ARLEE - Sometimes, we just need to cuddle with a beloved pet to feel better after a bad day. And at one summer camp in Arlee, they’ve taken that concept a step forward; it’s where the animals heal people, and the people heal them right back.
One big snake and a lot of smiles are part of a weeklong summer camp that's delighting kids at the Arlee Rehabilitation Center (ARC).
“We’re not an animal rescue or sanctuary in the traditional sense. Nor are we a social services organization. We are somewhere in-between. We are a place where people get healing from animals and vice versa,” explained founding director Filip Panuze.
The camp connects kids who need some emotional TLC with animals who need the same. Panuze understands the powerful connection we have with the natural world since empathy and compassion don’t always need words.
“More and more I grew to appreciate how powerful animals are in terms of that intuition they have and to feel what we are struggling with and to reach out to us and help lift us up and at the same time,” Panuze said. “I also experience tons of trauma that animals have suffered especially here on the Reservation.”
The camp is about fun and learning but it’s also about creating a safe space and also honoring the culture of the Indigenous people.
“The context that makes most sense to me is to do it in a culture where there’s a tradition of kinship with animals and there are a lot of animals there and in need,” Panuze told MTN News. “Somehow it hasn’t been done so I thought well, let’s get it done.”
Campers learned how the wild animals overcame trauma and adversity and are now thriving. It’s also hoped they can see a little of themselves in the critters. But mostly they just love being around animals — especially that snake.
“The snake was kind of heavy. It felt scary. But also, kind of fun in a way,” 10-year-old Quincey said.
"It felt really, really weird because I haven’t held a snake in a while,” added 14-year-old Kyri.
“I like to try new things and explore, and I made some new friends,” said 11-year-old Justine.
Camp counselor Shyla finds joy in watching the kids just be kids in a place that provides healing and social and emotional learning and maybe — if they’re brave enough to face a snake — they can face the other scary things in life, too. “Just watching all the kids be happy is one thing. Being away and having fun and helping support them.”
“It’s extraordinary watching the kids come in here and have smiles on their faces and gravitate to the animals the way they do,” observed Panuze. “I think a lot of it has to do with feeling safe and feeling not judged.”
What’s exciting is that the camp is so popular, they’ve added another week in July. Visit ARC’s Facebook page for more information.