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Happy tails: Children learn at Carroll County Humane Society Critter Camp

Five 6- to 8-year-olds chanted for curly fries at the Humane Society of Carroll County’s Critter Camp — but they weren’t talking about food.

The campers were tasked with naming the shelter’s newest addition — a golden-brown, 2-month-old puppy with a tail that ends in a curl. Camp director Andi Hummel, a longtime Humane Society volunteer and first grade teacher at Manchester Elementary School, announced the winning name at camp Tuesday afternoon. The children voted between Curly Fry and Lightning.

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“Curly fries! Curly fries! Curly fries!” the children yelled with glee.

Last week marked the start of the third year of Critter Camp, a program that serves to connect children with animals. Every day of camp, children meet animals, create a craft, and do something to benefit the Humane Society. The day camp is for children ages 6 to 8. The first session started last Monday and concluded Friday and a second session begins today.

“The goal is to let kids learn about animals and treat them with compassion," Director of Development Abbey Hampton said.

This week, children baked dog treats for their furry friends by using vanilla, oatmeal, and pumpkin. As they entered the shelter area to dole out goodies, the dogs barked and jumped with excitement. Tails wagged and paws lifted up to touch the children through the cages.

Hummel notices a change in the way campers interact with animals from the start to end of the week-long camp.

“I see a shift in fear. Some kids are a little bit scared and timid," Hummel said. "By the end of the week, they’re not as scared.”

Eight-year-old Gavin Brooks of Westminster has come to Critter Camp every year since its inception.

“I’m really used to animals,” Gavin said. “My cat always purrs near me.”

He adopted Digit the cat from the Humane Society. Gavin’s mother, Kayla Bair, is a secretary at the Humane Society. She said he always asks about when Critter Camp will come again.

“When he comes here he has a load of fun," Bair said.

The campers met Deputy Kevin Schue and K9 Bali of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, who taught them about dogs’ roles in police work. Schue even let the children turn on the sirens in his police vehicle, Hummel said. Campers also learned, in kid-friendly terms, how cats are spayed and neutered at a mobile vet clinic, according to Hummel.

Although the dogs and cats are probably the most popular among campers, the youngsters also met critters of an exotic variety. The Humane Society had reptiles brought in for children to learn about and touch — if they were feeling brave.

“It felt all scaley,” 7-year-old Colton Rice of Westminster said. “Not something I would hold a lot.”

Campers met snakes, including a yellow boa constrictor, a desert tortoise, and a large lizard called a water monitor, Hummel said.

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Hummel hopes the camp encourages children to grow into adults who treat animals with kindness, so that the Humane Society sees less animal abuse.

“This is where compassion teaching starts,” Hummel said.

Seven-year-old Maggie Newill of Westminster likes Critter Camp because of all the “best friends” she makes there, both human and animal.

“I like to learn about the animals,” Maggie said. “My favorite fact is they usually always listen to people.”

The Humane Society has approximately 30 cats, 10 dogs, four guinea pigs, and one rabbit available for adoption currently, according to Hampton.

While Critter Camp is geared toward younger students, the Happy Paws Club is held monthly for older children to learn about and help animals. Third to fifth grade students will meet July 13 from 3 to 4 p.m. and sixth to eighth grade students will meet July 20 at the same time. Email ahampton@carrollcountymd.gov to sign up.

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