“Eat a salad, go to a gym, get a pet…all part of a healthy and well person,” was a quote I heard recently at an animal welfare conference. It was stated by Steve Feldman, Executive Director of the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), a nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C., dedicated to supporting research and programs that strengthen the human animal bond. Throughout the speech, Mr. Feldman spoke about how animals have infused themselves into our lives and how the relationship and expectations of care and support are stronger than ever. He spoke about seniors and the desire to create environments where they can take their pets with them if they end up in a nursing facility. He spoke of the need for pet-friendly rentals where individuals can keep pets rather than having to surrender them due to lack of housing opportunities. He spoke of changing the way we think about the homeless and their need for pet companionship and safety. He spoke about the affordability of pets in the average person’s life and how costs of pet medical care and basic needs are preventing some from experiencing the benefits of pet ownership. The speech was pretty impactful as it reminded me of the holistic and important role animals play in our lives. And, I agree, having pets makes the world a better place and us humans better people.
This speech was one of many at the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (SAWA) conference held in Miami Beach last week. Coupled with the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) research symposium day, this annual conference brought together the great minds of animal welfare to discuss issues that impact the profession and the animals and people we serve. I attend this conference every year and enjoy the opportunity to learn best practices in the field and connect with colleagues from all over the country, sharing ideas and picking their brains for ideas.
The conference seemed different this year, however. Maybe it was because it had to be moved to a dingy hotel by the airport at the last moment because the original resort by the beach had damage from the recent Florida hurricane. Or, maybe, the damage from the hurricane put the whole conference in perspective. We had individuals from all over–Florida, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and more–sitting in a room together talking about animals. It occurred to me that we weren’t just talking about animals, we were really talking about human issues, family, and where animals fit in our lives. We spoke about all of the human tragedies, losses, and deaths that have occurred due to natural disasters and from human hands over the past few months and how it made us feel. We talked about the tragedy of losing so many animals and the amount of displaced pets. At first, these conversations evoked a feeling of sadness within me. I struggled with the idea of people and their pets suffering. Losing a pet is losing a family member. I can’t imagine losing my house, belongings, and, on top of that, my pets.
As the conference continued, my thoughts quickly turned to hope. We talked about people that came together to reunite lost pets with their families and find homes for displaced animals. We shared stories about the first responders and animal welfare organizations that banded together to save the lives of animals in distress and transport hundreds of animals to safety. I looked around the room and I knew I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who all wanted safe and happy homes for animals. We were all there to come together to do what we needed to do to save the lives of animals. Helping strengthen the bond between people and their pets is one of our primary motivations in animal welfare and this bond seems more important now than ever.
I took copious notes and have lots of ideas to bring back to Southern California, but the first thing I will do when I get home is hug my own pets and thank them for helping me become a better person.