care manager took the children through the process of a physical exam, like the one we give every shelter animal that comes in. The manager brought in a real dog to demonstrate all aspects of what a shelter animal goes through when an exam is done. We asked the children how they thought the animal might be feeling being examined at the shelter – were they scared, happy, etc.? Our veterinarian talked to the children about the most common ailments we saw animals coming in with, such as flea infestation and bad teeth. We talked about the importance of hygiene and why it was just as important for animals to have good health as it was for people.

After that, one of our camp teachers had a dog in the room to show the children how we do a behavior evaluation. Feedback was asked for from the kids to identify what they were observing with the dog’s behavior and they too filled out the evaluation form as they observed the teacher with the dog.

We took the children on a tour of the facility and, if their parents agreed, we took the kids into our spay/neuter clinic to show them the dogs and cats being altered and talk about the importance of reducing unplanned litters. We discussed the number of animals that come into the shelter each year and how spay/neuter helps to keep those numbers down.

Once the children were taken through the entire process of an animal going through the shelter system, we took them to the Adoptions floor. We showed them the profile form that each animal had outside of its kennel, which described the breed of the animal, where it came from, what its personality traits were, etc. The children were able to get a better glimpse of the personality of the animals and observed how they responded to them while they were in the kennel. We had the children observe whether the animal was being shy, excited, bored, etc.

The children then used their own stuffed animals to write up an adoption profile form for them. We asked them to include traits such as “good with children,” “great lap cat,” “high energy,” “sweet but shy,” or “likes to have just one person” for their animals.

We then had the children imagine that they were coming to the shelter to adopt an animal. We had them fill out a “matchmaker” form as the adopter to describe what type of animal they were looking for. Our adoption counselors went through the matching process with them, talked about how to make good matches, and went over the types of questions to ask a potential adopter. The children discussed issues like why a large dog might not do well in a small apartment, or why a person who wasn’t very active might not be a good match for a dog that needs a lot of exercise.

The children walked by all the stuffed animals with their profile forms and picked the animals that were the best match based on what they filled out on their matchmaker form. It was an eye-opening experience for some of them who initially thought they wanted a certain type of dog and realized that because of where they lived and what their lifestyle was like, the dog or cat they ultimately picked as a match was different.

Ultimately, this grant and the camp sessions will hopefully help these children make better decisions when it comes to their pets and/or when they adopt one for the first time.

How many pets did this grant help?

We know of at least one animal for certain and that’s Rookie, whose story is detailed in the next section. It’s hard to put a number to how many animals this grant helped because we used the funds to help educate children. We do, however, believe that the children who attended the camp are more likely to adopt an animal in the future, which could potentially save hundreds of animals. Or, because the camp helped children learn about the proper care for their pets, it could also potentially prevent animals from being surrendered to a shelter.

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Hailey was one of the attendees for our summer session of Camp Kindness. She comes from a family of two generations that never had any pets. Neither Maricel (Hailey’s mom) nor John (Hailey’s dad) had pets as children because their parents were afraid of dogs. Hailey had been begging her parents for five years to adopt a dog. John, who works with Pam Hooley, a Sacramento SPCA board member, shared the story of Hailey’s persistence with Pam, who then recommended they enroll Hailey in Camp Kindness so that she could at least interact with the animals.

Hailey’s experience at the camp only fueled her desire to adopt a pet. During the camp, at a shelter adoption social, Hailey met Brownie and fell in love with him. She convinced her parents (and grandparents) to come down to the shelter to meet the dog and they all fell in love with him as well.

Brownie is now known as Rookie. Hailey’s grandmother is no longer afraid of dogs and has a special bond with Rookie. John tells us that Hailey is a very good mom to Rookie and had become a responsible young lady and pet lover.

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