An education in caring for animals

The Williamsburg Botanical Gardens hosted an hour-long caring-for-animals program on Saturday at Freedom Park with a mission similar to the larger-scale Heritage Humane Society Animal Camp: educate children about the compassion, fun, safety, and responsibility that should coincide with owning pets.

The Animal Camp has two more sessions left this summer for rising first- to third-graders from July 17-20 and for rising fourth- to sixth-graders from July 24-27. Children interact with and learn about animals each day and guest speakers educate the campers on proper pet care.

Darci VanderSlik represented the Heritage Humane Society on Saturday and brought along Miles, a pit bull mix that was rescued about five years ago in Raleigh, N.C., where VanderSlik spent a decade working with the SPCA of Wake County prior to arriving in Williamsburg.

With Miles on a leash by her side, VanderSlik discussed with the group of children what to expect when they bring pets into their lives.

When she brought Miles into hers, he became a “fantastic” family member. “I’ve never had a dog that has cuddled as much,” VanderSlik said, “and has been as affectionate as this guy here.”

Reactions to Miles can vary because he is part pit bull. Sometimes people are cautious but that is a good thing, VanderSlik said, “because with every dog you approach, you should always be cautious, not just because it’s a pit bull or a golden retriever, because each dog should be treated as an individual.”

Williamsburg Botanical Gardens stages events like these once a month so children can enjoy educational activities to get in tune with nature. The programs have ranged from reptile presentations to tips on how to identify birds in your backyard.

Any topics related to animals or plants fit the bill for Loretta Kreps of the Botanical Gardens.

“They loved it,” Kreps said of Saturday’s demonstration by VanderSlik. “They learned about taking care of them, training and of course, if you want a pet, you can get one at the Heritage Humane Society. She was really good. It was excellent.”

Rising Walsingham Academy third-grader Ella Powell palled around with Miles after the session wrapped, shaking his hand and asking him to roll over with the assistance of VanderSlik. Eventually, he obliged.

“I learned about dogs and cats,” Powell said. “I learned about what dogs I like and how I can be a volunteer at the humane society. And I really love dogs and cats. That’s why I wanted to do it.”

One of the next big events pet enthusiasts like Ella can enjoy will be Drool in the Pool, a Heritage Humane Society fundraiser, at Chickahominy Riverfront Park in September.

“We have a whole bunch of events coming up,” VanderSlik said. “Drool in the Pool is a huge one and a fantastic way to get your water-loving dogs out in the community and meet other animal lovers like you… It’s just a big, fun pool party with dogs.”

Meanwhile, the Heritage Humane Society will man an antique booth at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Williamsburg Antique Mall on Lightfoot Road on Sunday. All proceeds benefit local homeless pets.

For more on the animal camp, visit

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