Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dogs, salons and ponies: A day at Camp Rainbow Gold

American Cancer Society camp hosts kids for one week

Express Staff Writer

Kevin McCann of Hailey beams as Emily, a young camper, revs up his Harley after the annual motorcycle escort ride to Camp Rainbow Gold on Sunday. About 235 motorcycles made the trip beginning at Timmerman Hill south of Bellevue.

When the visitors leave after the annual motorcycle escort to accompany the buses carrying 81 campers to Camp Rainbow Gold at Cathedral Pines north of Ketchum, everyone settles down to the serious business of having fun.

Campers at Camp Rainbow Gold spend a free week hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, singing and being silly, regular kids in the mountains of Idaho. All the campers are Idaho residents who have been diagnosed with cancer. Some are in the later stages, some are in remission and some are in treatment. But while they are at Camp Rainbow Gold they are just campers, not patients. During the previous week, the first-ever sibling camp was held.

Among the many people and organizations that volunteered time to the camp on Monday were Irina Sher and her beauty team giving facials, Third Floor Salon hairdressers creating hairstyles for the evening's Western hoedown dance, face painting, horses from Sagebrush Arena and registered therapy dogs.

And that was just one day.

The therapy dogs that spent the morning and afternoon at the camp went through three weeks of observation and training before their registration with Therapy Dogs Inc. Dogs must be sociable, obedient, be able to ride in elevators, go through automatic doors and enjoy themselves. Owners must share those qualities.

"You're a team," Laurel Lallman said as she watched her Labrador, Kate.

Once a dog is registered, the team is required to do at least one day every three months in service. This might include a visit to a hospital, to schools or to a nursing home such as Blaine Manor. Dogs are trained to sit on chairs and beds to be nearer to patients. Some owners and dogs make visits more than the required time, however. Linda Peterson of Ketchum, for instance, takes one of her two therapy dogs almost every week as far as Mountain States Tumor Institute in Boise, where many of the campers are patients. Dogs must have 50 hours of regular visiting to do visits at Mountain States Tumor.

Each dog is insured for up to $3 million dollars with Pet Therapy Inc. in case anything should happen during a therapy visit.

When asked what breed makes the best therapy dog, all the owners bark out their own dog's breed at once: "Golden Retriever! Labrador! Aussie!"

But at the camp the kids have no favorites. During Beauty Day, while waiting to lie down for a facial, campers absently patted the dogs, put cowboy hats on their willing heads and posed for pictures. Earlier in the day the dogs were on hand during the camp's annual memorial ceremony held for any campers who had died over the year. After the solemnity of the morning, the afternoon is given over to less stressful events such as Beauty Day, an annual tradition at Camp Rainbow Gold.

"It's so much fun," said Irina Sher, who has volunteered her services for seven years. "Now I feel like I'm getting so much back. I can't even describe it."

A barbecue and dance were held later that night, and during the day the kids spent time prepping themselves in outfits for Western theme. A dance floor and lights were readied while hairdos were being set. Counselors and campers strode about wearing white or black cowboy hats. Campers stood or sat together waiting for the next available pair of hands. Even a boy such as Chris, who lost an arm to cancer, decided to forgo his opinion that "facials were for sissies," took off his black hat and lay down. Within moments he was prone in front of Mindy Pereira, who recently bought Sher's skin care business in Ketchum.

Irina's daughter, Allison Sher, oiled up her hands and began to massage his right hand and arm. "This is my third year volunteering on Beauty Day," she said. "It's by far the highlight of my summer."

Standing nearby was Doris Tunney, director of the Camp Rainbow Gold College Scholarship Fund, which she helped start two years ago with $25,000 in seed money. Junior counselors, who have all been a part of Rainbow Gold as campers, are eligible for scholarships.

"We announced scholarship recipients Saturday night," she said. "Five of the recipients are here. They all got $5,000 for college. Also, there were seven others who applied to the American Cancer Society whom we gave $2,500 each to. At some point we'll have 20 in college at once. That's our goal."

Rob and Kris Cronin of Hailey and Ted Challenger of Boise, co-directors of the annual camp, could be seen running hither and thither on errands. They were relaying messages on walkie-talkies, introducing guests to campers, and generally keeping an eye on what is for this one week, the world.

Rob Cronin stopped at one point in his rambles. "See that guy?" he asked, pointing to a thin, bald young man who was setting out tables for the barbecue. "He's never been to camp but all he wanted was to come here as a junior counselor. He's been given three months to live. Ted's really taken him under his wing."

Then the young man spotted Cronin and kicked him an errant ball. Cronin took the ball in motion and aimed it ably into an open shed door.

"Score," he said with a smile, before heading off to see what else he could do and where he was needed.

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