Jennifer Dussault, Humane Education Coordinator, MSPCA at Nevins Farm
December 1, 2011

1. What exactly does a humane educator do?

 A humane educator can do lots of different things, but primarily they teach the public (both kids and adults) about the importance of treating each other, animals, and the environment with compassion and respect.  Because I work in the field of companion animal protection, I tend to focus more on that aspect of humane education.

2. How do you teach people kindness and compassion?

That’s a very good question!  In a lot of ways, it depends on your audience and your resources, but I think that the most effective way is to encourage people to think of animals as sentient—capable of feelings—and that’s why it’s so important to treat them with compassion and respect.  Even animals that we wouldn’t think of as sentient—goldfish, for instance—have nervous systems and are capable of feeling pain (which is why it’s so important to keep their tanks clean and feed them everyday!).  And actually spending face time with an animal, feeling that connection, is how this happens.  They say that people who have companion animals live longer and have less stress than people who don’t have animals.  It’s actually good for you to take care of an animal!

 

3. What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is learning how to be okay with successes that occur over a long period of time.  It’s really great working with individuals and giving them the information and tools to make the world a better place for animals, but it can be really startling realizing how many people have misinformation—especially adults!  Sometimes it’s really overwhelming.


4. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing how companion animals make so many people feel wonderful.  Animals are great companions because they don’t judge—they don’t care how you look, walk, talk, smell, or anything like that—they are capable of unconditional love.  This is a really powerful feeling for people, because all too often we really are judgmental of each other.

 

5. Do you teach only about pets, or do you teach more global issues?

A lot of what I do is focused more on the local community and the issues we see here, including the overpopulation of free-roaming cats, the abundance of homeless pit bull dogs, and resolving conflicts with wildlife.  But we do include more global issues in our outreach and education programs, too, like the welfare of circus animals and promoting cruelty-free product testing— that sort of thing.

 

6. Can you comment on your department's recent honor recognizing the Nevins Farm education dogs as the MSPCA’s 2009 Animal Heroes of the Year?

Our 2009 Animal Heroes are very important to our humane education programs at Nevins Farm!  The award was given to three dogs this year, Comet, Tasha, and Tucker, all of whom have done their part to teach young people about the importance of responsible animal care and compassion.  As pit bull dogs, Comet and Tasha are very special, helping to break down the popular myth that pit bull dogs are vicious or unruly.  Tucker is the MSPCA’s Summer Camp mascot, and just last week, he visited a care and rehabilitation center in Lawrence as a therapy animal.


7. Did you always want to work in animal welfare?

I’ve always cared about and respected animals, but I never considered a career in animal welfare until I adopted my first dog in 2005.  Growing up, we’d had dogs, rabbits, birds, and guinea pigs, but I never considered working with them.  Until I was older, I never really thought of animal careers beyond the veterinary field.


8. How did you happen to become a humane educator?

I taught high school for a few years, and though I really loved teaching, I wanted to try something different.  During the summer of my last year teaching, I was hired as a part-time animal care and adoption counselor at the MSPCA.  It was a really challenging but exciting job.  When the position for Humane Educator became available about a year and a half later, I applied for the job.  It seemed like a natural blend of my newfound love working in animal protection and my prior experience as a teacher.

 

9. What kind of preparation do you need for this career?

It’s important to be aware of the issues out there in regards to animal protection.  It’s also really important to know how to share this information with people.  To be effective as an educator, you have to be respectful and patient; education is about sharing knowledge, not shoving it at people.

 

10. How can kids work to educate people if they see something they view as cruel or neglectful pertaining to animals?

The most important thing for kids to do is to stay safe.  They should always speak to a trusted adult, like a parent or law enforcement officer, if they see someone treating an animal badly.  In other cases, there are great opportunities for kids to educate the community about important animal care.  There are many ideas for how to do this: one is to host a “be kind to animals” day at school, making posters or brochures about responsible animal care to distribute, and also organizing a collection drive for your local animal shelter.  There are also plenty of opportunities to help friends learn about kindness and care for animals one-on-one.  For example, if you have a friend who isn’t cleaning her pet’s cage often enough, it’s okay to explain how often the cage should be cleaned (daily!) and why, as long as it’s done respectfully.  Sometimes people don’t have all the information they should when it comes to animal care, and they are “accidentally” neglectful.

11. What kinds of pets do you have at home?

I have five pets at home (and a very small house).  I have two rabbits, Rose and Georgia, who are a bonded pair.  Rose is spayed and Georgia is neutered (his name is Georgia because he originally came from a pet store and they said he was a female!).  I also have two dogs, Tasha and Gabby, both of whom were adopted from the MSPCA.  My fifth pet is Victor, a betta fish.  He was rescued after being used in a wedding centerpiece—something we do not recommend!


12. Do you have people you look up to?

Absolutely!  I have a ton of respect for people who work to make the world a better place, not just for animals, but for every creature that shares the planet.  Probably the best way for me to describe the kind of person I look up to is to share great quotes from some of those people:

 

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Mahatma Ghandi

 

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Ghandi

 

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Dalai Lama

 

"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." Albert Einstein

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

 

My other favorites are “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” and “Live simply that others may simply live.”