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SPCA teaches animal empathy at summer camp in Victoria

From left: campers Sam, Julie and Jason with coordinator Breeanna McDonald and Slash, one of the rats used to teach kids animal care and compassion. - Drew McLachlan/News staff
From left: campers Sam, Julie and Jason with coordinator Breeanna McDonald and Slash, one of the rats used to teach kids animal care and compassion.
— image credit: Drew McLachlan/News staff

While the BCSPCA is well known for teaching animal care and safety at its youth camps, it’s hoping children will walk away with another important skill this summer — empathy.

The group’s Among Animals summer camp program, created last year, runs for a week and is open to ages six and seven.

“That’s the age when we really have to start teaching them about empathy,” said Breeanna McDonald, camp co-ordinator. “They’re interested in animals, a lot of them have pets at home, but they haven’t started thinking about the animals’ point of view.”

Along with educational activities like “canine safety tag” and making crafts like cat toys and “dog popsicles,” kids also get to interact with the shelter’s cats and other small animals. They also help with cleaning rat cages and see what kind of care owning a pet involves.

“A part of the program is changing their minds about what kind of pet they want,” McDonald said. “All the kids come in wanting a dog, which of course is a lot of work, but a few have ended up coming back to the shelter and adopting a rat.”

The summer camp is partly based on the BCSPCA’s Kindness Counts lesson plan, which also teaches animal empathy in kindergarten to Grade 2 classes, but also touches on other educational and safety lessons.

McDonald said that Among Animals, which runs from July 2 to Aug. 22, has grown immensely this year in terms of popularity, with nearly all spaces being filled by June.

“We tend to get kids who already love animals, so we’re reinforcing what they already know,” she said. “But when they leave they teach what they’ve learned to other kids.”

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