EDITOR'S NOTE: Steve Dale serves on the board of directors of the American Humane Assn.
"Tell the truth and trust the people; they won't let you down," says Robin Ganzert, who last October took over as the new president and chief executive of the American Humane Assn.
"Wow, I am humbled," says Ganzert. "After all, since 1877 the historic American Humane Assn. has been at the forefront of every major advancement in protecting children, pets and farm animals from cruelty, abuse and neglect. Today, we're leading the way to better understand human-animal interaction and its role in society. We do have quite a wonderful legacy."
Ganzert speaks quickly, knowing exactly what she wants to say.
"The American Humane Assn. supports mainstream values of America, sharing the belief that we all support humane causes and values of compassion, hope and caring," she adds.
One example is the association's farm animal certification program, the largest in the country, which is designed to protect farm animals and enhance food safety. There are other farm animal certification programs being touted to politicians that are not science-based, and rife with unintended consequences.
Renowned behaviorist Temple Grandin serves on the association's Farm Animal Scientific Advisory Board.
"Of course, Temple is one of the best advocates we can possibly have," says Ganzert. "Our standards (for farm animals) are fact-based, and include 130 million animals in food supply. While our intent is to have food supply animals treated as humanely as possible, at the same time our goal is to work with agriculture, educate them as to the best standards of humane animal welfare — and not to put them out of business." For example, due to the many animal care limitations placed on farmers when Proposition 2 passed in California, many farmers have the state.
Ganzert says farmers are a part of the American fabric, and the American Humane Assn. values farmers.
As Ganzert speaks about returning to humane values and a sense of community, she sounds like a citizen of Mayberry. In fact, she lives less than 30 minutes from Mount Airy, N.C., the real city after which Andy Griffith patterned the fictional Mayberry. The same passion rings when she talks about the association's Front Porch Project.
"It's really a simple idea — neighbors helping neighbors, particularly looking after children," Ganzert says. "The time has come to lift one another up."
Despite her sweet Southern drawl, this former director of philanthropic services at the Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, D.C., is clearly not living in the past.
"It's no Mayberry picnic today; families are facing challenges meeting grocery bills and buying shoes for the children, paying the mortgage — if the family is lucky enough to be working," she says. "There's a lot of distress, and this is the time more than ever when children benefit from pets. The pets care no matter what, and provide stability. A family is defined by the family (as opposed to government), and includes pets."
With times being so tough, some animal shelters are seeing an increase in the number of pets being given up, sometimes just let out on the streets or into the woods.
"We need to do more to support shelters, and I'm listening to what they're saying," she says. The American Humane Assn. will again sponsor Adopt-A-Cat month in June, and Adopt-A-Dog month in October.
Animals in need of protection aren't always homeless. In 1939, the movie "Jesse James" caused a public outcry when the media learned that a horse was forced to jump to its death as a stunt. From that film, the Los Angeles American Humane Assn. Film Office was born; standards were set for producers to follow, and today the American Humane Association is on the set of more than 1,000 movies, TV shows and TV commercials shot around the world. That's why at the end of movies that feature animals, you usually see the disclaimer "No Animals Were Harmed."
Similarly, the association's Red Star Unit has a celebrated history — rescuing Calvary horses in World War II. Today, the unit includes an 82-foot rescue rig (which features a veterinary emergency center) and a fleet of emergency response vehicles customized to help animals in disasters.
"From Hurricane Katrina to the earthquake in Haiti, we are there as a FEMA partner," says Ganzert. "We are on call 24/7 to help animals in need."
"Our goal is continue the long-held American Humane Assn. legacy of protecting children and animals, " says Ganzert, who has three children, two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (Gatsby and Chaz), two cats (White Kitty and Grey Kitty) and numerous pet hermit crabs.
Ganzert says she's even amazed at the breadth of what the American Humane Assn. has historically achieved.
"Today, we're at a place in America where I believe we need to do better; building humane communities," she says.