Continuing with the guest perspectives about what drives each of us in our work to protect animals, today I’ll give the floor to Dorothy Weller, executive director of Humane Society Youth, The HSUS’s youth education division. As you’ll see, youth provide Dorothy’s inspiration. With The HSUS for more than 20 years, Dorothy has devoted her life to the welfare of animals—much of it to educating young people about kindness and respect for all animals, and activating youth into the cause. Here is her story:
I discovered my affinity for animals early on, bonding with many of the animals on my family’s dairy farm in Ohio. As a young adult I moved to Ponce, Puerto Rico, where the suffering of stray animals was overwhelming—a feeling that turned to despair bordering on helplessness upon learning there was no established local animal shelter in the area. It didn’t take long for one injured dog left lying on the street in the hot sun, unable to move for an entire afternoon, to move me to do something—not only rescuing him but with the help of other like-minded people, organizing a shelter operation from the ground up.
Soon after founding the Sociedad Protectora de Animales de Ponce, I watched with satisfaction as 15 kids from a low-income barrio joined us, dubbed themselves “Club Los Sabuesos” (which, loosely translated, means “bloodhounds sniffing out cruelty”) and fearlessly took on the challenges of promoting animal protection in their community. A contract with the city provided our initial means of funding, and established the first municipally funded animal control program on the island. As we began our rescue work the young “sabuesos” routinely ran alongside our truck in some of the roughest sections of town, passing out flyers about the shelter operation and calling out to everyone that we were there to help the animals, not harm them. They were our “security” patrol in a culture that was highly suspicious of anything that smacked of “evil” dogcatchers. They did more to establish goodwill and foster the adoption of “satos” (the local word for mutts) than anything we did as adults.
© Humane Society Youth
Students catch up on KIND News.
Seven years after forming the Society in Puerto Rico, life took me to Florida and Texas but not away from animal protection and humane education, working in city and community-wide youth education programs in both large and small shelter operations and ultimately the HSUS Gulf States Regional Office. In the ‘80s, a major source of satisfaction for me was helping to develop The HSUS’s Adopt-a-Classroom program from the ground up—a program that has provided millions of kids with gift copies of KIND News for nearly 25 years. Field work for The HSUS in the early ‘90s took me to dozens of investigations at cattle auctions and other livestock processing venues, taping countless acts of cruelty that, unfortunately, continue to plague us today. The whole situation left me heartsick and fueled my dedication to humane education and the fostering of empathy in our young as well as people of all ages. I’ve dedicated myself to that proposition for the past 20 years, working with many dedicated people to grow The HSUS’s humane education programs and materials. Today they’re the most widely used throughout the country and recognized for their strong messages that encourage empathy and support character education programs.
Nothing, however, in all of my many youth education experiences, has been more satisfying or productive than the results from the recent outreach initiatives of the newly established Humane Society Youth division, including the Mission: Humane program. Headed by Heidi O’Brien, director of outreach, these programs have inspired and guided thousands of kids and teens to get actively involved in animal protection issues and provide the resources and support that so many super-humane young people are hungry for.
© Humane Society Youth
Members of a Humane Teen club.
In 38 years of working in animal protection, youth outreach has always been a major focus of my endeavors to solve animal cruelty issues. It was very clear to me that without this visionary program component, significant long-term progress would be greatly diminished. While it’s been a hard fight, the rewards are what stay with me, not the least of which is the Club Los Sabuesos. All of the local “sabuesos” graduated from high school and went on to become well-respected citizens and professionals in their community, while continuing to support animal protection and other humanitarian causes. Today many of them have children and a few have grandchildren, some of whom have benefited from receiving KIND News in their classrooms. A plaque they gave to me hangs on the wall in a place of honor across from my desk and continues to inspire me and keep me going after all these years.