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This article is sponsored by the SF SPCA, a community-supported nonprofit dedicated to saving, protecting and caring for animals since 1868. To learn more about the SF SPCA, its adoption program, veterinary hospitals and various other programs and services, visit sfspca.org.

What parent doesn’t love seeing their child playing with a family pet?

It’s a heartwarming image, but did you know that teaching a child how to properly care for and interact with animals can actually have a tremendously positive impact on their personal development?

From boosted levels of self-esteem to increased empathy and social competence, studies have shown that children who form bonds with animals not only tend to be happier, but also tend to become better, more well-rounded humans.

That’s why the SF SPCA is dedicated to teaching compassion to the next generation of animal advocates. With its popular summer camp, volunteer opportunities and classroom visits, the SF SPCA’s animal-focused youth programs help teach compassion and empathy to kids in the community.

And it’s working! In 2016 alone, nearly 8,000 local children participated in SF SPCA youth programs.

“Our Humane Education activities are a great opportunity for animal-loving kids to have fun and make new friends while also learning how to align choices with their values, make their community a safer place for all animals, and develop a strong sense of compassion,” said Maggie Amiano, Humane Education Manager. “We offer programs year-round.”

The summer Animal Camps are currently in full swing and will continue through August. Nearly 1,000 children join each summer to learn about responsible pet care; interact with all sorts of animals, including dogs, cats, bunnies, pigeons, and a hedgehog; participate in animal-related art projects and games; and even learn basic agility.

And kids aren’t the only ones who have fun — the SF SPCA’s shelter animals receive some much-needed TLC, too.

“One camp highlight that benefits the kids and animals alike is our reading program, where kids read aloud to shelter cats,” said Maggie. “The fun and silly books focus on teaching compassion for our feline friends, and the cats simply love the soothing voices of the students reading to them, especially the shy cats. By encouraging children to develop empathy and see the positive effect they can have on the animals, it helps them to look at things from another perspective and better connect with the people in their lives."

The fun doesn’t end when school starts — the SF SPCA’s fall schedule is packed with great opportunities for kids to get involved.

Students in grades 6 – 12 are invited to join for Community Service Days (CSD), the SF SPCA’s student volunteer program. Students earn service hours by socializing with adoptable animals and helping with chores like folding laundry and assembling animal carriers. They’ll even create an enrichment project to help improve the quality of life for animals in the SF SPCA’s care.

“My favorite part of the day was making the cat castles,” said 11-year-old CSD participant Sheila. “While I absolutely loved playing with the cats, making them an enrichment project really felt important to me, because it will help cats in need.”

For younger kids, the Animal Movie Nights and Tots & Tails programs are big hits. Children in grades K – 4 are invited to join on select Fridays for movies, pizza, popcorn, and visits with animal ambassadors. Meanwhile, every Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m., children up to five years old and their caretakers are invited for animal-themed stories and a tour of the Pacific Heights adoption center.

“We want to provide fun, meaningful learning opportunities for kids of all ages,” explained Maggie. “We encourage all young animal lovers to check out our programs and get involved!”

The SF SPCA also offer tours, classroom visits, holiday break camps, scout programs, and more. For details or to sign up, visit sfspca.org/youth.

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