Recognizing the Human-Animal Bond: Meet Ms. Darlene Blackman
The human-animal bond influenced and changed Ms. Darlene Blackman’s career path in the most unexpected and rewarding ways. She always wanted to work with animals, even from a young age and pursued the path to be a veterinarian. She followed that childhood dream before deviating after her undergrad and taking an interest in animal-assisted therapies. That interest led her to her current position as the Community Programs Manager with the Marin Humane Society, located in California. Her desire “to make the world a better place for people and animals was the ideal I pursued” and led her to work relating to the human-animal bond. She found an appreciation for the human-animal bond and saw mutual benefits received in “the animal and person in a well-structured support program.”
Ms. Blackman attended the pre-veterinary program at the University of Massachusetts, but delayed applying to veterinary school and began working for Massachusetts SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). It was while working for this organization that she turned away from the veterinary path and began to focus on animal-assisted therapies. She worked in the farm education center before moving up to Education Director at Massachusetts SPCA. Ms. Blackman recalled, “I realized in my work that I could do more to help animals working at a humane society than as a veterinarian, so I changed my career path.” She points out that this was back in the 80s, when animal-assisted therapies were very much a fringe movement. She’s been happy to see that over time the programs have become more widely accepted.
The Marin Humane Society
After 10 years at the Massachusetts SPCA she made the move to California and began volunteering at the Marin Humane Society. She later became the Community Programs Manager (her current position) where she oversees the SHARE (Special Human Animal Relationships) and Humane Educations departments. It gave her an opportunity to work closely with animal assisted therapies and pet care assistance.
The Marin Humane Society offers a large selection of diverse programs that work in various capacities within the human-animal bond. The Humane Education and SHARE programs work closely together with a mutual goal of teaching the benefits of the human-animal bond. Ms. Blackman described the various programs her two departments are involved with:
- “Within SHARE we have our pet care assistance program that includes pet meals on wheels, and our reading program, SHARE a Book.
- Our animal assisted therapy program visits senior communities, hospitals, schools and we have several specialized programs.” The specialized programs are geared toward various human-animal therapies and activities that include working with autistic children, vulnerable children, and high school students on probation, among others.
- Other animal activity programs Ms. Blackman is involved with include after school clubs, in school lessons, tours, community service projects, birthday parties, and summer camp.
Ms. Blackman further explained that the Marin Humane Society provides an adoption program for the shelter animals, a spay- neuter clinic, a foster program for shelter animals, a pet supply store, and a comprehensive behavior and training department.
When asked about what she found the most significant in her work she is proud of the training classes she has developed for the Marin Humane Society.
“When I began working with the SHARE program at the Marin Humane Society I wanted to create a better way to train and prepare the animal-assisted therapy teams. I created the ‘Your Dog to SHARE’ class, a six week class that prepares owners and their dogs to become volunteers with our program. The class is wonderful and includes a variety of lessons and practical experiences.”
She also created a training program for volunteers who are part of the SHARE reading program, and organizes quarterly meetings so volunteers can discuss their work and feelings about the various programs they are involved in.
Ms. Blackman feels that the training classes have given programs more credibility and an accountability it deserves. “The classes prepare the volunteer teams and the ongoing meetings and continuing education keep the volunteers informed and feeling appreciated.” In the class seh explains to volunteers that during therapy visits they aren’t just sharing their animal companion, but their bond as well.
Human-Animal bond connections
Over the course of her 30 year involvement in the human-animal field Ms. Blackman has been most surprised at how the human-animal bond reaches people from “so many walks of life, cultures, and generations.” She loves how there is this common belief that brings so many people together and that research is starting to back up the physiological and psychological health benefits seen within the field.
The biggest issue Ms. Blackman experiences through her work is her concern for therapy programs that are not emphasizing the animals’ welfare. Many programs allow animals to work as therapy animals on their own without a human partner or allow the animals to be overwhelmed by the needs of the people. The team work evident in the human animal bond is vital to the program’s success and needs to be recognized in therapy programs. She hopes to see growth in this area as therapy dog training continues to be studied and recognized as a viable and credible therapy.
Currently, Ms. Blackman is involved in creating new programs that combine animal-assisted therapy and education, that have an emphasis on the human-animal bond. She wants to continue to see growth in these programs and focus on reaching out to more children and adults at risk or in the lower socioeconomic parts of the community.
Ms. Blackman has dedicated her life to the benefits of the human-animal bond and genuinely believes this is a bond that can create good in the world. The most rewarding work she has done is “just watching people light up, relax, cry, laugh or fill with joy when my incredible therapy dog works his magic.”
If you’d like to learn more about the Marin Humane Society you can visit their website at http://www.marinhumanesociety.org/