Camp Jean is more than a shelter—it’s exactly what it says it is – camp.
The dogs who are fortunate enough to be pulled from a typical Kentucky shelter situation and land with Deidrea at Camp Jean are some lucky dogs.
Deidrea specifically looks for dogs who are ultimately adoptable but may need some extra time and attention. She gives priority to dogs from the struggling county shelters and pounds where dogs truly suffer while waiting for adoption, rescue, or death. Places where the conditions are harsh, the vet care nonexistent, and any kind of enrichment impossible.
Once ensconced in one of the roomy kennels at Camp Jean, dogs are treated to the best care possible in a shelter. They get plenty of individual attention and time in the play yard which is spacious and has water and climbing elements. They get to be part of play groups which can often be the difference between life and death for dogs susceptible to shelter stress. Each kennel has a lick pad (cutting board with peanut butter smeared on it and hung by carabiner to the kennel fence), plus toys and beds in every kennel.
Dinner is served when attendants leave for the day and includes enrichment activities to keep the dogs busy for the evening. Each meal includes a slow-down puzzle bowl filled with frozen canned food, two hooves (one filled with white meat and one with dark meat), plus a peanut butter filled bone. Not only does it fill their tummies but it keeps their minds working and jaws exercising so that by the time they finish they are mentally exhausted and physically satisfied and will get a good night’s sleep before camp starts again the next day.
Camp Jean was originally started by (who else)- Jean and she built such a large following in such a short time, that when Jean had to move from the area and asked Deidrea to take over, Deidrea stuck with the name. The private shelter Jean conceived and Deidrea continues to develop is set up to help dogs not just find homes, but heal. They’ve created a shelter in the truest sense of the word. Dogs come to them broken and lost and in need of shelter. And shelter is what they get. It was inspiring to walk around the place and meet the happy dogs.
Many would be quick to say, well, this is because they don’t have a lot of dogs and they manage their intake, and they would be right. But I didn’t see any easy-to-adopt dogs in their 14 kennels. Camp Jean is what animal sheltering should aspire to—it’s what our public shelters could be like with proper funding, intentional management, a strong volunteer program, excellent (and available) veterinary care, and a committed, open-minded leader.
This kind of sheltering is absolutely not out of the realm of reality, and it isn’t even expensive. Camp Jean’s building is a simple metal pole building and the kennels are chainlink fencing panels. The play yards have stone and grass surfaces, baby pools, simple wooden elements, and a sprinkler.
The enrichment tools they use are simple – plastic cutting boards, peanut butter, canned food, refillable hooves and bones, and tough-chewer toys.
Deidrea (who has another job) and two part-time employees, plus a few volunteers do all the work (plus a part-time paid driver who does the vet runs but also volunteers his time at the kennels).
All of that is to say that sheltering doesn’t have to be expensive to be well-done. And I would contend that even in an open-intake shelter, this kind of care is possible with the right kind of leadership, a realistic budget, and a motivated staff and volunteer pool.
Again and again, as we travel through the southern shelters and dog pounds, a thought simmers below the surface of my mind and my heart—this is so fixable. We just have to decide to fix it.
If you’d like to get involved, join us. Who Will Let the Dogs Out is looking for volunteers to help us with all kinds of work, all of it can be done remotely. If you’d like to get involved, send me an email at email@example.com.
If you’d like to support our work financially (THANK YOU!!), you can mail a check to: Who Will Let the Dogs Out c/o Cara Achterberg, 128 W High St, Woodstock, VA 22664. I’ll send you a thank you gift for any size donation and an inaugural Who Will Let the Dogs Out t-shirt for any gift over $100 (be sure to tell me what size you’d like!).
And if you really want to help—tell someone. More than anything we need your help spreading the word. It will take a groundswell to bring about change—people demanding that our state and county governments step up and take care of the animals. Humans domesticated dogs and we have a responsibility to care for them. The cost of doing so, when done well, will have a minimal impact on a budget, but a maximum impact on the lives of not just the animals that are our responsibility, but the lives of so many citizens who have stepped up to do the state and county’s job.
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020) which tells the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired the author to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Homeis a short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It tells the story of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for ten film festivals (to date), it is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change.