This summer, animals in Johnson County have new heroes in their corner.
Through the end of June, more than 150 children are attending the Great Plains SPCA Young Heroes for Pets Camps. During the week-long event, campers ages 8 to 12 are learning important responsibilities of pet ownership and how they can make a difference in animals’ lives.
“These camps are part of our proactive approach to help the community. Kids learn the responsibility and proper care for animals. When the animal goes home, the child is then prepared to have that animal forever," said Nate Meador, Great Plains SPCA president.
“This preparation and understanding reduces our shelter population and has a ripple effect throughout our community.”
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Developed by Olathe middle school teacher Lisa Stubblebine, camp curriculum topics include how to properly and safely care for animals, animal welfare issues, animal-human relationships and career possibilities in animal-related fields.
The program has a daily animal theme — birds, cats, dogs and water animals — and the schedule includes numerous hands-on activities emphasizing kindness, respect, responsibility and decision-making.
A mix of fun and serious, camp activities include making dog treats, cat toys, and origami birds, as well as writing speeches and collaborating on videos about animal welfare topics.
Throughout the week, a menagerie of sensational guests stop by to visit. Campers have opportunities to meet and interact with birds, reptiles, and other species from the Kansas City Zoo and hawks, owls, and snakes from Operation Wildlife.
Every day, the new animal heroes also have an opportunity to play, interact and read to shelter animals.
“It’s amazing how much the kids love the animals,” Stubblebine said. “Mostly they love reading to the cats.”
Though they come with a shared love for animals, participants bring a wide array of knowledge and experience to the camp.
Some already care for multiple adopted pets at home; others are dreaming about their first pet. All the campers share a mutual respect for animals and many hope to share this with others.
“Campers learn how to care for animals and how to educate others here,” said Annie Hackworth, Great Plains SPCA shelter and camp volunteer. “One of the most common reasons for animal-related issues is a lack of education. It’s great to teach this generation who can help stop these problems in the world.”
Evie Hulsey, 11, has her eye on that bigger mission.
“I love animals and want to teach future generations how to care for our animals,” she said.
During his schools visits and at other shelter events, Meador has seen the impact of these types of programs on youth.
“This is an exciting age group to build that ripple effect in the community. They’re educated and they read. They look at social media and they’re paying attention to what’s going on in the community.”
When he visits schools, Meador said often the first thing kids ask about is puppy mills.
"Ten years ago, 8-year–olds wouldn’t have asked that. Today, they’re asking how they can get involved in reducing puppy mills. They’re very interested in animal welfare in our area.”
This year, thanks to a grant from Bayer Pet Health, 10 campers were able to attend on scholarship.
“Our goal is to be able to bring more sponsors on board and have a broader reach, so we can expand future opportunities for kids to get involved,” Meador said.