- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2018

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - What would make a kid’s summer camp purrfect? Yoga with kittens, of course.

On the heels of the recent yoga-with-goats trend, Pet Refuge volunteers thought they would try something similar, but with a much smaller, cuddlier twist as part of this year’s first round of Summer Camp Unleashed.

“We are always trying to come up with new ideas for campers and we thought, why not have a day of exercise involve kittens?” said Nancy Whiteman, vice president of the no-kill animal shelter.

As the 12 kids sat, inhaled, exhaled and followed along with local yoga instructor, Becca Conley-Masters on a recent weekday, 12 adoptable tiny balls of fluff hurtled throughout the room, playing with any and everything in sight, including the toes of campers like 10-year-old Cameron Cook.

“The kittens - all the kittens - are my favorite part of camp. I love them,” Cameron said. “I really like animals and wanted to be here with them.”

Now in its fourth year, Pet Refuge hosts the summer camp with the goal of not only educating and having fun with the kids, but also teaching them how to be proper animal caregivers, said Pam Comer, Pet Refuge executive director.

“We started camp when we realized we needed to share what we do with our future generation of animal lovers so they can continue the work we do, as well as making them aware of the many homeless animals in our community and how they can help,” Comer said.

This summer the animal shelter hosts three sessions of camp, one in June and two more July 9-13 and August 6-10. The cost is $150 per camper.

During those five days, kids don’t just do yoga - they also meet and greet shelter dogs and cats, participate in several service projects and interact with guest speakers, like local veterinarians and canine agility trainers.

Campers get the chance to work with other local organizations as well, including the South Bend Animal Care and Control, Meow Mission and Elkhart County Feral Cat Coalition, making bandanas, treats and cat houses.

“We want the kids to be aware of all the opportunities out there to work with animals,” Whiteman said. “Every 12-year-old wants to be a veterinarian, but you could be an agility instructor or a vet tech.”

Whiteman said the summer camp also helps encourage and often leads to shelter animals finding their forever homes.

“Almost every year, one or two adopt from us because of the kids involvement in the camp,” she said.

Even though the two upcoming camp sessions this summer are full, 13-year-old Betsy Rohm encourages community members to get involved at the shelter in South Bend.

Kids like Betsy, who has been volunteering with Pet Refuge for three years, can work in the cat and dog departments, helping make sure the animals have food and water, get exercise and are shown plenty of love through belly rubs and back scratches.

“It’s nice to feel like I am a part of something bigger,” Betsy said. “Volunteering helps Pet Refuge and it also helps the community.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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