For the 9th year in a row, PAALS (Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services), has ran an innovative summer camp dedicated to teaching youth about Service Dogs and the work that they do.
Summer PAALS is an innovative Service Dog summer camp open to youth 11-14 years of age, as well as youth with disabilities 11-19 years of age. During the camp youth learn about behavior modification training based on reward and operant conditioning, how to read dog body language, disability awareness, team work, critical and creative thinking, as well as etiquette for interacting with people with disabilities.
The camp is truly groundbreaking, not only because of the skills that they teach, but also in regard to their acceptance of youth with disabilities. Every year staff and volunteers that specialize in disabilities become apart of the PAALS team in order to accommodate those with disabilities. Summer PAALS also aims to have a high school counselor to camper ratio to allow campers with disabilities to receive one on one care if needed.
Although every year is full of amazing stories Jen Rogers, the Executive Director for PAALS, said that one of the campers mothers told them that her son had been kicked out of every other summer camp he attended except for one other. Rogers said, “she told us they would never know what this meant to her family.” It seems like PAALS has created an environment which everyone, no matter what their circumstances, feels included and supported.
Rogers mentioned that by the end of Summer PAALS program they hope that the youth have increased desire to serve others, empowerment to advocate for dogs and for people with disabilities, as well as empathy for animals and people with disabilities. They hope to continue to grow the program and want to start an away camp for teens and/or adults with their own pets, include different age groups and also run a spring and winter camp.
Along with Summer PAALS, Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services in South Carolina, works to enrich and empower both children and adults with disabilities and social needs through service animal training as well as providing animal-assisted educational and recreational activities. Some of their programs include assisting military, police and firefighters train dogs, running therapy dog reading programs at local libraries, an innovative prison program that teaches inmates how to raise and train canines for people with disabilities, and much more. If you would like to learn more about PAALS please visit: www.paals.org.