Organized Animal Protection as a Career: Meaning, Mission, and the Academic Contributor
Bernard Unti has a PhD in US history. He is the Senior Policy Advisor at the Humane Society of the United States and represents the organization and its affiliates in a range of domestic and global campaigns and initiatives. His interests include the evolution of human attitudes toward animals, the history and sociology of the animal protection movement, the development of petkeeping, animal sheltering and the kindness-to-animals ethic, the humane education of children, and the place of animal protection within American philanthropy.
I often assure individuals seeking work in the field of animal protection that while it might seem like I followed a plan to secure my position with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), there was a lot of contingency involved. The HSUS and its affiliates work on a national and global scale to take on some of the most challenging areas of animal cruelty, and I provide enterprise-level communications and policy, strategic, and leadership counsel to its president and CEO. In many respects, I’m a futurist, thinking about how the challenges and opportunities of the animal protection landscape will evolve, and searching across cultures, disciplines, and geographies to identify pathbreaking ideas and solutions to the animal welfare challenges of the coming decades. How remarkable that I do so with a PhD in US history, having followed my passion for studying the humane movement’s origins.
But this shouldn’t really surprise. One of the best approaches to the present and the future is the past, not only to understand its direct impact but to find analogies that help us to anticipate how current trends or developments may unfold or reshape our circumstances. Only in retrospect can we determine which ideas and approaches have been the most important to our work; at the same time, we cannot know for certain today which contemporary ideas and strategies will prove to be the most valuable in the future.
With that motivation, I write and lecture on the history of animal protection as a social movement, the evolution of humane education, the
Organized Animal Protection as a Career 137 development of the veterinary profession, and the link between cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence. I speak at professional, academic, and advocacy conferences and events; at colleges and law schools; at humane society functions; and other venues, in the United States and abroad. Finally, 1 have frequent contact with authors writing on animal protection and have helped to shape some important scholarship and thought. All these things are really satisfying.
I had an innate interest in animals and their welfare as a child, but it was mostly latent until I encountered the animal rights cause in my mid-20s. That did it for me. After a few years spent in grassroots efforts and working at an organization focused on the elimination of animal use in research, testing, and education, my desire to learn more of the movements history led me to graduate school. It all fell into place. The subject matter compelled my attention, which was the foundation of my success in the dissertation process, and still anchors my long service to the cause of animals.
I spend a lot of time outside of work thinking about issues that require more dedicated problem-solving and engagement. Staying on top of relevant literature is a big part of that. I try to read works of note in a range of academic disciplines, usually on my own time unless I am preparing with intensity for a new talk, webinar, or paper.
I particularly hope to see the integration of more scientists, social scientists, and humanities scholars into humane work. The most typical pathway is for people to cut their teeth on a specific campaign, get a masters degree in animal studies or to go to law school resulting in movement organizations dominated by lawyers, political campaigners, and marketing and development specialists. We need a broader base, and I think that those with backgrounds in the humanities, social science, and the natural sciences will prove to be just as influential and valuable within movement organizations. I say this in part because society is going to need more people qualified to interpret, shape, and manage the increasing incorporation of animals into the social contract and to help us to think about what our responsibilities to animals should and will be like in the future.
To excel in this area of work, writing and communications skills are premium assets, and I advise aspiring professional advocates to take courses or to read good books on writing. I also encourage people to engage directly with organizations, shelters, sanctuaries, and campaigns as a volunteer, donor, or through information interviews or internships (which are of particularly high value). Getting yourself into the workstream of an organization and making yourself visible to key staff members will really pay off.
If you work in a movement organization, you’ll find your duties spilling over into your personal time. It’s essential to maintain good work-life balance; that’s been key to my longevity and tenure. It’s necessary to put in extra hours and efforts, but I try to make sure that I do so in moments of true need or in situations that truly have my name on them.
138 Bernard Unit
Good self-knowledge and a realistic view of the challenges involved in finding satisfying employment in the field are essential. But few among us will come out wrong in life if we follow our hearts in our choice of work or related pursuits. Anyone with a strong desire to work in animal protection should honor that impulse. It’s worth it.