As a young girl, my first love was my dog Patty, a beautiful golden Cocker Spaniel who used to collect rocks and line them up on our back porch. She would patiently let me stroke her long nose and make her floppy ears dance in the air. She was, to say the least, very tolerant of my childish antics. After Patty, a string of succeeding loves came as I grew up – Copper, Pokey and Casey (a Springer Spaniel, a Black Lab, and a Yorkie respectively) and, of course, our indignant cat, Sneaker. They all helped shape my childhood and left their mark on me in some way, but the true force behind it all was my mother.
Perhaps without even realizing it, my mother instilled the values of empathy and compassion in us. I remember her recounting the almost mythical stories of her childhood horse, Kandy Kisses, who seemed larger than life. And I can’t help but smile when I remember the countless times my mother opened our household to the chaotic bliss that comes with a litter of puppies (thanks to Copper) and kittens…so many kittens! (Our cat, Sneaker, should have been the poster cat for spay/neuter programs).
As an adult, my belief in the value of animals is so deeply embedded in who I am that I cannot imagine my life without animals. I have the privilege to work in an industry that celebrates the human-animal bond. It is a magical experience that will always resonate with me when I think of the woman who first showed me the joys an animal can bring. In December of 2016, after a long day of tests and tears when my mother was first diagnosed with terminal cancer, her words to us after her appointment were simply, “I want to get home to my dog now.”
The powerful impact animals have on us continues to drive and shape me as an adult. My dog, Jun Jun, was instrumental in my own healing process when my husband and I suffered the loss of our first daughter, Presley. Jun’s unconditional love and instinctual healing presence helped get me through infant loss, the most delicate and complex grief one can ever go through. I’m honoured to be of service to animals and people every single day as Chief Executive Officer for the Edmonton Humane Society (EHS), and as a director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies board.
When I think of my passion for animals and the spaces I occupy as a woman, including daughter, sister, wife and mother, I have to ask myself – is my position all that unique? In the animal welfare sector, I would say no.
Women have had a leadership role in the animal welfare movement in Canada since its inception more than 150 years ago. The Edmonton Humane Society exists thanks to Rosetta Graydon, a champion for both women’s rights and animal welfare, who founded the Society in 1907. At a time when women were confined to traditional roles and did not occupy the “work sphere”, we were working in this realm, and we started a movement that now spans the globe.
While women continue to be underrepresented in government, professional sports, IT and engineering, data suggests the animal welfare sector has been continually fueled and upheld by women. While, historically, women were only allowed to explore this field because it was in line with traditional gender norms to care for the vulnerable, that does not diminish its impact today.
Canada’s humane societies and SPCAs generate an estimated $187.8 million in revenue and contribute $118.4 million back to local economies. The power women bring to this sector has made (and continues to make) a tremendous social, economic and political impact. Even on the philanthropy side, women give more money to social causes in the charitable sector than men in Canada, despite the gender wage gap.
As women, we have the ability to change the climate and incite meaningful advancements – we still have progress to make. One way we can continue to make strides is through the creation of mentorship initiatives, realizing we are in a unique position to ensure women have development opportunities to further evolve the sector. While it’s important to recognize women have historically occupied space in animal welfare because helping roles were viewed as acceptable, we need to shift this paradigm buried deep in gender stereotypes. This sector is not “women’s work”, but rather work that has the capacity to transform our political, economic and social landscapes.
I would encourage you to explore the unique opportunities for women to professionalize and reassert ourselves in this sector. And Women for a Humane Canada, a national female philanthropic group devoted to initiatives that elevate animal welfare in Canada, does exactly that. I see this group as an opportunity to recognize our position in the sector and the impact we’re enacting. I’m proud to be a member of this group and joined because I know it will make a real difference in moving the needle on animal welfare in Canada. Together, we can accomplish a lot.
To learn more or to join our ever-growing ranks, go here.