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The future of animal welfare depends on us...each and every one

As 2016 comes to a close, we’re reminded to reflect on lessons learned and how to improve for 2017

The future for animal welfare is promising.

The holiday season can be a time to look back, as well as set our intentions for the upcoming year. Regardless of the myriad of belief systems and traditions that influence the way we experience this time of year, the calendar dictates both reflection and future planning. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards.” Whether we’ve had the best year of our lives or a year filled with struggle, it’s likely all of us have had highs and lows. The highs are important to acknowledge and celebrate, but often the lows offer the greatest opportunity for learning.

My family rang in the New Year by ordering Chinese food and watching Dick Clark cue the ball dropping in Time Square. We would talk about what we were grateful for and what we hoped for in the upcoming year. The older I get, the more I seem to be focused on what I can learn from the previous year versus what I hope for in the New Year.

In the animal welfare arena, we are constantly seeking the next big thing, the next programmatic innovation, the next research study or brilliant nugget of data. There are so many things from 2016 that stand out in my mind and warrant a look back, but here are a few.

Not just in 2016, but over the past several years our field has taken a serious look at how social and cultural issues impact animals. How does poverty impact the choices pet owners make? What factors dictate pet acquisition? How can the humane movement impact policy to benefit animals? These questions have driven some of the most progressive and transformative initiatives in the field. The HSUS and its groundbreaking Pets for Life program inspired the shelter and rescue community to dedicate more resources than ever before toward community outreach and connecting long ignored pet lovers with the information and resources they desire. We’ve also started to see shelter after shelter implement more open adoption policies and slowly remove obstacles to pet acquisition. Less restrictive adoption policies, along with large-scale media campaigns like The Shelter Pet Project make pet adoption easier and in turn actively combat the puppy mill industry. In community after community, we’ve worked to make gas chambers as a form of euthanasia become a thing of the past, and pushed against antiquated legislation in regard to breed and trap-neuter-return. As animal professionals and advocates, we should give ourselves a collective round of applause, while also recognizing that all this lifesaving work was possible only through a willingness to look back and examine our strategies.

When author and activist Alice Walker says, “Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming,” I take heed. As we close out 2016 and start planning for 2017, I am curious about the future of animal welfare. What are the issues we are facing today and what will we learn from the past? If 2016 is any indication, I’d say the future is promising. Far too many animals continue to suffer, but we have made tremendous strides as a field. Fewer and fewer animals are living without homes, the euthanasia of healthy adoptable cats and dogs decreases every year, so what is next? There are many issues worthy of our attention, but one thing I hope we’ve learned from our past is that we have the greatest impact when we work as a collective force. There are thousands of organizations and individuals committed to building the most humane society possible, and the better we communicate, collaborate and activate, the better all living beings are served. Let’s work together to make 2017 the most impactful year to date. The animals are counting on us.

About the Author

Kenny Lamberti was acting vice president of the Companion Animals department at the Humane Society of the United States.