Under the shade of a tall tree
on the grounds of Gray Willows Farm, a group of grade-school students sits on the grass eating lunch. They’re discussing what they’ve learned these past few days at the first week of Anderson Humane’s Summer Critter Camp.
“I learned that when a tree is dead, it’s still a habitat, so you shouldn’t chop it down,” says 10-year-old Felicity. When asked which animals live in fallen trees, she readily mentions squirrels and birds.
Melissa, 11, says she’s learned about the animals who live in the woods they’re sitting in. She starts naming them off, and some of the other kids chime in as well, “Coyotes, foxes, squirrels, turtles, deer, and snakes.” Wolves are Melissa’s favorite animal, she adds, because they’re fluffy and misunderstood.
Eight-year-old Shay says, “I learned respect, protect, connect.” The staff members nearby smile at the mention of Anderson Humane’s motto. When asked who those words apply to, Shay says, “Animals . . . and people!”
Cheryl Smith, the camp director and Anderson Humane’s Community Engagement Manager, says, “The best part of camp for me so far is hearing the campers talk about all of their favorite things they have learned, their new experiences, and connections they have made with each other.”
During this first week of the Summer Critter Camps, the kids have learned about small animals and wildlife. They’ve been visited by Jake and Elwood, Anderson Humane’s ambassador rabbits, as well as a bearded dragon, Stanley the tortoise, and several snakes. They’ve watched rehabilitated wildlife – two squirrels and an opossum – get released back into the wild. They’ve played Turtle Tag, taken hikes, created art projects, and made new friends.
Nine-year-olds Brandon and Carter met at camp this week and have become fast friends. They’ve bonded over their shared interest in animals and plan to stay in touch. Carter admits if he hadn’t come to camp this week, “I’d be home sitting on the couch, bored.”
Anna, 7, was even more motivated to come. “When I heard this camp was about animals, I was like yeah, I definitely need to go,” she says.
Most of the kids say that interacting with animals has been their favorite part of camp. Six-year-old Evan says his favorite was holding a snake, one of the few animals his family doesn’t have at home, including two dogs, two birds, walking sticks, a turtle, some fish, a bearded dragon, cockroaches, and an axolotl (a type of salamander).
When asked to describe Critter Camp, the kids offer a smattering of words: awesome, amazing, the best, entertaining, educational, fun. After a few moments, a quiet 12-year-old named Addy adds, “Fulfilling.” This week is the first time she’s gotten to pet a rabbit, her favorite part of camp by far.
The staff and volunteers are having a blast as well, saying they’ve enjoyed watching the kids become less scared around the animals, seeing new friendships bloom, and watching how eager the campers are to learn. A volunteer named Ann says she’s loved being part of teaching the kids about animals and conservation. “This is how we save the world,” she says. “Teaching the next generation.”
It’s not too late to sign up for future weeks of Critter Camp. Learn more and register here.