How to Start a Humane Education Program

man and dog portraitWhat is Humane Education?
Over 60 years ago, the National Parent Teacher Association of the U.S. proclaimed the value of humane education. In a statement crafted at a national conference, the PTA declared that humane education teaches the principles of justice, goodwill, and humanity toward all life. It went on to assert that the cultivation of the spirit of kindness to animals can be the starting point for the development of a larger humanity which treats all peoples, and indeed all living things, with respect.

Education is the Cure for Ignorance
Ignorance of animal behavior, unrealistic expectations for animals and children, and an inability to see animals as fellow beings on this planet are some of the reasons family pets are turned over to local shelters every day. The traits needed to be caring, thoughtful, involved citizens are the same ones needed to be good animal guardians: responsibility, caring for one another, trustworthiness, knowledge, respect, and a positive attitude.
By working with local schools and other organizations, humane educators can promote change in their community that helps not only animals, but the entire citizenry.

Humane education teaches the children and the adults in your community:

  • The value of kindness.
  • Respect for animals and the environment.
  • How to properly care for animals.
  • The way animals behave.
  • The consequences of irresponsible behavior toward animals.
Humane Education Program Guidelines

The following guidelines may help you develop a humane education program:

dog helping blind personAdhere to your organization's mission.
For example, if your group's work relates only to community action projects, planning education programs about endangered species in the rainforest might not be suitable. However, if your organization has an interest in helping people in the community develop positive relationships with animals, your education program could help people with disabilities benefit from the help of service animals. By tying your education program to your overall mission, the program enjoys credibility and advances your goals at the same time.

Know your community.
Each community has different animal-related problems. Talk to community leaders to get a grasp of issues and priorities and possibilities. Meet with members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Junior League, and other influential organizations to set goals and plan programs that have their support.

Assess your resources.
Determine the cost of offering a humane education program. Consider time, transportation, and materials, among other expenses. Will you depend on volunteers, paid staff, or both? Can you secure donated materials? How will you publicize the program? How much time will be involved in selling the program to your audience? The answers to these questions will help you fashion a program that's achievable within your budget.

Determine your audience.
Humane educators bring their message to everyone from pre-schoolers to retirees in continuing education classes. You need to decide whom you want to reach and how often. Knowing your audience will help focus your outreach and maximize your resources.

An animal care class for third grade is very different in content from even sixth grade and certainly from a business organization. Successful education programs are tailored to the age, prior knowledge, and audience comprehension levels.

Design presentations appropriate for the audience.

Talk to teachers and find out the goals of your school. Is there an emphasis on character education, diversity, establishing a non-violent atmosphere, interdisciplinary lesson plans, or service learning? Humane education belongs in all of these areas of concern.

Unless you already know a teacher or principal who respects animals, you may be asked, "Why talk about animals? We have enough to accomplish in the classroom." You need to be able to show why your topic is relevant.

You can teach respect for life in many disciplines: language arts, social studies, child development, psychology, math, science, history, home economics, and other subjects.

For example, home economics classes typically do units on household budgets. You could show how companion animals could be included in the family budget.

Encourage students to find out the real cost of caring for that cute puppy for his lifetime: yearly veterinary care, vaccinations, illnesses in old age, spay/neuter surgery, food, kennel costs for vacations, etc.

Psychology classes study conflict resolution, family issues and child development. Your talk could include a video on the links between animal abuse and family violence or appropriate animal care responsibilities for each stage of childhood development.

Character education classes teach responsibility, caring for the earth, respect for life, all topics that relate to animals.

Animals are affected by the events and attitudes in our community. Even though teachers or community leaders may have animals at home and be responsible caretakers, they may not see the connection to other events in their lives. Our job as humane educators is to demonstrate the link between our relationship to animals and the other aspects of our lives.

Form community partnerships.
Look around your community to discover which organizations have similar goals. For example, you could partner with the parks and recreation department or the children's museum or the local library. Other community issues like poverty, family violence, teen parents, and general apathy affect animals as well as people. When you work with other organizations, you gain their respect and support in solving mutual community problems.

Participate in training opportunities.
Workshops and conferences by national animal welfare organizations, speech classes at a local community college, and conferences by state educational organizations offer opportunities for learning how to reach a variety of audiences. You also need to be familiar with how children learn, and what materials and approaches are appropriate for each stage of development. Talk to teachers in your area to find out about training opportunities.

See our What To Teach page for more information about Humane Education.

For more information, contact:
Education Department
In Defense of Animals
3010 Kerner Blvd.
San Rafael, CA 94901
phone: (415) 388-9641 fax: (415) 388-0388

Read the Guardian Campaign Mission Statement & Goals