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Friday, May 6, 2016

Putting their best paw forward

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jake (left), a hound mix and Tanner, a chow mix served as inspiration for DePauw assistant womans' basketball coach Mary Smith to start the Kid's Best Friend Camp. The dynamic duo passed away this summer, but their impact will live on as the camp will now be known as the Jake and Tanner's Kid's Best Friend Camp.
GREENCASTLE -- When DePauw women's basketball assistant coach Mary Smith arrived in Greencastle several years ago she came upon a number of stray dogs who were in need of homes. She was fortunate to place several dogs in loving homes, and two dogs she opened her own heart and home to were puppies Jake and Tanner, and later Grace.

While she knew at the time she couldn't properly care for any more dogs, she also realized the pet overpopulation problem needed additional help.

Thus, with her three puppies serving as the inspiration, the Kid's Best Friend Basketball Camp and resulting spay/neuter program began.

On July 26 through 28, the DePauw women's basketball program will hold its 14th annual Kid's Best Friend Camp. The camp, for boys and girls entering pre-K through 10th grade, will be from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. each day.

Due to the generosity of sponsors, and a volunteer staff, all of the camper tuition money will once again help reduce spay/neuter fees for Putnam County pets. To date, over 1,150 pets have gone through the program.

The camp has extra special meaning to Smith this year because, at almost 15 1/2 years of age, Tanner had to be put to sleep this summer. His best friend Jake, who had survived some critical illnesses in the past year, passed away suddenly just four days later. Jake would have been 15 on August 1. Smith says she has told several people, "As much as Jake loved me, he must have loved Tanner that much more."

According to Smith, Jake and Tanner were a perfect complement to one another. Jake, a hound mix, was very passionate. He was always looking for something to do, whether that be a good thing or a bad thing. His mind and his body were always on the go.

Tanner was very gentle and calm and as Smith tells it, literally never did anything wrong.

She says she has thanked God several times during the past 15 years for giving her Tanner to go along with Jake, as she doubts she could have handled two Jakes at the same time. Jake loved life, and was completely full of energy.

When Smith would ask the two boys if they wanted to go for a walk, Jake run in circles, bark and whine, while Tanner would wag his tail while waiting patiently. Only when Jake would settle down long enough to get his harness and leash on could Smith hit the pavement with her dogs.

When terrier mix Grace was along on the walks, Jake would pull, full speed ahead, trying like crazy to stay ahead of the group. Tanner would look back several times to check on Grace, and would sometimes fall back to walk with her.

While Jake and Tanner couldn't have been more different, they also couldn't have been better friends, or more loved.

"Jake and Tanner were incredibly lucky to have one another, and I was even more fortunate to have them," Smith says. "I loved them immensely, for their unique qualities, and they returned that love tenfold."

Smith hopes this year's version of the Kid's Best Friend Camp will be the best yet.

"I envision a gym full of kids, and if that happens, what a perfect way to thank and honor Jake and Tanner," says Smith. "They were two great guys who indirectly did a lot of good in our community. The camp has always been about them, and from now on it will be in name, also."

Registration for Jake and Tanner's Kid's Best Friend Camp will be at the Lilly Center from 8:30 to 9 a.m. on Monday, with the camp following immediately thereafter. The cost is $65 per child, which includes basketball instruction, noon meal each day, optional swimming, camp T-shirt, brief pet talks by dog trainers, K9 officer and others, Pet Picture Day for the younger campers and more.

Brochures can be found at several area businesses or by contacting head coach Kris Huffman at khuffman@depauw.edu or 658-4960.

Also, if anyone would like to make a donation to the Kid's Best Friend Camp and resulting spay/neuter program, they can also contact coach Huffman.

In addition, the team is also accepting donations for its friends at the local animal shelter. Money, food, cat litter, blankets, cleaning supplies and basically anything dogs and cats, or puppies and kittens, will be accepted during the three-day camp."