Building a More Humane Community: Heather White - Building a More Humane Community: Heather White

Humane education helps foster compassion in children’s relationships with both animals and people. As Manager of Community Outreach and Education (COE) at the Oakville & Milton Humane Society (OMHS), Heather White champions programs and events that teach important life skills such as empathy and compassion through the human-animal relationship.

“The humane movement is about compassion, connection, education and action. It is about protecting the most vulnerable in our society and focuses on minimizing or eliminating suffering of living beings,” explains Heather.

 “We become a humane community one person at a time and we can all make changes to get us closer to the end goal. These include: being more humane as a consumer, spaying and neutering, adopting, educating ourselves about animals and their needs, supporting laws that improve the quality of life for animals, reporting animal abuse, leading by example, and financially supporting those organizations that further animal welfare,” she adds. Read more.

Heather, an animal lover who spends her time away from the shelter herding sheep, swimming, hiking, and engaging in pet therapy, has worked at OMHS since 1981. She started out as a “Driver” that today is now called an Animal Protective Services officer. In 1986, she attended university to become a teacher, but continued to work weekends and summers with the OMHS.

When a full time position opened up at the shelter, she knew that this would be a perfect job to unite her love of animals and educating people.

“Over the years I have worked in almost every department here and I love them all, but my perfect job is working in Community Outreach and Education. That’s because I get to make a difference in the lives of people and animals every day!” says Heather.

As Manager of COE she leads an amazing team of three full-time and two part-time staff. The team is involved in the creation and implementation  of community programs, and the recruitment, placement, training and recognition for nearly 450 volunteers. We are fortunate to have one team member specialized in behaviour modification and training of  shelter dogs & training of dogs in our community  through dog training classes and engagement at community events.

Whether they are teaching lessons of compassion, respect, responsibility and empathy to children, manning a booth at a community event, or bringing the unconditional love of therapy animals to those in long term care facilities, Heather is proud of how the COE team reaches out to people of all ages. This includes educating the public about responsible pet care and the needs of animals, offering children and youth programming, providing access to animal trainers, or working closely with volunteers who are so vital in supporting the mission of OMHS.

Despite the challenges created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the COE team has been able to quickly adapt so it can continue building a more humane community. We supported the shelter by onboarding more than 140 amazing foster families, holding outside dog training classes, creating  materials for virtual learningand modifying existing children and youth programs so that the programs could restart and participants were safe.

Heather stresses that the focus of COE continues to be the creation of programs and events that bring the public and animals together in meaningful ways.

“Our programs bring people and animals together, helping to establish a greater understanding and appreciation of each other. In our dog training classes we teach people how dogs learn and what they need to do to be successful as family members. In our children's programs we teach children about animals, their needs and feelings so that they are able to be compassionate and empathetic to others who need us. We also teach people how to understand and communicate with animals so they can safely interact with those animals around them. In our Youth Programs, which are always seem to have waiting lists, students learn the value of volunteering to support their community, gain some skills, knowledge and help animals at the same time.”

Moving forward, our Let’s Talk Animals community sessions will be moved to a virtual format for 2021. We are also planning on creating some virtual resources on specific animal topics for the community, adds Heather.

When Heather is asked what a typical day is like within the COE department, she laughs. “There is no such thing. Every day is different and it is wonderful that we do things that make life better for the animals and the people we work with.”