ORLANDO, Fla. – Inside a barn in east Orlando, children as young as 8 years old learn to train dogs as part of University of Doglando's summer camp.
On the first day of the two-week camp, campers choose a canine from a local rescue to train.
"Over the course of two weeks, (we work) to create an incredible bond between the two to open up doors and give people another opportunity," said Teena Patel, the owner of University of Doglando.
Patel said some of the camp dogs have been in rescues for nearly three months. She said on the first days of camp, many of the dogs are nervous.
"They have not had human interaction in the way they're having here. They want it. They crave it, but there's almost feeling, if I could speak for the dog, almost feeling like that's not even possible," Patel said.
The child-dog pairs work together daily on basic commands and skills that Patel says prepare the dogs for lifetime adoption. Patel said it is not mandatory, but many of the dogs go home each night with their camper. She cautions parents that this is not a typical summer camp.
"I tell parents all the time, I bet if you were challenged to do the work, you couldn't do it. Your easy way out would be, I'll just take the dog home with me," she said.
The end goal is to find each dog a family. Patel says they do not allow campers to adopt their dogs, but rather the campers meet with prospective forever families. Patel says parents need to be prepared to emotionally support their child during the process.
"If it's just 'I love dogs,' that's not going to cut it. There's so much more to this. If a child comes in with this strong inner self, everything on the outside, that's easy to conquer because they have that determination. They have that desire. They have that will," she said.
Patel said the Camp Doglando team is committed to the child-dog experience and she says it is "soul-fueling" to see the campers find their gift.
"I think there are change-makers in this room, and we need that," she said.
Camp Doglando already has a waiting list for next summer. To add your child to the list, click here.