Arizona Humane Society Programs Inspire Young Helpers

 By Bretta Nelson

Who doesn’t remember their first pet? One of my earliest memories is of my first dog, Carrie, a Lab mix who would drift between lounging at our house and going to work with my parents every day. Then, one day when I was in first grade, I got home from school and was greeted by another four-legged fur-ball sitting on the front doorstep. It appeared he had run away from home, and I pleaded with my parents to keep him. After learning his previous owner no longer wanted him, Willie became my second dog. And so it started, a lifelong love of animals.

Pets are such an integral part of our lives and our children’s lives, and there is no doubt that many benefits come with having a pet as a child. Pets allow us at a very young age to learn compassion and empathy for others, as well as how positive relationships can impact our overall wellbeing.

Positively impacting children’s lives through our relationships with animals is a key focus of the Arizona Humane Society’s Education and Outreach team. Now more than ever, students need fun, engaging, and interactive activities that allow them to explore and learn more about the world around them. As part of that learning, AHS “employs” an incredible team of “Animal Teachers,” comprised of small mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and amphibians who assume the role of ambassadors and help young animal lovers develop an appreciation and compassion for living things through interaction and up-close observation. Whether AHS’ animal ambassadors were surrendered to AHS by an owner who could no longer care for them or rescued out of a difficult situation, their stories are filled with messages of caring, empathy, and hope.

These themes are common throughout AHS’ youth programs and are reinforced through collaboration with many AHS rescue partners to ensure a well-rounded learning experience that gives students opportunities they may not have outside of camp. This includes presentations and animal interactions with incredible organizations such as the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary and Liberty Wildlife Raptor Rescue. These special experiences are not only fun for students, but they also offer incredible insight into the importance of helping and protecting exotic animals and wildlife, as well as our furry animal companions.

One of the greatest ways that AHS’ team works to positively impact children’s lives is through its Youth Summer Camp program that offers dozens of camp options for families to choose from and is geared towards students of all ages and backgrounds who are interested in learning more about animals and animal careers.

Modules consist of:

Animal Ed-Ventures (6-8 years; 9-12 years): During this camp, kids learn how to care for animals, be responsible pet guardians and put their compassion into action through enrichment projects that benefit AHS’ homeless pets. Each camper leaves with a broadened understanding of issues facing animals in our community and what they can do to be an animal advocate.

Junior EAMT™ Academy (10-13 years): Designed for kids who are interested in working as an animal first responder, students work alongside AHS’ Emergency Animal Medical Technicians™ (pet paramedics) to gain skills used to rescue and protect pets in need. By practicing field medicine techniques, learning how to operate rescue equipment, following mock cruelty investigations and other hands-on experiences, this camp is a first-hand account of what it takes to be an animal rescuer.

Pet Vets (13-15 years)/Advanced Vets (15-17 years): This fun, career-discovery program for teenage animal enthusiasts focuses on the veterinary field’s employment options. Students engage by viewing live surgeries in AHS’ veterinary clinic, practicing wellness exams, and dissecting specimens to study animal anatomy and physiology. Additionally, students learn first aid and triage medicine with AHS’ Emergency Animal Medical Technicians™.

Wild Wonders (6-9years; 10-13 years): In collaboration with the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary, youth learn about the importance of animal sanctuaries and participate in animal encounters with alligators, snakes, tortoises, and more. In this hands-on program, campers see the dedication and time it takes to save precious lives by interacting and learning about wildlife first-hand.

As critical as camp curriculum is to AHS’ team, so too is ensuring that its youth programs are inclusive for everyone, no matter their differences. AHS’ Education and Outreach team works incredibly hard to ensure each student is able to participate through inclusivity and the offering of financial aid where possible. This past summer, Jonathan was one of 35 students who received a scholarship to camp.

“Jonathan loves animals of all types, and he was thrilled to learn that he received a scholarship! He especially loves reptiles and has seven of his own and two dogs, which are his best friends. He was so excited for camp and to meet new friends and would come and tell me all about his day. He really enjoyed interacting with the animals and learning about them and said that everyone was so nice and that he felt welcomed. Thank you for the opportunity you have given him to learn and be part of the camp community. He really felt special and hopes to come back again!” – Mother of Jonathan Q., 12

In addition to school break camps, there are other ways that young animal lovers can get involved. Those include:

Volunteering from Home

Valley animal shelters always need pet enrichment toys and supplies that kids can make at home and donate to shelter pets. From kitty cozies to homemade dog treats, many shelter websites have some great ideas on what will help their pets remain healthy and happy until they find their new home.

Birthday Parties/Virtual Birthday Shout-outs

Animal lovers are always looking for more ways to interact with more pets! For those looking for a unique birthday idea, families can host an unforgettable birthday party at the Arizona Humane Society’s Nina Mason Pulliam South Mountain Campus, where guests will experience visits from Animal Teachers, a guided tour of the shelter, and animal-themed crafts and activities. For those who prefer to stay at home or are social distancing, we can bring the party to you and also offer virtual birthday shout-outs, courtesy of our animal teachers.

Reading Fur Fun

With AHS’ Reading Fur Fun program, children aged eight to 11, are paired with shelter pets to practice their reading skills while providing AHS’ pets with enrichment and socialization.

Scout Programs

AHS always looks forward to Scout troop visits to our shelter for tours and special activities! Troops will have hands-on animal experiences and learn how to improve the lives of pets in our community as they earn their badges.


AHS’ Animal Ed-Ventures Homeschool sessions are designed using STEAM concepts by professional educators to encourage children’s curiosity. Children aged eight to 11 will learn about animals’ behaviors and habitats through various hands-on activities.

Humane Teens

AHS’ Humane Teens program is a unique youth leadership program for teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 who are interested in animal welfare. The program requires 24 hours of service within a school semester, and teens will receive animal handling training to assist with the daily care of exotic animals and homeless pets, as well as skills to help lead youth programs and presentations, all while accruing volunteer service hours.

As a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the Valley’s most vulnerable animals while also enriching the lives of pets and people, AHS cares for more than 15,000 sick, injured, and abused homeless pets each year. AHS’ youth programs are just as beneficial to the pets in AHS’ care as it is for the youth in attendance as they provide pets with critical enrichment and socialization with children and young adults, allowing them to become wonderful adoption candidates for those looking to add to their families.

To learn more about the Arizona Humane Society and how your young pet lover can get involved, please visit

About the Arizona Humane Society

Since 1957, the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) has been saving the lives of the Valley’s most vulnerable pets. Guided by our Ethical No-Kill Philosophy™, we save thousands of pets every year through a system of care that includes AHS’ trauma hospital and intensive care units, comprehensive medical and foster programs, and behavior intervention programs. Our community-based model is comprised of a Pet Resource Center, affordable veterinary services, proactive outreach, community support, and partner collaboration, keeps pets in loving homes where they belong. Our visionary approach to animal welfare has transformed the Valley from being the second-worst place to be a homeless pet to one of the best. And coming early 2023, our new Rob & Melani Walton Papago Park Campus will expand our lifesaving efforts by the thousands. Learn more at

Bretta Nelson is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and has served as the Public Relations Manager for the Arizona Humane Society for the past 11 years and currently serves on the nonprofit organizations Emergency Response Team which deploys to disasters throughout the state. Bretta and her fiancé, Trey, share their home with their beloved rescue dogs, Zoe, a seven-year-old Black Lab/German Shepherd mix and Indie Rose, a three-year-old Lab/Pit Bull/Cattle Dog mix.




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