SpokAnimal program offers training for young pet lovers
To say that 10-year-old Emily Najar likes animals might be an understatement.
“I’ve got 16 pets,” the Stevens Elementary student said. “Eight kittens, two cats, a rat, two fish and three dogs.”
Najar is one of a dozen children, ages 10 to 12, enrolled in the OUTT! – Outdoor Upstart Training Together! – project, sponsored by SpokAnimal. The four-week camp is designed to encourage kids to be responsible pet owners.
“You’re never too young to learn about spaying, neutering and pet overpopulation,” program director Hope Merkison said.
According to the kids, OUTT! is just plain fun. On a sizzling summer afternoon they showed off several doghouses they’d built with help from Carpenters Local 98. The union donated the materials and supervised construction of the dog abodes.
Ten-year-old Ahlea Willard crouched inside one of their creations, covered with dozens of colorful handprints. “I most enjoyed doing the handprints,” she said. “I like getting messy.”
Funded by the Nevada/Lidgerwood Neighborhood Steering Committee, this pilot program offered kids a peek inside the world of animal care. A pet nutritionist spoke about healthy eating habits for dogs and cats. The lesson made an impression on Linwood Elementary student Rylie Melton.
“Corn isn’t good for dogs,” she said. “It doesn’t digest well. Don’t buy dog food with corn as the main ingredient.”
The students also learned about healthy eating habits for humans. The day culminated in a “bake-in,” and the students cooked nutritious treats for themselves as well as for their pets.
This year SpokAnimal operated OUTT! on a shoestring budget of $1,000, with classes running three days a week for four weeks. Merkison said she hopes to expand the program next year. “Eventually, we’d like to do one- or two-week sessions throughout the summer,” she said.
For now, the students are busy processing what they’ve learned. Tessa Brockmier said she discovered that “you have to keep a fence around your yard or go outside with your pet because they might get taken to SpokAnimal.”
The program has also sparked career interests for the participants. “I’m going to be an animal cop – the ones who go out and rescue animals,” Melton said.
Willard has a different ambition. “I’d like to get a job being a horse-riding teacher. Horses are really gentle.”
Najar said, “I want to be a vet when I grow up.” With 16 pets, she’ll have plenty of experience.