Sunday, September 29, 2013

9 things I learned about the American Humane Association

So a few weeks ago I as privileged to attend an amazing summit with a group dedicated to improving the lives of both pets and kids.

The Be Humane Summit covered everything from medical research to protecting farm animals to training therapy dogs, in just a day and a half. And some amazing things came out of this summit.

I'll be talking more about in the coming months, but first, here are 10 things I learned at the Be Humane Summit.

1) There's an organization called American Humane Association. This may sound silly, but I had never heard of AHA until I got the news release on the summit. Remember, I'm still relatively new to the world of animal advocacy.

AHA has been around since 1877, and it's the first humane association in the country. The initial task was to protect farm and working animals from abuse. Soon they were also exposing child working conditions in slaughterhouses, and working to fight child abuse.

2) Red Star Rescue is a division of American Humane Association. If there's a major disaster, Red Star Rescue is there to help care for animals caught in the middle. For instance, Red Star Rescue was at the recent Colorado floods. They were also in Moore, OK after the tornado. They have a huge mobile unit that comes complete with even living quarters. It's all to help care for animals after a disaster or a major rescue.

But Red Star Rescue is more than a rescue for dogs and cats. The rescue got its start in World War I, caring for injured horses on World War I battlefields. And it's still caring for animals of all kinds to this day.

One of Red Star Rescue's huge mobile units.
3) AHA is the reason "no animals were harmed" is on lots of movies. When you see "No animals were harmed in the making of this film" at the end of a movie, it's because of American Humane Association. Since 1940 the group's representatives have been on sets monitoring the condition and care of animal actors on projects ranging from commercials and music videos to full on feature films.

The AHA website also has a section with reviews of films with animal actors, and its own ratings system based on how the animals were treated. For instance, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone got an acceptable rating. The recently released "The Long Ranger" got an outstanding rating.

4) American Humane Association is changing what we know about the bond between humans and animals. One of AHA's most recent studies is the effect pets have on children suffering from cancer. The study shows there's great potential for therapy dogs to help relieve stress and distress for children with cancer. More research needs to be done, but research so far seems promising.

AHA is also the group behind Be Kind to Animals Week. It's not just about reducing the instances of animal abuse and neglect, or saving pets from shelters. It's also about celebrating the important bond between animals and us.

5) AHA is pushing to change the way we make medical breakthroughs. There are almost 2,700 research groups for cancer. Is that the best use of money, resources and time? During the Be Humane Summit, Dr. Patricia Olson called for changing the way we approach medical research. That involves more collaboration, less emphasis on money and publication, and more on management. And also, risk! It's also about looking at the whole picture -- are we looking at research into cancer in pets and seeing how that can be compared to cancer in kids?

To that end, AHA is running a study looking at autism in kids, and autism tendencies in three breeds of dogs: Bull terriers, doberman pinschers and Jack Russell terriers. The goal is to find ways to diagnose autism in kids earlier because the earlier you diagnose autism, the easier it is develop a plan for living with autism at a higher-functioning level. 

6) AHA protects nearly 1 billion farm animals. American Humane Association works to make sure farm animals raised for food production are humanely treated.  AHA claims this is the fastest growing program of its kind in the world.

From the Be Humane Summit news release:

“Every year, 10 billion animals are raised for food on America’s farms and ranches, and all animals deserve to be treated humanely,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane Association’s president and CEO. “Yet 90 percent of them still do not live under scientifically-based welfare standards in independently-verified living conditions."
Red Star volunteers in Colorado.
7) Going into disaster areas takes coordination, communication and some amount of training.  Working in news, I can't tell you how many times I have gotten complaints from people who say they have offered to help groups as volunteers, and get told they don't need that help. They prefer money.

This gives groups a bad reputation. But what I learned from the Be Humane Summit is there's a very good reason. Justin Scally, who heads up Red Star Rescue, said untrained volunteers, or convergent volunteers, can often cause more harm than good. That's because 1) these volunteers don't necessarily know the system of communication used in the field. 2) There are numerous dangers to consider, from downed power lines to open sewage lines.

So what can we all do? Well, anyone can join Red Star Rescue or other rescue groups to become volunteers. That way you get trained in the event of a disaster. This is an especially great idea for groups with special equipment (say air boats or ATVs).

What else can you do? Find the community volunteer centers in communities where disasters happen. This way you can find ways to help even if you are not trained. Not every community has one, so check before you go.

Smiley the dog sits during the Therapy Dog Session at the Be Humane Summit.
8) Good therapy dogs are born, not made. I learned a lot about what it takes to become a therapy dog at Be Humane Summit. For instance, there are three certification organizations: Delta Society pet partners, Therapy Dogs Int'l and Therapy Dogs Inc. Any pet can be a therapy pet. But they have to have the right kind of personality. But there are also lots of ways a pet can provide therapy. Dogs can be therapy or comfort dogs at:
  • Court rooms
  • Airports
  • Funerals
  • Camps 
  • Shelters 
  • Libraries
  • Nursing homes
  • Schools
  • Hospitals 
9) Cats are other to most people. Which makes no sense to me.

Jackson Galaxy, host of "My Cat from Hell," gave the closing keynote for the summit. One of the big breakouts at the summit was on cat welfare and trying to stem the tide of cats ending up in shelters and being euthanized.

Galaxy said part of the problem he's experienced in his 20 years working with cats is that many people see cats as "other." They have their own way of doing things. They are not necessarily here to please us, like dogs are. Galaxy said cats don't compromise, so we people feel we have to compromise with the cat, which we don't like to do.

I got to talk to him about it afterwards, because I was confused. I have always called myself a confirmed cat lady who got a dog. I feel like I never had to compromise with a cat they way I had to compromise with a dog. I can leave Galadriel for a few days as long as she has food, water and a clean cat pan. I can't do that with Lulu. It means I need plan my day, or my excursions around what I can do for my dog. That's compromise. Cats are way easier to care for.

Jackson Galaxy agreed, and then he told me something I never knew -- he was raised with dogs. He says it's up to us to change perceptions.

So these are the nine things I learned at the Be Humane Summit. I hope to talk more about some of these things in the months ahead.

If you want to learn more about the American Humane Association, the group's website is amazingly detailed. You should especially check out their timeline.


  1. Thanks for sharing! I didn't know much about this group either and it was fabulous to learn more about them.

    The part you mentioned at the end about dogs and cats and who requires more compromise was really interesting. I guess it really does depend on your expectations and experience.

    The work you do here helps owners understand beagles better so hopefully they aren't surprised by howling and a lot of sniffing time.

    When I work with clients with new puppies or kitties it definitely helps to tell them what to expect from their life with their pet.

    Great post!

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for these kind words.

  2. Great post. Years ago when I was on the Board of Directors of a local shelter, the AHA flew a rep in to work with us to build a comprehensive plan to improve our shelter. Love this organization!


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