When I was a young girl, my best friend was a short-haired beauty with big brown eyes.
She showed up at our house one day, alone and hungry. When we couldn’t locate her family, this little dachshund named Lady quickly became part of our family. Lady and our cat, who was also a stray, patiently tolerated hours of play, including dress-up time.
Lady was the first of many pets who have enriched our lives. We have also had rats, hamsters, chickens and goats. My daughter, Abbie, currently has a special bond with two dogs we rescued from local shelters. I truly believe in the Arizona Humane Society’s motto, “Life isn’t as good without pets.”
AHS offers a summer camp that integrates this motto into every activity.
In Camp Compassion, campers participate in the journey of animals, from rescue to adoption. They create posters that point out the pet potential of animals like Dingus, a lovable Labrador Pit Bull mix. Campers also learn about the effects of excessive heat on animals, a good lesson for this summer of record-breaking temperatures.
During my day at Camp Compassion, I learned that AHS rescues more than just cats and dogs. With more than 100 rescue partners, it cares for many unusual critters.
I met Violet the tarantula, who enjoys spinning a web on top of your head. I also met George the argus monitor lizard, who is looking forward to a visit with his girlfriend, Oscarita, next year. Violet and George were special guests brought to the camp by AHS rescue partner Mike McAllister, co-owner of Radical Reptile Fun.
While the camp has regularly included sessions for 8- to 12-year-olds, this year a new teen class is being offered. In a Leadership Intensive, teens learn about the body language and behavior of cats, dogs, horses, rodents and other critters.
Teens also enjoy staff lectures and behind-the-scenes visits to other parts of the shelter, such as a holding area for victims of hoarding and abuse. I learned that hoarding is an emotional issue that often involves older people who believe they are being kind too many animals at once. These situations are heartbreaking and traumatic for both owners and animals.
Because I am a big fan of snacks, I was excited about the Critter Chef class. Ruthie Jesus and her two friends, all professional chefs, taught the younger kids how to make dog treats. Jesus attended culinary school and worked for several years at a local resort. She also began fostering animals. Jesus decided to combine her two passions and now works as an AHS adoption counselor. She teaches others about pet nutrition and shared some great recipes to make inexpensive snacks. (Find her recipe below.)
Jesus explained that dogs (like humans) do not need sugar or salt in their food and that whole wheat flour is much more nutritious than white flour. As she spoke, Leeds the Labrador sat obediently at her feet waiting for a treat. Leeds was adopted by Bretta Nelson, public relations manager at AHS, and carefully checked out the baking process.
The dough was rolled out and the campers cut it into shapes just like sugar cookies. We painted an egg glaze on top and Jesus said they would taste like chicken-flavored cardboard, a flavor dogs happen to love. After baking, the kids took samples home in doggie bags for their own pets.
Camp Compassion, like other AHS programs, is possible due to dedicated volunteers. Nelson explained that nearly 1900 volunteers worked more than 282,000 hours last year. About 500 families foster critters of all kinds.
And every one of them believes that “life isn’t as good without pets.”
For more information about Camp Compassion and Teen Leadership Intensives, visit azhumane.org. The 3-day camps will be held again the fourth week in July. AHS also offers one-day classes throughout the year.
Doggy Chicken Biscuits
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup corn meal
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup chicken broth
2 eggs (1 for dough and 1 for egg wash)
1/8 cup milk
2 mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Liquid measuring cup
Parchment paper (unless using cooking spray)
Dog bone-shaped cookie cutters
Mix the whole wheat flour and cornmeal together in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, chicken broth, one egg, and the milk.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients, kneading together thoroughly. Flour your rolling surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness.
Flour the cookie cutters and then cut out your doggie biscuits. Lay cut biscuits on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Whisk the remaining egg and brush lightly onto each biscuit with the pastry brush. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Ruthie Jesus, an adoption counselor at the Arizona Humane Society.