By Hilary Hager
We’re looking forward to Animal Care Expo 2023, which takes place this year in New Orleans. In anticipation, Hilary Hager, our vice president of outreach, engagement and training, reflects on how Expo brings people together and strengthens the animal protection movement.
The first time I attended Animal Care Expo was 20 years ago. It was 2003, and I had only been working in animal welfare for two years. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Reno, Nevada, the host city of Expo 2003. I recall going from one session to the next, wide-eyed, diligently taking notes, and getting so inspired I felt almost overwhelmed with all the ways animal shelters were making a huge difference, from strategically engaging volunteers to creating enrichment programs for animals to advancing clever fundraising strategies to support their mission. I remember being blown away. It was the first time I truly understood that my work for animals was part of a movement, a massive endeavor that attracted so many dedicated people all working toward the same goal: Making the world a kinder, more humane place for animals. The ways we work toward this goal have evolved over time, and I’m especially proud that in recent years we have come to focus on making the animal welfare movement more inclusive, increasing access to care in underserved communities, and supporting people in their care for their pets and the caregivers who provide services.
Animal Care Expo is the largest international educational conference and trade show for animal welfare professionals and volunteers, with experts from so many aspects of animal welfare coming from across the globe to learn about the latest programs, share best practices, gain inspiration and build lasting connections. Every spring, there’s this phenomenon of people from across the country and around the world mimicking the great migrations of animals, all convening in one place to learn and share and connect, and it’s my favorite event of the year. That conference 20 years ago was just the start of a great run of Expos I’ve been able to experience, first as a regular attendee, then as a speaker and then as an employee at the Humane Society of the United States.
Now, I’m proud to lead the team responsible for the planning and execution of the conference. My department, Outreach, Engagement and Training, engages with shelters, law enforcement agencies, the veterinary community and volunteers, all of whom are critical partners in our work at the HSUS, but also in the larger movement to protect animals. Between our conferences and events team and our HumanePro.org team, we can connect all these groups with exceptional educational opportunities to learn the latest and greatest developments in the field and provide them with support as we work to build a stronger animal protection movement.
For this year’s Expo, taking place in New Orleans from April 3-6, we’re expecting more than 2,000 attendees to join us for nearly 100 professional development sessions in person, to stroll the exhibit hall to speak to our exhibitors and vendors, or to watch a select number of sessions we’ll be live streaming for virtual participants.
I cannot wait. I look forward to seeing old friends and colleagues but even more so, to making new connections with people who are starting their own journey in the animal care movement with Expo as their own first step. It’s wild to look back at these years and reflect not only on the course my career has taken, but also the amazing development of the animal protection field at large. We’ve gotten so much better at nearly every element of our work; it’s inspiring to see all the improvements we’ve made in our communities and in the lives of the animals and people we serve. I’ve only missed three Expos in all these years, and each time I’ve missed it, I’ve had a serious case of FOMO, so jealous of everyone who could make it, and regretting missing my annual chance to connect with the flock of folks who have become “my people,” the people who are making the world a more compassionate place by dedicating their professional lives to bettering the world for animals.