Kit Jagoda next to a wall of photos of the animals at her sanctuary
Kit next to a wall of photos of some of the sanctuary animals

IHE M.Ed. student Kit Jagoda has been a public school art teacher for more than 28 years. She and her husband also co-founded River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, which is in Spokane, Washington. And, as a house rabbit educator with the House Rabbit Society, Kit spends a lot of time rescuing and educating about rabbits. We asked Kit to share about her humane education work.

IHE: What led you to humane education?

KJ: We had been operating the sanctuary for 15 years. We have been working directly with rescuing animals and doing rehabilitation and rehoming. While this has been very important work I wanted to do more education and advocacy on behalf of animals. I heard IHE grad and staff member Marsha Rakestraw give a presentation at the Portland Vegfest in 2010, and I was so impressed. I researched the Institute and decided to pursue a master’s in Humane Education. I already had a master’s in Educational Administration, but I was drawn to this program for the significant application it would have on the sanctuary and in my life.

I am now integrating humane education at a deeper and broader level through River’s Wish.

IHE: Share a couple of the ways you’re currently engaged in humane education.

Wyatt drawing Misty the rescue horse
Wyatt drawing Misty the rescue horse

KJ: ‘Compassion For Animals’ invites people to get to know the animals. Through meeting the animals people are able to replace the abstract notion of a species with that of an individual. We advocate vegan life choices through our humane education.

‘Art and Animals’ are workshops that Pete and I offer at the sanctuary. We are both artists and art teachers. Participants spend time with the animals in a natural setting. We ask that they consider how their creativity is impacted by these relationships, to reflect upon the animals, and then to explore this through art.

‘Rabbit’s Garden’ is a new community garden we’re developing at River’s Wish. We will be offering classes where young people can work and play in the dirt, nurture the garden, and learn where food comes from. This is an important aspect in our vegan advocacy. These young people will also be spending time with the animals, nurturing their empathy and compassion.

IHE: Share a success story or two.

KJ: We have so many success stories at the sanctuary with the animals. Paloma is a Percheron draft mare who is a former Premarin mare. When she came to us she would have nothing to do with people. We learned that she had a perforation in her diaphragm (it may have been there from birth). A section of the small intestine became lodged in the perforation, resulting in the need to remove 12 feet of intestine and repair the perforation.

Paloma had to stay at the vet hospital for about a month. With the continued interaction she had with people and the ways that she was treated with kindness, she began to develop trust. We brought Paloma home, and she is one of our horse ambassadors. She is extremely gentle and trusting. We value these relationships that are built, and we describe the importance of not breaking trust. There is so much that we have learned about the animals through our work with them. Sharing these stories with people is one important way of being a voice for the animals.

Francis was a white Flemish Giant rabbit whose neck had been trapped in a snare. An animal protection officer, Officer Francie, rescued him from this snare. After taking him to the vet she brought him to us. Francis became one of our ‘Compassion For Animals’ outreach rabbits. People loved Francis and his gentleness. His story leads them to feel something deeply and to describe these feelings in words and images.

Seeing how connections are made between people and the animals is encouraging, as one of my primary goals is to close the gap of disconnect between people’s values and their choosing compassionate life choices.

Kiki doing a chalk pastel of sanctuary bunny Carl
Kiki doing a chalk pastel of sanctuary bunny Carl

KJ: I am writing a blog for my graduate practicum and will be publishing it this summer. It will be linked to our River’s Wish website. The blog includes stories about the animals we have met and cared for, photographs of them, and my paintings. I also blog about art and animals, individual artists, and share art lessons and ways that we can encourage compassion and empathy in our everyday lives.

I will also be pursuing more humane education opportunities through the visual arts at the sanctuary. (See Kit’s sketchbook project here.)

IHE: What gives you hope for a better world for all?

KJ: All the animals and people we meet. Many of the animals we take into the sanctuary are in very poor health. As we work with them and they rehabilitate, their own trust never ceases to amaze us. The animals are my heroes and they have so much to teach us, if we only listen. I feel a sense of hope when people respond to the animals in a compassionate way.

We also meet so many wonderful and caring people who want what is best for others. Through working with these people I find that my sense of despair is lessened by the love that they show.

IHE: What would you say to others interested in IHE’s graduate programs?

KJ: This is an excellent program. The teachers are accessible, supportive, challenging and experts in the field. The program is about humane education and it IS humane education. I love this program, as it is relevant, valuable to my life and the lives of others. This program addresses the issues and challenges us to find ways where we can impact change and become solutionaries.