IHE M.Ed. graduate, Karen Patterson, has brought her classroom teaching skills and humane education training to bear in her new job as the humane educator for the Humane Society of Huron Valley in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In her first few months on the job, Karen created a whole new humane education program from scratch. Karen talked with us about her experiences in her new role.
IHE: What drew you to humane education?
About five years into my teaching career, I began to realize that
working with animals and caring for our environment was just as big a
passion for me as educating children. I knew that I wanted to somehow
integrate them, but wasn’t sure how. After learning about humane
education, I knew that I had found what I had been looking for. Humane
education allowed me to take my love of teaching children and combine it
with my passion for animal welfare and environmental preservation. I
was drawn to the fact that humane education could be easily implemented
into any classroom and that it could be adapted to include people of all
ages. Most of all, I enjoy that humane education not only gives people
information, but also gives people the knowledge and resources to make
more compassionate choices in their lives.
recently became the first ever humane educator for the Humane Society of
Huron Valley (HSHV). What has it been like to start a humane ed program
from scratch? What kinds of resources and partnerships did you use to
help you get started?
KP: First, I
would like to say that I feel so fortunate to have begun a humane
education program at such an amazing organization. The team at HSHV has
helped me immensely, and all of them have been so supportive of my
programs and initiatives. That said, it is so great to have an
opportunity to take the wonderful programs that they already had in
place and add an additional humane education component. Starting from
scratch allowed me to really evaluate what is needed the most in our
community and to design programs that complement the pre-existing ones. I
talked with several humane educators across the country about their
current programs and discussed with them what they have found to work
well. I also researched quite a few curricula, lessons, and materials,
and became as involved as I could in humane education workshops and
professional development. I used a lot of my background knowledge from
my 10 years of public school teaching and the knowledge I gained through
the Master’s program at IHE and the Certified Humane Education
Specialist (CHES) program at HSUS. Through all of this, I was able to
develop humane education programs for each age group at the shelter. It
was, of course, challenging to get the programs planned, organized, and
implemented but seeing the increase in youth involvement at our shelter
in just seven months has been so amazing!
IHE: HSHV offers numerous programs. Which are your favorites?
That’s such a hard question to answer because I think each one holds a
unique quality that makes it special and enjoyable for me. I think that
our Camp PAWS program for ages 7-11 is always a lot of fun for everyone
involved. We offer the camp during the summer as well as during the two
week holiday break in December. Camp PAWS is a mixture of humane
education lessons, time with shelter animals, crafts and game time,
field trips, guest speakers, and reverence building activities. My
favorite part of the camp is watching the children develop a bond with
some of our shelter animals throughout the week. We keep track of who is
adopted that week and there is always so much excitement when an animal
they know has found their home!
Our Junior Volunteers Club
(J.V. Club) is a program that is unique to this area. It was
co-developed with our volunteer coordinator, Brittany Keene, and the
support of our staff and volunteers. This program was designed for ages
12-17 and allows youth in this age group to become official Junior
Volunteers at HSHV. They attend six hands-on training sessions that
incorporate humane education lessons, volunteer training, work with
mentor volunteers, and volunteering practice. Each J.V. Club participant
is paired up with a mentor volunteer, and it is always wonderful to see
the relationship and team building that takes place between the
participants, the mentors and the staff. The positive qualities of the
participants are always our main focus, and we love to see the
confidence and compassion that our Junior Volunteers develop throughout
the program. We are really excited to be one of the only shelters in the
area that has a specific volunteer program for this age group.
great thing about both of these programs is that they give me an
opportunity to maintain ongoing teacher/student relationships with
youth, which is something that I sometimes miss about working in a
IHE: I love that one of your programs is for toddlers. Tell us the kinds of work you do with them and what your goals are.
Our Little Paws Story Time program is always one of the highlights of
my day! There is something so special about working with very young
children who are so excited about everything! Little Paws invites
children and their families to come into the shelter and spend some
quality time together learning about and interacting with animals. The
main goal for this program is to help build reverence in the children by
allowing them to explore and learn about all different kinds of
animals. Each storytime has a specific theme, and children engage in
stories, songs and finger plays, animal interactions, crafts, and
activities that teach them about the importance of showing compassion
toward all animals, humans, and the environment. This not only
familiarizes more of our community with the great programs we have
available, but it begins to instill values of compassion and empathy in
children at a young age. Of course, no child leaves without getting some
kisses and cuddles from one of our adoptable animals!
IHE: How have students and the community reacted to your humane education programs?
support and enthusiasm for the humane education programs has been
overwhelming (in a great way!). I feel that this is something that has
been needed in our community for quite some time. The support of our
staff, volunteers, and community has been amazing, and I can’t wait to
see our humane education programs continuing to grow!
Most humane education departments connected to humane societies focus
on teaching about companion animal issues. Is that the case at HSHV, or
do you try to teach more comprehensive issues?
One of the biggest beliefs at HSHV is that nothing is just an “animal
issue.” We discuss all the time how animal welfare issues relate back to
concerns for human health, happiness, and safety, as well as
environmental preservation. Therefore, when teaching about animal
welfare, I always incorporate more comprehensive issues into the
lessons. I think it’s very important for people of all ages to
understand how we are all connected and how our actions affect many
IHE: What are the biggest animal protection challenges in your community?
One challenge that we face in our community is the over breeding of
animals, most commonly Pit bulls. Because of the over breeding, we have
so many Pit bulls that come into our shelter needing a loving home. We
love working with and caring for our Pits, but unfortunately many people
are leery of adopting a Pit bull, which can lead to shelter
overcrowding. We work very hard to educate the public about Pits and to
overcome the myths that are surrounding these breeds. We also work very
hard to educate the community on the importance of spaying and neutering
all animals in order to help with the overpopulation issues. In our
area, we also see a lot of feral cats. We have many rural areas in our
community and our TNR (Trap Neuter Return) Coordinator, Kathryn, is
working endlessly to help vaccinate, spay, and neuter the feral cats in
our community. Due to the poor economy, we have also seen an increase in
the number of animals who are being left behind in homes and
apartments. We offer several programs to help people to provide food for
their animals in a time of hardship, but we still have many residents
that, for whatever reason, leave their animals behind.
IHE: You used to teach in public schools. How have those experiences influenced or helped your work as a humane educator?
My experience working in public schools has helped me immensely! First,
I am familiar with teaching youth of all ages, which makes it easier to
interact with, manage, and teach students in classrooms and in our
shelter programs. Also, my experience helped me to develop the humane
education programs that we offer to schools. Because I am very familiar
with the constraints that teachers have in the classroom, I was able to
design our curriculum in a way that not only teaches humane education
topics, but also incorporates state mandated material as well. This
makes our classroom presentations beneficial for both sides and offers a
great talking point when forming partnerships with local schools. I can
also say that my experience teaching has given me a wealth of knowledge
in regard to resources. I have cases and cases full of humane education
books, lesson plans, and activities…they are taking over my basement!!
IHE: What are your future plans?
My future plans are to continue developing the humane education
programs at HSHV so that they reach even more people in the community.
Some of the items on my agenda for 2012 are to create more sessions of
Camp PAWS, develop a humane education scholarship program for high
school students in our community, and to create a humane education award
program for classrooms, groups, and individuals who put forth a lot of
effort in helping the animals at our shelter. I also would like to
continue to implement professional development courses for teachers in
our community and state. I am really excited to see what the future
IHE: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a new humane education program in their community?
I would tell someone to really take their time and assess what
educational initiatives are going to be the most beneficial to their
community. It is easy to get overwhelmed when you think about all that
you want to do, so start slowly and work on developing one program at a
time. Also, there are SO many resources available!! Take advantage of
them and don’t be afraid to reach out to other humane educators for
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