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Helen Woodard's Critter Camp teaches about animals and history

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Tania Thorne
/
KPBS
Pictured, a child petting a chicken at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. January 16, 2023.

The Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe has its fair share of dogs and cats for adoption, but they also have alpacas, rabbits, birds, reptiles, miniature horses and more. Except they aren’t for adoption.

They’re ambassadors, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they had an important lesson for children at the center's Critter Camp.

“We're tying it in to Martin Luther King and his message for a more compassionate world," said Michelle Carll, the education assistant manager at the Helen Woodward Animal Center. "We’re trying to tie that in with animals ... just because you're small or young, doesn't mean you can't make a difference in the world, and it starts with helping animals and plants."

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Center spokeswoman Jessica Gercke says education is part of the mission Helen Woodward set out to accomplish when she opened the center.

"She really felt that the only way we could really change the world is by starting with kids, because once we’re adults, usually our thoughts are ingrained. But if you start with kids and teach them compassion for all living things, you're really going to change the world," Gercke said.

She says most of the animal ambassadors arrived at the center in a unique way. "Sometimes people have them as a pet or their owner had passed away, or they find that the animal is very social and loves to be around people," she said. "So they'll come to us and say 'do you want this animal as your ambassador' and they become our instructors."

The Helen Woodward Animal Center holds its Critter Camps when kids are out from school and during breaks. Volunteers are always needed for the education programs as well as for boarding animals that up for adoption.