Volunteer educates children on training shelter dogs
July 25, 2012 at 2:25 a.m.
Updated July 26, 2012 at 2:26 a.m.
When her youngest daughter was 10 years old, Michelle Bruchmiller had the intention of teaching her about the responsibility and hard work involved in raising a dog through volunteer work at Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center. Four years later, her daughter, Kacey, continues to squeeze hours of volunteering into her busy schedule as she prepares for high school.
Depending on the time of year she volunteers, Kacey will help with taking care of the animals by walking them and spending time with them in the play rooms.
"It's a lot of work," she said. "Sometimes we have to wash the blankets and clean up after them, too."
When Kacey's mom started bringing home dogs to foster for the adoption center, she remembered being a little scared and uncertain about what was going on. When they had to give away the dogs, she had mixed feelings.
"I cried at first, and then I guess I got used to it after a while," Kacey said.
"I started bringing the girls because it was kind of their introduction to getting a dog," the mother of three girls said. "I wanted them to see how much work it was, and the fostering was to teach them the responsibility and see if they were going to stick to it."
Michelle said one of the perks of fostering the animals is getting to know them as they mature. Over the four years, the Bruchmillers have had more than 30 animals pass through their hands before families adopt them.
Kacey, her mom and her older sisters, ages 16 and 21, still volunteer when they're not in school or busy with other activities. Before her start at St. Joseph High School, 14-year-old Kacey will spend most of her summer on extracurricular activities, including both the St. Joseph's and Victoria East's volleyball camps, Camp K9 and more.
The adoption clinic will offer its fourth year of Camp K9 in June, July and August, where Kacey will serve as a camp counselor. Sally Kuecker, executive director at Dorothy O'Connor, made her one of the youngest camp counselors this year.
"She knows the shelter and has been a camper at the camp before, too," Kuecker said. "I can set her loose to go get treats or leashes, and she'll come right back."
Kuecker added that despite Kacey's age, she is incredibly mature and has great leadership skills, which are characteristics she looks for in Camp K9 counselors. As a counselor, Kacey must serve as a positive role model to her campers, who range in age from 10 to 15.
The camp started as a community outreach program and combines the education of training shelter dogs with obedience and agility training and teaching children how to work with the dogs.
"We wanted to start with the younger generation by having Camp K9," Kuecker explained. "These kids are the ones who are going to be taking care of the animals as they get older."
The shelter dogs also gain the experience of being around kids and develop skills that adoption families are looking for. The camp will teach the dogs skills including walking on a leash, how to sit or other skills that are appealing to families.
As an eighth-grader at Trinity Episcopal School, Kacey was awarded the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her volunteer work at the center.
"It was a new thing for Trinity, and it was the first time the school was involved in the award," said Michael Brown, headmaster at the school.
Kacey didn't move on to the national level, but the recognition meant a lot to everyone.
"I would definitely tell people to (volunteer)," Kacey said. "My favorite part about it is getting to see the dogs go to someone good."