Recently, we were thrilled to speak with Tara Loller, one of the many awe-inspiring individuals at The Humane Society of the United States. Tara has been with The HSUS for nearly eight years and currently serves as its State Affairs’ Senior Director of Strategic Campaigns & Special Projects. That seems like a whopper of a title, though it can be generally translated as: someone who helps a whole lot of animals all over the U.S. and beyond.

A few years ago, Tara created the Humane State Program, which takes The HSUS’ expertise on the road and addresses state-specific issues across the country. Below, she explains this incredible program in her own words.

How does the Humane State Program work, and where does it exist?

Humane State is a three-year program that trains law enforcement (including prosecutors, judges, officers, and others) along with the shelter/rescue community to combat animal crimes and strengthen the shelters. We have approximately 50 different training modules that are applicable for both of those audiences. The HSUS is implementing this nationally; currently we’re in Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and Kansas, and we are likely coming next to Ohio and Wisconsin.

What kinds of topics do the modules cover?

Subjects range from emergency sheltering, disaster planning, and breed-specific legislation to cockfighting, dogfighting, building humane communities, humane police/dog encounters, and cruelty investigations — among many others. We provide resources, equipment, and monetary investments in each location.

Tell us about the training teams — how many of you are there?

We take our staff on the road, much like a traveling band. Depending on the topics we’re covering and which phase of the program we’re in, there are usually between four to nine of us. We also connect with locals and the heroes on the ground and make them part of that team. We’re partnered with the National Sheriff’s Association, all the police associations in the areas we work in, and animal control — and we usually partner with some of the strongest shelters in the area. We also pull from different departments at The HSUS. For instance, if we’re covering equine cruelty, we’ll include someone from the Animal Rescue Team who’s an expert on that topic.

Shelter Training Week 2
Week 2 of Humane State training in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Can you elaborate on the Puerto Rico branch of this program?

This one is kind of my baby. So far in the program, we’ve trained 5,000 law enforcement officers in animal cruelty investigations, 2,000 teachers and social workers in humane education, and provided humane education for the second year in a row to 500,000+ students. We also run 16 continuous spay/neuter clinics across the island, reach 61 out of the 78 municipalities, and run an immunocontraception program on a small island that has over 2,000 wild horses.

We also created something called the Sister Shelter Project. We looked to 11 of the top shelters in the country and asked if they’d adopt shelters in Puerto Rico. It’s not only a mentorship; they also provide equipment, resources, funding, and moral support. We also do transports. Recently, we transported nearly 200 animals from a shelter in Puerto Rico, and we’re doing another transport in August with around 150 animals. We’ve flown the stateside shelters to Puerto Rico and vice versa, and have basically created a family that spans from California to Massachusetts.

What are the most eye-opening experiences you’ve had while traveling with the Humane State Program?

There tends to be a perception in the animal rescue world that law enforcement officials aren’t apt to act on animal-related cases, but that’s not true. They simply do not have the training. That’s been a pleasant surprise, because officers have given ringing endorsements of our training. On multiple occasions they’ve called us just a few days after training, from the field — and they’re really honest. They say that normally they’d have walked away from a case, but now, because of the training, they know what to do. Our team operates from the heart, so when we get responses that quickly it’s the best thing in the world.

In your opinion, what are the most eye-opening parts of the program for the trainees themselves?

A lot of law enforcement officers say they didn’t understand the correlation between animal crime and human crime. It’s great that they can now put those two together — and when they’re on a case for human crime such as narcotics, they can see if there’s anything animal-related going on at the property. Additionally, the shelter/rescue community is constantly providing feedback on the training and how they are utilizing it in their everyday work.

This sounds like a big undertaking. Does this job weigh on you emotionally?

There is a lot of compassion fatigue. The HSUS does provide compassion fatigue training for our staff, and it’s something that we train across the country, too. We know that when people have really big hearts, and they’re sometimes seeing the worst of humanity, it can really eat away at them. So we as an organization are cognizant of it.

On a personal level, I do find this to be true in some cases. But I’ve always looked at it as a motivating factor. What can I do to help the situation? Am I doing the best I can to help these animals?

Want more info? Click here to continue reading about the Humane State Program and the Sister Shelter Project.

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