Placer SPCA teaches kids about animal care, behavior

Dog agility course a favorite among attendees at the Humane Kids Camp in Roseville
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Bella can be easily distracted sometimes. The dog crosses the bridge, stands on the table, runs through the tunnel and makes it almost to the end of the agility course — but then stops right before the last obstacle and wanders off to sniff around and lap up a drink of water. “She has a really short attention span,” says Ashley Wraa, 13. The young girls attending the Placer SPCA Humane Kids Camp don’t give up hope and continue with their role as trainer until Bella has completed her mission. In the process, they learn a lesson of persistence. That’s only one of the valuable lessons learned at the annual summer camp that teaches kids 8-12 years old about animal behavior and training, and animal care. Friday morning, outside the SPCA’s Roseville facility, the sun’s heat beats down and dogs waiting for adoption bark loudly. One of the girls guides Bella through the course, but the friendly dog again pauses for a pit stop. Matt Green, operations manager of the Placer SPCA, whistles the dog back over to the course. “When she comes out of the tunnel, have your hand out and call her so she doesn’t get distracted and goes right into the jump,” Green says. Bella completes the jump and the six girls clap and cheer in delight. Green adopted Bella, a cattle dog sheltie mix, awhile back. He’s the dog’s fourth or fifth owner. The dog had been adopted before but the previous owners kept returning her to the shelter citing behavioral problems. She’s a barker, chewer and digger. One way to address behavioral problems, Green says, is through agility training and tricks. “Now she’s the star of camp,” says Mary Terrell, humane educator with the Placer SPCA and leader of the kids camps. While half of the campers go through the agility course, the other half sit in a room assembling frames that will hold photos to commemorate their time at camp. They also keep a journal, noting their experiences and information they’ve learned. The kids attend one weeklong session. Youth 10 to 12 years old go five days a week, four hours a day. The younger group of 8 to 9 year olds attends four days a week, three hours a day. Activities include guest speakers, hands-on experience with animals, craft projects and animal-themed games. Ashley, who’s acting as a helper this year, attended as a camper the last few years. The teenager isn’t sure if she’ll pursue a career working with animals in the future, but she does know she wants to volunteer at the SPCA when she gets older. “I love animals and learning about them,” Ashley says. “I like helping them.” Both groups of children assemble in the crafts room Friday morning to finish up the frame art project and practice their hand at a few dog tricks. Bella is a bit tired now, so Green brings in his pit bull — Pooper. The dog doesn’t know very many tricks so she struggles a bit as the girls try to get Pooper to roll over, beg and run around in circles. “When you’re training, especially when the dog is learning new tricks, keep it short,” Terrell says. “Forcing them would be a mistake. You want training to be positive.” Ten-year-old Mia Macek watches as Pooper puts on a show. Mia says she’s had a great time at camp. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “We visited lots of animals, like horses, mice, bunnies, cats and dogs. I liked all the animals.” Sena Christian can be reached at