I think of it more as an animal-animal bond, or even more human-to-nonhuman, as we’re all animals, we look into each other’s eyes and recognize the same thing that’s in us, a capacity for love, joy, family. All animals, wildlife, farmed animals, companion animals—we’re all the same in our being.
Susan Hargreaves, Founder and Executive Director of Animal Hero Kids
A hero becomes a hero by being the voice of the voiceless and the help of the helpless. In that regard, few professions have more heroes than those in the veterinary care and animal activist arenas. Often working for less pay and recognition than their human-oriented counterparts, these heroes place themselves subordinate to the planet’s wider ecosystem in service of the human-animal bond.
The American Veterinary Medical Association defines this bond as “a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors essential to the health and wellbeing of both,” and it’s something that the people below take into consideration every day.
While you may have heard of Jane Goodall’s work, or seen commercials for PETA and Greenpeace, there are countless individuals you may not know about yet who are working in the trenches to make the world better for all the creatures that inhabit it.
Read on to get to know five such heroes and the ways in which they’re improving the lives of animals.
Pick-Your-Paw Animal Rescue: A Conversation with Hero Tammy Boland
Tammy Boland, the most recent recipient of American Humane’s Veterinary Nurse Hero award, has saved hundreds of dogs through the Pick-Your-Paw Animal Rescue organization, which she co-founded as a grassroots network of animal lovers who work to rehabilitate rescued dogs.
“My rescue journey started with a beautiful 9-year-old German Shepherd named Ella,” Boland says. “I rescued her from a breeder who was going to have her euthanized. Ella was an amazing dog and rescuing her brought awareness to not only me but my family members as well. When it was time for my brother to purchase his own home, he decided he also wanted to rescue a senior dog. I visited a local shelter to look at a senior German Shepherd for him and my eyes were opened to just how many dogs were in need. The next thing I knew I was pulling dogs from crowded shelters, placing them in foster homes, and finding them new homes. I met Heather Goldberg [co-founder of Pick Your Paw] through a local rescue she was volunteering with. We discovered we worked really well together and had the same priorities and goals when it came to rescue. We officially formed Pick Your Paw in 2011.”
In coordination with the busiest shelters in the New York, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh, Boland works with the most at-risk dogs—seniors, pit-bulls, and those with medical needs—to coach them back to physical and mental health.
“Often recovering them from mental pain is more difficult than healing them physically,” she says. “Some of these poor dogs have been through terrible abuse and neglect and it takes time for them to heal and start to trust humans again.”
While the physical scars heal quickly, “getting them to trust again and see that the world is not so scary and most people are good takes more time,” she continues. “Thankfully, most of these amazing dogs are resilient, and, in treating them with patience and kindness, they come around. Our rescue is a firm believer in force-free, positive reinforcement training. We are fortunate to have several amazing force-free trainers that help us with our more difficult cases, and we also utilize veterinary behaviorists when needed as well.”
In addition to running the clinic, being a mom, and navigating all the other beautiful chaos that swirls around her, Boland recently saved a group of pit bulls—known as the Five Minions—from a fighting ring, and, in time, got to see them play and interact like normal dogs for the first time in their lives.
“The human-animal bond to me is precious,” she says. “Animals give back so much to us and they don’t ask for anything in return except to be warm, fed, loved, and treated with respect. Animals continue to amaze me every day with their ability to love unconditionally, shake off a bad past, and get on with their beautiful new lives. I think we humans are incredibly lucky and blessed to share our lives with these amazing animals.”
Burnt Hills Veterinary Hospital: A Profile of Hero Dr. David Chico
Dr. David Chico has been a hero to animals for years, but in 2018, the American Humane made it official by awarding him the title of Hero Veterinarian for his work in fostering the human-animal bond. In addition to working on animal cruelty cases and breaking up dog and cockfighting rings, he provides care to abused and neglected animals both at the Burnt Hills Veterinary Hospital and in his patients’ homes, where he makes house calls.
A diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and the current secretary of the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition, Dr. Chico received his doctorate of veterinary medicine in 1993 and paired it with a master’s of public health in 2008.
Outside of his professional work, Dr. Chico donates time to Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS), which provides free veterinary care and in-home support to animals living with impoverished people and families affected by HIV/AIDS. On the international front, he volunteers with Animals Lebanon, an NGO in Beirut that seeks to improve animal welfare in Lebanon—the home country of his adopted dog, Habib.
Animal Hero Kids: A Conversation with Hero Susan Hargreaves
Susan Hargreaves is the founder and executive director of Animal Hero Kids, a volunteer organization dedicated to using educational programs that foster empathy in kids and teens towards animals. Her organization teaches the virtues of compassion and kindness at a young age, winning accolades from Jane Goodall, Paul McCartney, and even Michelle Obama, who gave Animal Hero Kids her seal of approval as First Lady of the United States.
When asked about the human-animal bond, Ms. Hargreaves says: “I think of it more as an animal-animal bond, or even more human-to-nonhuman, as we’re all animals, we look into each other’s eyes and recognize the same thing that’s in us, a capacity for love, joy, family. All animals, wildlife, farmed animals, companion animals—we’re all the same in our being.”
Outside of prodigious activism and authorship, Susan has investigated animal abuse at circuses, stockyards, and rodeos—closing down the worst offenders and exposing routine cruelty in others.
“There is a myriad of ways to help animals,” she says. “It used to be more limited in careers that help animals, but now if you are a filmmaker, reporter, writer, artist, advocate, legislator, photographer, vegan chef, humane educator, or social media maven, you can help animals.”
Hargreaves emigrated to the United States from Canada through the category of “person of extraordinary ability”—a category usually reserved for Olympic athletes, but in this case given for her work in humane education.
“Every single one of us impacts other animals with our consumer choices,” she says. “And if you always have your conscience with you, you can’t go wrong.”
Vancouver Aquarium: A Conversation with Hero Dr. Martin Haulena
Dr. Martin Haulena is one of the world’s leading experts in marine mammals. He currently serves as both head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium and director of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. A diplomate of the American College of Zoological Medicine, he received his doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) and his master’s in wildlife pathology.
“Vets have spent a lot of time and money getting through school while making a relatively low salary,” Dr. Haulena says. “But having said that, I love being a vet, and there is nothing I would rather be doing.”
In both the United States and Canada, Dr. Haulena has made a career out of being a hero to animals. He performed the first ever blood transfusion and kidney removal on a sea otter that was struck by a boat and saved a stranded false killer whale calf. He is also credited with developing an innovative and safe technique for disentangling sea lions from marine debris.
When asked about the human-animal bond, he says: “It refers to the idea that humans need to be able to relate to and interact with other species, to express care and stewardship for other species, and to desire a high degree of welfare for the animals we bond with.”
Few could exemplify those attributes than Dr. Haulena himself. In addition to his work with universities, aquariums, and animals in the wild, he has authored more than 50 scientific journal articles and book chapters that have helped advance the study and conservation of animals.
Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest: A Conversation with Hero Diana Goodrich
Diana Goodrich is a co-director at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, one of the only such sanctuaries in the U.S., and one where the mission is to provide a lifetime of quality care for formerly abused and exploited chimpanzees. With master’s degrees in both animal psychology and public policy, she enjoyed an extensive career in the nonprofit sector before joining Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.
“I think we have a profound responsibility to consider how our actions as humans impact the non-human animals that share the planet,” Ms. Goodrich says. “That responsibility extends to animals who live in our homes, those used in various industries, and those who still live in the wild.”
At Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, she has researched the gestural communication of chimpanzees, cared for the animals directly, and advocated for the sanctuary at large through fundraising and awareness campaigns.
“My first experience communicating with chimpanzees was with a group of five chimpanzees who had been taught American Sign Language,” she says. “It was an incredibly humbling because I was a novice signer and the chimpanzees had a larger vocabulary than I did. It immediately illustrated to me how intelligent and curious chimpanzees are and it changed the way I thought about their lives in captivity.”
As a testament to the altruism of Ms. Goodrich, her colleagues, and the sanctuary she works for, their ultimate goal is to put themselves out of business and live in a world where such sanctuaries are no longer needed, where chimpanzees are allowed to be simply chimpanzees.
“There are so many ways to make a positive impact in the lives of animals. The first step is just learning more about what the situation is for animals that you are most interested in helping,” she says.
“Shelters and sanctuaries often need volunteers, there are numerous animal advocacy organizations out there that help all types of animals, and there are many different academic programs to pursue careers that help animals. Just becoming aware of how your everyday decisions, like what you chose to eat and where to find your next companion animal, can make a difference and help you choose the path that aligns with how you would like to see animals treated.”