shelter of the month
st. hubert's animal welfare center
After learning about a recent training workshop for animal control officers held at St. Hubert’s headquarters that featured not only an all-veg lunch but also included an inspired presentation on why farmed animals matter, it was clear that St. Hubert’s had to be the next Shelter of the Month award winner. Animal Place had the absolute delight to sit down with St. Hubert’s President and CEO, Heather Cammisa, to discuss the organization’s forward-thinking actions and momentum when it comes to farmed animals, food policies, and motivating fellow animal welfare professionals to consider the plight of farmed animals.
Heather, how did your animal-friendly menu policy come about?
We reflected on our mission, our work with wildlife, exotics, and domestic companion animals and honestly looked at how our actions need to be consistent for all animals. The menu policy was borne from our organization recognizing the inconsistency of costing the life of animals to raise money or celebrate other animals.
How does your policy statement read?
Beyond our event menu policy, below, St. Hubert’s has a formal, board approved food animal policy which is available on our website, www.sthuberts.org.
Event Food Policy
St. Hubert’s serves a dear mission to enhance the human-animal bond and to instill respect for all living creatures. The organization routinely rescues, cares, educates and advocates for domestic companion animals, wildlife and exotics through its shelters, outreach and education work.
Aligned with its mission, St. Hubert’s includes the welfare of animals raised for food in its circle of concern and is conscientious of its own activities that impact the lives of farmed animals. Since late 2010, the organization has held only vegetarian events, with a single exception: the annual Cotillion event which featured beef from humanely raised cattle in 2011 and 2012. Given the inherent cruelty at intensive confinement factory farming operations, the abundance of alternatives and the reality that an animal’s life is taken to produce meat for an event at an organization committed to protecting and saving animals, St. Hubert’s has taken the next step and created the following policy as of March 21, 2012:
St. Hubert’s Event Food Policy: Only vegetarian foods shall be purchased, ordered, prepared and served at St. Hubert’s sponsored events. Further, free-range eggs shall be used in baked goods prepared by staff or volunteers for St. Hubert’s events.
This policy applies, but is not limited to, fundraising events, humane education, professional education events, hosted seminars as well as staff, volunteer or donor appreciation events. The 2012 Cotillion shall be the final event where St. Hubert’s serves meat from humanely raised animals.
Questions regarding the applicability of this policy shall be directed to the Vice President responsible for oversight of the department. Employees, volunteers and visitors are not affected in their personal food choices or their food brought for consumption on the property.
Respect for this policy shall be expected from all attendees at events.
Our staff and supporters are overwhelmingly both proud and supportive of our vegetarian food policy. While we do not ask our staff to change their personal eating habits, we have been able to introduce new food choices at staff and public events that had been previously unknown. Giving people the opportunity to try new, healthy and delicious vegetarian food choices has enabled us to introduce a new way of eating to many of our employees, volunteers and members. Even several of the handfuls of people who initially voiced opposition have since voiced their support.
Why do you feel it’s important for shelters and rescue groups to adopt such a policy?
We owe it to ourselves, as professionals, and our organizations - animal welfare organizations - to educate ourselves and be active. We can be specialists but not blind to, silent or inactive on literally the welfare of billions of animals or their suffering. We’re better humane professionals and better organizations when we are consistent in our work. We should not support the inherent cruelty of factory farming or cost the lives of feeling, sentient animals when we raise money or have a celebration to benefit other feeling, sentient animals.
Recently you hosted a workshop for animal control officers at your facility and sponsored an all-veg lunch. Tell us a little about the presentation.
We believe that exposure to the issue as well as to alternative foods are important components in engaging animal welfare voices and changing behavior. As a sheltering organization and animal control agency, we are attuned to some of the barriers – whether assumed or real – that exist. While we may be specialists in domestic companion animals and injured wildlife, we must be voices for all animals as animal welfare professionals. Specialists, even if exposed to factory farming, may not feel confident communicating the issue to their community. The presentation provided information and directly compared factory farming to puppy mills. There are many commonalities and the presentation connected with the audience, e.g. commercialization, impact on mother animals; failure to support natural behaviors; intense confinement. My call to action: In our field we learned how to message what a puppy mill is and why they’re bad & we need to message what a factory farm is and why they’re bad. We didn’t and don’t tell people they can’t have a puppy; rather we encourage them to adopt, speak out against puppy mills and how to find a responsible breeder. We can do similar things for food animals: encourage reduced consumption, speak out against factory farms and how to find food items from humanely raised and cared for animals. Most importantly, I pointedly challenged the crowd that we as animal welfare professionals cannot be the last ones messaging on these animals’ behalf.
Do you have any special anecdotes about how St. Hubert’s policy has impacted the workplace environment and beyond?
Well, I can tell you that our employee refrigerator is crowded with soy milk, coconut yogurt, veggie burgers, hummus, and other plant-based foods! We truly have to mark items with our initials to prevent questions like, “Is that your Tofutti cream cheese or mine?” Many of our staff and volunteers have reduced their consumption of animal products and made substitutions. Many are able to communicate factory farming to the community and we have literature in our front lobbies.
As for the recent presentation, one of the attendees is the director for a training academy that trains most new Animal Control Officers in the state. He approached me after the presentation and told me that I had given him new information he’d never been exposed to – including the numbers of animals impacted and the confinement methods – and that he felt this information should be included in their training program for new Animal Control Officers. I’m working on a small block of instruction for considered addition to the course.
Do you have any words of wisdom for shelter directors or event planners?
On the menu specifically: St. Hubert’s went from advertising steak dinners to promote the black-tie dinner years ago to a full vegetarian food policy. While there was some doubt among our event committee and Board that we had to walk through, our move was validated when non-vegetarians raved about the food at our event and told us that they enjoyed trying new things. The reality is people want to come and support animals. We have a lot of options on ways to make the event fun and the food and drinks interesting and delicious. For our black-tie event we choose the venue carefully and have a food tasting before the event to ensure high quality and good variety, i.e., not just a plate of pasta. To date there is only one large donor that both voiced her dismay at the food at our black-tie event and chose not to attend. She said, though, that while she would not attend the event any longer that she would continue to support our animal welfare programs.
From Erika Mathews, our VP of Development, “Honestly at smaller events that serve finger food and desserts, most people don’t miss non-vegetarian food items. We are careful to insist that if volunteers are making food for an event that they only use humane certified, cage-free eggs. At other events where we used to have food trucks or BBQ’s with burger and hot dogs, we have only had positive feedback on our humane policy.”
The event/menu policy led to the development of a broader policy on food animals which led to a six-figure gift from a supporter passionate about all animals and proud to see St. Hubert’s extend compassion and advocacy to food animals. We are very proud of our progress on the issue and we look forward to further evolution and engagement to fulfill our mission and our obligations as animal welfare professionals.
If we may use our learning experience in any way to assist another organization, we’re happy to do it. Whether the executive director would like to speak with me, a board member would like to talk with our board chair or the development & events team would like to talk with our development folks: We’re happy to share our journey.
Thank you, Heather and St. Hubert's, for including farmed animals in your circle of compassion and sharing your experiences. Congrats on becoming Animal Place’s Shelter of the Month! You all have certainly earned it!