Toronto teenager Chantal Ruivo has four cats at home and five dog-walking clients that keep her scooping and running seven days a week. She has also volunteered at a local doggie daycare.
The Grade 10 student always figured her logical career choice would be veterinarian. Until last summer, when she attended Pawsitively Pets Kids Camp, a unique Toronto day camp for young animal lovers.
Ruivo watched a vet perform surgery, earned a certificate in pet first aid, worked in an animal shelter and visited the Toronto Wildlife Centre.
She realized her real passion wasn’t the finer points of animal medicine, but in working hands-on with the creatures.
“It really opened my eyes,” says Ruivo, 16. “Since I was a kid I always wanted to be a vet. But now because of the program, I think it would have been a mistake. I’d rather be a vet tech.”
Giving older kids a taste of career and volunteer opportunities is one of the reasons Jennifer Ego launched her unusual camp, which is open to kids ages 5 through 16 and operates out of Dundas West Animal Hospital (www.pawsitivelypetskidscamp.com).
It began as a one-week trial two years ago, followed by two sessions last year. This summer, it will run sessions throughout July and August, accommodating 25 children and teens in four age groups every week.
A lifelong animal lover and director of the dog rescue agency K9 Rescue Me, Ego also wanted to give young children a chance to nurture and learn about critters..
“The goal behind the camp came down to what I would have wanted to do when I was that age,” says Ego, 36, who had a dog, a hamster and horses while growing up.
“I was always the kid bringing home the dog I found running down the street, or the injured bird.”
The youngest campers learn about basic animal care and have hands-on sessions with dogs and cats as well as chinchillas, rabbits and reptiles. They learn about bugs and visit the Toronto Wildlife Centre and a shelter. Costs start at $325 a week.
Mini-vet programs for kids 12 and up include shelter work, a day in a vet clinic, observing animal surgery and performing mock surgery on a banana. More experienced campers learn about injections, study bloodwork using microscopes and attend a vet workshop at the zoo. Those sessions start at $450 a week.
Ego has two dogs and has fostered about 50 others awaiting new homes over the past 10 years. The notion of a camp came to her as she observed the long line of kids in her Leaside neighbourhood constantly clamouring to help with her dogs.
Programs were developed with the help of veterinarian Dr. Scott Bainbridge, of Dundas West Animal Hospital, and partners include Toronto Animal Services, the Ontario SPCA and the Toronto Wildlife Centre. All pets handled by the campers are child-certified and temperament tested.
The wildlife centre visit is a chance to educate children and teens about the difference between domestic and wild species (which cannot be handled) and about animal rescue, says executive director Nathalie Karvonen. Youths can volunteer there at age 16.
“It’s great that the camp gives them a diversity of experiences with animals.”
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Ruivo is saving her dog-walking money so she can attend the next two levels of mini-vet camp this summer.
“I know it’s expensive, so I’m going to raise the extra money myself.”