Volunteer Kids Bring Comfort to Shelter Animals
A volunteer veteran at the Arizona Animal Welfare League, Julia Strazz, 17, has seen all kinds of cute and cuddly adorableness—but one moment has been especially endearing, and it involves story hour of a slightly different nature.
Strazz works with 9- to- 12-year-olds attending the league’s summer camps at its main Phoenix location. Sometimes, their day includes reading to dogs. Some dogs, she noticed, appear to be listening and riveted. One dog was lulled to sleep.
However, there was one pooch that got some extra attention from his reader.
“He was hearing impaired, so one of the kids was showing him the pictures in the book. It was melting my heart a bit,” says Strazz, who graduated this spring from Perry High School.
Reading to dogs is one of the most popular children’s activities at the shelter. Plus, it benefits parties on both sides of the kennel fence, explains Education Director Heather Buck.
“Reading to animals can help boost the confidence of the reader and helps them relax. Parents and teachers say kids are relaxed a little bit more and able to read without being critical of themselves,” Buck says. “From the human side, it makes you feel really good you’re helping the dog relax in a shelter environment.”
Reading is among the activity options in the shelter’s Create Your Own Program for volunteers, which uniquely offers youths the chance to not only lend their time, but also craft how they do it. Making toys and helping out with animal keeper duties also rank high on kids’ volunteer wish lists.
About 150 children ages 5 to 17 have participated in the program since it launched. The program will return in full gear this month as kids return from summer break.
The cost is $120 for 90 minutes of activity for a group of up to 10, accompanied by an adult chaperone. Kids can choose from a list of activities or do a combo. If there’s an idea that’s not listed, it can be proposed.
“We wanted to be able to provide experiences that kids wanted instead of them signing up for something they weren’t interested in,” Buck says.
Girl and Boy Scout troops use the opportunity as badge work. Others want to be animal keepers or pursue an animal-related career. Some just want to enjoy meeting the shelter’s exotics—snakes and chinchillas, for example—that they wouldn’t otherwise get up close and personal with.
As the state’s oldest and largest no-kill shelter, the Arizona Animal Welfare League has a second location at the Chandler Fashion Center, where they have adopted out more than 5,000 pets.
Strazz has spent much of her more than 200 volunteer hours with Teen Tracks, a program for ages 13 to 17 that is offered during the fall and spring semesters and allows youth to learn about a range of animals, how to care for them and other information that’s helpful to an aspiring veterinarian like Strazz. The cost to attend Teen Tracks is $200 per semester.
In the fall, Strazz will attend Montana State University and pursue a degree in animal science with a pre-vet focus. She talks excitedly about not only gaining valuable experience, but also seeing younger kids embrace their own experiences and bond with each other over meeting a dog or working on tasks together like making adoption posters.
“This would be an awesome opportunity for kids to learn about other careers besides being a veterinarian,” says Strazz, who recalls one of the exotics she spent time with, a possum named Otis. “I enjoyed holding him and socializing with him. How many people get to say they did that?”
25 N. 40th St., Phoenix
602.781.3906 (Chandler Fashion Center location)