Man Brightens Sick Children’s Lives With Camp Canine Program


UPDATED: Thursday August 15, 2013 6:38 PM

In the quiet Mt. Gilead countryside, children with serious illnesses get to forget about them for a brief time, thanks to one man’s generosity.

Those children are at Flying Horse Farms, a camp designed just for children with serious illnesses.

“Lots of kids who come to the camp have had a rough life,” said Joel Slaven.

Slaven isn’t Santa, but some might call him Paws Claus.

That’s because he gave Flying Horse Farms a canine program. He underwrites the cost of keeping animal trainers on the campgrounds all summer.

“It’s very transforming to see the kids’ reactions,” said trainer Jenny Meyer. “The dogs are rescued from shelters around the country.”

Meyer works with the campers and the animals. Then, the staff does a little rescuing themselves – helping the young people temporarily forget their health worries.

The dogs have to be good natured, good hearted and good with the kids.

Max, Smash and Sam seem to love taking direction, and Tabitha Lewis of Pickerington loves giving it – with a hug or two.

“He makes me feel happy,” Lewis, a camper, said.

Mimi Dane, the CEO and President of Flying Horse Farms, said that the canine program is key to the mission of the camp which is to transform lives.

“If you think of campers we serve, they have little control in their lives,” Dane said. “They’re told when to take meds, when to do anything. When they come to camp and work with the dogs, they get to be in control. It empowers our campers.”

Children who work with the dogs get to show their skills.

Wyatt, a shy child, came out of his shell when he performed with his four-legged friend. All the while, his sickness was not an issue for him.

It is mission accomplished for Flying Horse Farms and Slaven.

See other Side Roads of Central Ohio stories here.

“Every time I come here, I cry most of the way home but in a happy way,” said Slaven. “I love the kids and I love the animals, and when you can bring the combo together, kit’s more than any money could buy.”

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