We humans have the ability to choose a path of love over hate and kindness over cruelty. To help our youngsters choose wisely, we must be afforded the opportunity and resources to share the glory of our relationship with both companion animals and wildlife.
It is within our capability to share and teach appreciation, compassion, joy, patience, and respect by bringing more humane education into our nation’s classrooms. Only a handful of states require humane education in schools and guidelines vary. The state of California, for example, requires humane education in schools, promoting harmony with all living creatures.
“I honestly believe that folks want to do the right thing and don't want to cause harm,” says Jen Walker, Volunteer Coordinator and Humane Educator at the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter in California. “If people truly understand how much more alike than different we are from the other animals we share this world with, they would have to care more - be kinder stewards.”
“Teaching people to see this, sharing their journey, inspires me to do as much as I can to be part of the change I seek,” Jen says. “I love what I do and feel that I make a real positive difference in my community with my work.”
Jen’s unique experience in animal sheltering combined magically into her life calling: humane education. To help animals, we must help people. It is people who make good things happen for animals and humane education is the answer, the fundamental dynamism of Growing Kinder.
“The connection we share with animals is simple really, one living being to another,” Jen believes. “When we leave judgement behind, relationships and understanding blossom.”
“The issues that animal shelters face stem from a lack of understanding,” Jen says in reference to pets' needs, responsible pet ownership, safety around domestic and wild animals, neglect and the like. “To change a society, create a paradigm shift, engaging education is necessary.”
“Humane education invites people to think about their place in the world, to seek answers and more questions.” explains Jen, a Certified Humane Education Specialist and Founder of Growing Kinder, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing humane education throughout the community offering pre-school through high school humane education programs and adult humane education.
For humane education to be successful, “A humane educator must speak in a way that its message can be heard,” Jen reveals. “Cultural, economic, and spiritual differences need to be taken into account and honored.”
Jen’s animal ambassadors also add to the impact of her humane education presentations. Of the three cats, two dogs, and two hens Jen shares her home with, two are active animal ambassadors in Jen’s humane education work. “They are a huge part of what I do. I honestly couldn't do it without my partners.”
Choosing her co-teachers is a multi-stage process and although training is very important to Jen as a handler, she says, “A deep empathy and commitment to always being your animal ambassador's advocate first and foremost is necessary.”
“I strongly feel it must be something that they actively enjoy, not something that they have been trained or conditioned to do,” Jen says. “These animals are my partners, not my servants. I want them to seek out and look forward to the work the way I do.”
The well-being of life around us depends on us. Conversely, our well-being depends on the life surrounding us.
“We need life around us, other living things,” Jen states, “We need to be part of a living whole. Humans wither and dim when we are taken away from nature. House plants, green spaces, and most important to me personally, our pets keep nature an active daily force in our lives.”