IHE HECP student Susan Hargreaves has been following the humane education path for more than two decades. Her work as Humane Educator at the Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary and as founder and webmaster for HumaneEducators.com allow her to help adults and children make connections about the importance of extending compassion and respect to animals.

Susan’s organization recently honored a group of children for helping save an injured puppy. Here’s an interview with Susan about her humane education work.

IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?

SH: I have been a humane educator for 27 years; how did I begin this satisfying, challenging, and sometimes bittersweet journey?

When I think back in an attempt to gauge the exact moment I discovered great injustice existed in the world, it all started with my Aunt Olwyn saying I should come to work with her since I loved animals so much. I was nine years old and visiting West Yorkshire; off we went on a bright July day in James Herriott country. We drove up past the moors to a chicken hatchery. Aunt Olwyn was the receptionist there. As she went to her desk, she directed me to an open doorway where I could see a conveyor belt where all the baby chicks were hatching.

Imagine my shock at seeing the industrial bins full of dead and dying baby chicks who had just been tossed off the conveyor belt after peeking their heads out of their shells. Hoses filled with gas were connected to the large drums. The chicks were piled one on top of each other, some struggling to climb to the top of the bin in a desperate attempt for air.

I thought to myself, “This has to be wrong! This killing has to be against the law! How can everyone be letting this terrible cruelty happen?” This was the moment I recognized a need to stop widespread, industrial, routine animal cruelty. At nine years of age I lost my belief that “someone” was watching out for those who could not defend themselves, and that farms were happy places, but what could I do to help? Well, you know, humane education was and is the answer.

IHE: You run a website, Humane Educators Reaching Out.com Tell us about that.

SH: HumaneEducatorsReachingOut.com (or HumaneEducators.com) stemmed from a meeting I called for South Florida humane educators. My goal was to get all the humane educators together to act as a resource/support network for each other, and to refer each others’ programs, especially in locations where a child may have been charged with animal cruelty. The website serves as a local “one stop shop” for teachers to book multiple humane education programs for little or no cost from a wide variety of South Floridian humane educators. The Kids News section of the site is also an arena to showcase the many local children who help animals.

IHE: How did you get involved with Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary?

SH: Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary, a project of the Pegasus Foundation, is a 23 acre property that cares for abused, neglected and/or abandoned horses and cats. The sanctuary’s co-coordinators realized the need to address the causes of animal neglect, cruelty, & homelessness via humane education. I was asked if I would help co-ordinate the opening of an Education Center on the property and its programs. After getting bamboo flooring down in the main room and beautiful artwork donated, we were ready to host groups, adult workshops and children’s’ school field trips.

It was fortunate that the Caring Fields and the Pegasus Foundation management agreed the education center should be consistently compassionate and all meals would be vegan. Each group who visits the center learns about how they can help other animals, as well as enjoys vegan goodies.

IHE: What kinds of outreach do you do and to what ages or groups?

SH: All group and ages are reached with on-site workshops or presentations at the sanctuary. “You Can Be an Animal Hero” is a popular presentation, where the younger elementary-age children meet Horace B Horse, Kitty T Cat, & Rocky Raccoon, plush characters who tell how children can be heroes to animals and who distribute Animal Hero Cards. We also do interactive plays, where children dress in native wildlife, marine mammal or jungle animal costumes in front of natural habitat backdrops and dramatize the challenges other animals face.

The adult workshops run the gamut from disaster response training, to Compassionate Cooking for the Holidays. To date the most well-attended workshops have been the Stop the Violence workshop and the recent Humane Educators workshop.

IHE: What’s a typical week like for you?

SH: I am fortunate that my activities vary from week to week. For instance, in the last week of school, I visited two schools to receive the culmination of service learning projects from children who had visited Caring Fields and had met the rescued horses and cats; one school made banners saying “Say Neigh to Animal Cruelty.” Another school made catnip sock toys and kitty beds. In that same week I visited a domestic violence shelter in Palm Beach County to give a compassion presentation, which consists of heartwarming stories of rescue, from human to non-human animals and vice versa. I spent the next day calling bus companies in an attempt to get transportation donated so the families from the shelter can visit Caring Fields.

I then visited the Broward County Jail to give my second presentation there to 65 woman inmates, the State of the Animal Nation, as a representative of Humane Educators Reaching Out.

IHE: What are your goals?

SH: I am forever re-evaluating the effectiveness of my humane education work; if I could be reaching more people, how I can be more effective?

My goal is to one day have an education center that is also a refuge for rescued farmed animals: cows, pigs, chickens and rabbits, too. It would be the kind of place where children and youth can participate in growing organic veggies, preparing vegan food and helping other animals, as well as their own communities.

My work with Caring Fields is the closest I have ever come to that life-long goal. The Education Center is beautiful, and my work there has the power to counteract the root causes of animal neglect and cruelty.

I would also like to find a way to fund the myriad commercials I have imagined over the years that showcase the impact consumer choices have on other animals.

IHE: How is your work being funded?

SH: Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary’s Education Center is funded by donors and is a project of the Pegasus Foundation.

Humane Educators Reaching Out.com is basically, funded by the “skin of my teeth.” Sometimes I am fortunate to get work donated; for example, the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale donated the great web design, and rattlethecage.org is helping with a short online video.

IHE: You recently sponsored a workshop for other Humane Educators in the area. What did you notice? What did you learn?

SH: This was the most well-attended Education Center adult workshop yet. A wide variety of educators attended and showcased their own work. Musicians, performers, anti-violence workers, Americorps volunteers, teachers, humane society representatives, and activists all attended; each had their own important contribution. Overwhelmingly, there was a sense of common purpose and respect and a great willingness to learn.

IHE: Recently you gave a presentation to 65 women inmates. Tell us about that experience.

SH: Initially, I was a little intimidated, and puzzled about the best way to encourage interaction throughout the presentation, as well as the best way to foster empathy. My trepidation continued right up until I stood in front of the crowd in the gray cement hall, after going through a long security laden process to get there. I had customized my trusty slide projector with heartwarming before and after pictures: photos of children who had helped animals, photos of a pig and dogs who have helped humans, even a photo of a cow who had jumped a seven foot gate to escape the slaughterhouse. Through the stories and images I interwove facts establishing the link between animal and human abuse, as well as information about current animal protection laws.

I was surprised at the extent of the stories of animals the women had witnessed being harmed when they where children, or as adults, and the ways they had helped or identified with other animals. The myriad questions that showed a lively interest all combined to create an enriching experience for me, re-affirming why I became a humane educator. It is energizing to feel the positive accomplishment of reaching others, who in turn reach back. This was the most mutually fulfilling presentation experience I have experienced in some time.

IHE: What are some of your biggest challenges?

SH: My biggest challenge is to find the answer to the puzzle of how to achieve financial autonomy to continue the humane education work at the level I aspire to.

IHE: Share a success story. What has helped encourage you?

SH: My experience with the women at the jail, and so many other stories of brave children helping animals in spite of their friends urging them to ignore the animal’s plight have inspired me. I have given Extraordinary Animal Hero Awards to children at school assemblies who have saved other animals by using the contact numbers on their Animal Hero Cards and utilizing their own courage. (A few of these stories are highlighted on HumaneEducators.com on the Kids’ News page.)

IHE: What are your thoughts about the power of humane education to positively transform the world?

SH: Humane Education is the answer in all of its many forms. Whether it is in the classroom or in the street, in the theatre or in song, or in a single, intelligent, and genuine interaction with one other person, humane education is the answer.

IHE: Any future plans, dreams or projects?

SH: My book, The Hare-raising Adventures of Rabbitta the Third will soon be reprinted and available on the HumaneEducators.com site. I still would like to have an education center with resident, rescued farmed animals, a smaller pilot sanctuary that is easily accessible to schools, treatment centers, etc.…

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work at Caring Fields Animal Sanctuary’s Education Center; to be able to work alongside others who know the far reaching value of humane education has the potential to create achievements to counter the plight of other animals.