Last year through their 50 States for Good program, Tom’s of Maine provided over $500,000 in funding to some incredible non-profit organizations across the country. One of the recipients was Safe Humane Chicago, an organization that aims to create safe and humane communities by inspiring positive relationships between people and animals.
Safe Humane‘s Executive Director, Cynthia Bathurst, took some time to chat with us about some of the great programs they host to encourage humane communities, how nontraditional partnerships yield success, the importance of animal rescue, and the ways Tom’s of Maine’s Goodness Grant has helped them reach their goals.
Can you give us an overview of the mission of Safe Humane?
Cynthia Bathurst: Safe Humane’s mission is to create safe, humane communities by inspiring positive relationships between people and animals. We do that by forging nontraditional alliances . . . that recognize the connection between animal abuse and interpersonal violence, [as well as] the sustaining benefits of the human-animal bond. Our programs focus on education, advocacy, and second chances for at-risk people and dogs.
Who are ‘Court Case Dogs’ and how does Safe Humane Chicago help them?
Bathurst: Court Case Dogs® is a term Safe Humane coined [to describe the] victims of neglect or abuse [who] have been rescued by police or animal-control officers and sheltered at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC). These dogs are associated with criminal court cases against their abusers, and Safe Humane’s Court Advocates sit in courtrooms during all hearings . . . while asking that the law be [carried out] and restorative justice be the guide. The dogs become property of the City of Chicago after they have been either voluntarily relinquished by their owners or transferred by court order to the city.
Afterward, wherever they find homes, we offer free behavior consultation and lifetime behavioral support for the dogs . . . We like to say that these dogs have “done the time but not the crime,” and we offer them second chances at a good life and the opportunity to be ambassadors for safe, humane communities. I should say, by the way, sometimes a “Court Case Dog” is a cat. We have a few who have been adopted out through our rescue partners and we’re seeing a few more of those now that we are able to offer [our] services.
Are these animals available for adoption after they go through the program?
Bathurst: Yes, Court Case Dogs are available for adoption through our rescue partners. Typically, rescue groups transfer the dogs from Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) to their own shelters or—more often and best for the dogs—their foster homes. This gives the dogs a “safety net” so they never have to return to CACC once they are adopted. If someone wishes to adopt a Court Case Dog they learn about at CACC, Safe Humane connects the dog and adopter with a rescue group. Safe Humane offers lifetime behavioral support and an extended family to celebrate their lives and the heroes who helped them along the way and support their long-term adoption.
Another program you offer is the VALOR program. How do veterans and shelter dogs benefit from spending time with one another?
Bathurst: [In] Safe Humane’s program VALOR—which stands for Veterans Advancing Lives of Rescues—we work with military veterans who come to us through a partner organization called Threshold Veteran’s Project. Many of the veterans who we work with through that program have various problems usually related to depression . . . and PTSD, which covers a wide variety of [conditions].
We team these veterans together with these dogs, [which] the veterans say are often animals who have PTSD themselves. [It’s so rewarding] to see how the dogs and that connection address veterans’ needs to serve the country and the want to serve more and help reconnect to the world outside of the military. It really focuses on helping [them] continue to do what they value: providing a noble service to others.
Why did you choose Chicago as the home base for the program?
Bathurst: Well, Chicago is my home, and it is the place where everything came together [to maintain] communities that are safe and humane for all. It came out of some of [my] early community policing efforts . . . and so some of our first partners were the Chicago Police Department, the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, and the Circuit Court of Cook County—[all of whom helped us] do something about the violence against children and animals in our community.
Because of this nontraditional partnership, we were able to build programs and volunteers across a number of different organizations in order to push the envelope on safe humane communities. Chicago’s the home base because it’s a great place and it’s a huge city that has a lot to offer.
Can you tell us about your Youth Leaders program, which empowers teens to educate younger children about the humane treatment of animals. How many participants do you have in the program, and how can someone join?
Bathurst: The Youth Leaders program right now is currently at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago’s West Englewood Community, which is one of the communities that is unfortunately hampered by high crime [rates] against people and animals. The program is a school-year-long colloquium for [the 25–30 students] who sign up, [and] there’s always a waiting list.
Students may sign up to be considered at the start of the school year, but we are eager to hear from other schools and are looking for funding so we can expand the program. To see high school students talking to elementary school students—three to four of them with 25 elementary school [kids]—is nothing short of awe-inspiring. So, if people . . . or other schools are interested, they can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use email@example.com.
How has Tom’s of Maine helped you reach your goals?
Bathurst: Tom’s of Maine provided us with funding for our Lifetime Bonds program at the Illinois Youth Center Chicago—funding that ensured continuity both inside the facility—where teenage males are incarcerated—and outside—[where] the youth reenter the community. When they reenter the community, they need beneficial activities and beginning job opportunities. The picture of Isaiah and Chocolate Drop (above) is a good example of a young man coming out of a three-month program inside to learn about training dogs, connecting [with] dogs, and learning to be open through the human-animal bond.
Those skills [will allow him] to help with animal care and control, and with the Court Case Dogs—bringing the program full circle. Without Tom’s of Maine funding, we would not be able to provide that internship outside of the facility, or even some of the training pieces inside.
As you grow, what other aspects of animal advocacy would you like to see Safe Humane tackle?
Bathurst: To make the world a better place—a safer, more humane place—Safe Humane needs to be firmly rooted in communities. We need to have Safe Humane programming instituted in community centers, where community members can build and manage the programs and engage their [fellow] community members. What we would like [is to] make animal advocacy as much a part of community advocacy, to create communities that offer advocacies to all their members.
How can people get involved with Safe Humane? Can they volunteer their time or donate supplies?
Bathurst: There are so many ways to get involved with Safe Humane . . . People can check out our website at SafeHumaneChicago.org—click on “get involved” or review our wish lists at SafeHumaneChicago.org/donate. They can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We even have monthly introductions to our programs for new volunteers and other interested parties, [who] can sign up on our website at SafeHumaneChicago.org/volunteer.
[Because] we do need supplies, we need money to continue our efforts in helping more young people and [underserved animals]. If you go to the donate tab on our website, there is a wish list [as well]. Plus, what ever talent people have to offer, we are always looking for new ideas and new ways to expand into the general public and build new, nontraditional partnerships.
Check out Safe Humane Chicago’s website for more ways you can get involved. How would you approach their initiatives? Let us know in the comments section or @TomsofMaine with a #GoodMatters Tweet!
Image sources: Safe Humane Chicago
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.