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Presidential Fireside Chat #7

Welcome to our seventh “Fireside Chat” for special friends of American Humane!

In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his famous series of radio addresses he called his “Fireside Chats” to help rally the nation against a global crisis.

Today, 87 years later, we find ourselves in another global crisis – one brought to us via China’s notorious “wet markets,” where disease and filth are served alongside illegally traded exotic wildlife.

The need for humanity and kindness is greater now than ever before as we can see from the devastating results around us.

In just a few days, American Humane will not only be bringing more people into the Compassion Movement through our historic “Be Kind to Animals Week,” which we have been using to build a better world for 105 years but also unveiling a New Deal for Animals, a ten-point international platform that seeks to galvanize the entire world to the humane cause at this critical time.

Be sure to keep an eye out for articles and join our next call as we share details.

Today, I will be sharing breaking news on our work to improve and save the lives of animals around the world and I am especially pleased to be sharing it with you and with a special guest and very good friend who is joining us today.

Barbara Niven is one of the most talented people I know….an actress, producer, and writer. Best known for her performances in Hallmark and Lifetime movies, she was also a favorite on One Life to Live, and has starred in or directed an almost impossibly long list of hit movies and shows, including: E.R., Cold Case, Las Vegas, NCIS, Charmed, Pacific Palisades, Chesapeake Shores, A Perfect Ending, and Silk Stalkings…and even played Marilyn Monroe in the HBO film, “The Rat Pack.” She is a superstar, an animal lover of the first magnitude, and a VIP presenter on our “American Humane Hero Dog Awards.”  Please welcome Barbara Niven!

Barbara Niven: Thank you.  What a welcome.  But I have to tell you that being an ambassador for American Humane is, along with having my grandchildren, my favorite role.

Robin:  You went on an American Humane rescue with us years ago to save the victims of a puppy mill.

Barbara:  I have been against puppy mills for years.  When I deployed with American Humane to a puppy mill seizure, it was organized like an army.  All these rescues came together to rescue animals from deplorable conditions.  My job was to fold, clean and sterilize dog crates all day.  I never worked so hard in my life, and nothing I’ve done was ever so fulfilling. The thing I remember the most, and the biggest honor I ever had was when you deployed a new rescue truck with Lois Pope, and you put the photos of some of my dogs on the side. It was truly life-affirming and motivation to do more.

Robin: We have six of those trucks and a big rig around the country, and they are symbols of hope in natural disasters and cruelty cases.

Barbara: Every time there are disasters, American Humane is first on the scene.  How did all that start?

Robin: Our rescue program started over 100 years ago when the U.S. Secretary of War sent a letter to American Humane President William O. Stillman asking us to go to Europe to save war horses. We have enjoyed a century of work alongside the military, starting with horses and today working with military dogs and helping provide service dogs to veterans.

Barbara: I’m so glad and proud you are helping animals in disasters and make life better for veterans and animals. You are now rescuing dogs and people through your military programs. Can you tell me about that?

Robin: Yes. Today we have 23 service members and dogs in training in our Pups4Patriots program, which finds dogs in need of forever homes and trains them to become free, lifesaving service animals for veterans with PTS and TBI.  We know these dogs save warriors’ lives.

Barbara, you are looked up to as a source of positivity.  What words of advice would you give us during this crisis?

Barbara: We need to spread positivity and love. We are living in such an isolated way and the world is topsy-turvy.  What we need to take away from this is to remember what we are grateful for and what we can learn from this imposed stillness.  I am grateful for all the animals and my grandkids. We have to come together and find positive things to share with each other. No matter what is going on, your animal is there to love and quiet you. Imagine how difficult this is for a war veteran with PTS and nightmares, and that’s why your military program is so important.  We have to think of all the essential workers, the doctors and nurses, the mailmen who are out there keeping things going, and so we have to buck up ourselves and work together to get through to the other side. There are so many blessings in our days, including the work you’ve done with shelters, which, thankfully are fostering and adopting out so many animals.

Robin: Thank you, Barbara. In your honor, American Humane will be making a grant to your favorite shelter or rescue.

Barbara does so much for the cause of animals….and she is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

Which is why it is especially timely to have her with us today, as American Humane is gearing up to celebrate the 105th year of our Be Kind to Animals Week®!

Celebrated across the country, Be Kind to Animals Week is the longest-running commemorative week in U.S. history, and the most successful humane education program of all time.

Every year during the first full week of May, millions of Americans come together to voice their concern for and improve the wellness, welfare and well-being of the nation’s animals.  Generations of schoolchildren have learned the value of treating all creatures of the Earth with care, and this year is no different.

In fact, as a global pandemic brought about by the mistreatment of animals wreaks havoc in our own communities, kindness to animals is more important than ever so we’re hoping this year to teach by example.

For instance, in just the first few weeks of our new “Feed the Hungry” campaign to help animals in struggling shelters, we have already provided funding for 323,000 meals for abandoned cats, dogs, horses and other animals when foot traffic and resources are down at many rural and remote shelters.

We are so grateful to everyone who gave and pledged to this campaign, and for several especially generous gifts from Leigh-Anne Kazma, The Marta Heflin Foundation, and two donors from Texas and Oregon who prefer to remain anonymous. Thank you for your tremendous kindness.

This fund, which everyone can support by going to American Humane-dot-org, is working to get life-critical food, medicines and supplies to our best friends in their worst time. I’m very proud of this effort that touches so many lives.

One of the grants we provided went to Grand Strand Humane Society in Myrtle Beach, which provides shelter and care to lost, homeless, helpless and unwanted animals.

Their executive director, Jess Wnuk, wrote to us and said:

“We are sending a huge thank you to American Humane today. This amazing organization has helped places like Grand Strand Humane Society over the years, especially during times of crisis, and they are doing it yet again through their Feed the Hungry grant program. This program is allowing Grand Strand Humane Society to grow our food banks so that we can better help keep pets in loving homes across the Grand Strand. We are so grateful for their assistance, and love that we are able to keep pets with the families that love them so much. Thank you, American Humane for your continued support, especially during this very difficult time.”

Well, you are very welcome, Jess….and thank you for all you are doing to help animals – and their families – when they most need it.

We’re also leading the charge to help shelters and the beautiful animals they serve by encouraging everyone quarantining at home to foster or adopt a “pandemic pet.” Our nationwide campaign has gained significant traction through the media and as a result, so many animals have found temporary – and we hope – permanent homes.

We also know that for so many families, working at home is difficult, especially when their children are not in school….and many of us worry that our kids will begin falling behind in their studies.

Well, what better way to lend a helping hand than by giving out free books that not only teach kids the joy of reading, but that teach them to love and be kind to animals?

Our “Humane Heroes” books and fun lesson plans, which parents and kids can read and work on together, introduce youngsters to remarkable and endangered creatures being helped at American Humane Certified zoos, aquariums, and conservation centers.

And if parents need a breather from childcare duties while they handle a conference call, I’ve volunteered to read these stories to them.  You can find the videos of me reading Volume I for elementary school age kids, and the entire award-winning Humane Heroes series at

But great animal stories aren’t just for kids.  Many of my favorites are happening every day at American Humane Certified zoos and aquariums around the world.

At a time when so many species are under pressure and many are disappearing, these stellar zoological centers are serving as Arks of Hope for endangered animals.  And not just their own….Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium recently reached out and provided some critically important food to 400 animals at another zoo in need during the coronavirus pandemic, delivering more than 600 bales of hay to their colleagues.  The two truckloads of food were, I’m sure, greatly appreciated at a time when we all need to pull together to keep our animals safe and well. My friend, Dr. Barbara Baker, who heads the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium told the press that “In this critical time, it is a challenge to continue to feed and care for our animal collections in zoos across the country. We work closely with them on many conservation efforts and are happy to help feed their animals in this time of need.”

Thank you, Barbara, not only for the care you afford your animals, but for being a guardian angel to as many others as you can!

And last week, our American Humane Certified Miami SeaQuarium worked with other groups to rescue a twelve-hundred-pound pregnant manatee who had gotten her flippers and tail entangled in fishing line and debris.  The rescue team was able to free the mommy manatee, treat her wounds and release her back into the water – good news for mother and baby.

And a very special Easter egg was laid at our San Antonio Zoo this year… by a beautiful creature that almost disappeared – a whooping crane!

Brought back from the brink of extinction by the Herculean efforts of scientists and conservationists, the San Antonio zoo opened a new habitat for the cranes late last year and are now expecting a baby in just a couple of weeks.

It’s stories like these that give you hope for the future of these animals.


And speaking of eggs, there are some 340 million egg-laying hens in the United States and it’s our privilege to be helping as many of them as we can to live good, humane lives.

In fact, American Humane certifies about 90 percent of all cage-free eggs and has very generous space standards for our free-range and pasture-raised hens.

You can do your part to give farm animals better lives by making sure to look for the American Humane Certified seal when you shop. And you’ll get humanely raised food that tastes great. During this pandemic, I’ve been making lots of different egg dishes because they’re easy, low-calorie, and full of protein. Here’s one of my favorite recipes from American Humane Certified producer “Eggland’s Best” called “Cloud Eggs with Spinach Salad.”

Your family will think you have turned into a professional chef overnight (without too much work!).

Basically, you separate a few eggs, simply whip the whites as if you were making a meringue, spoon little mounds of them onto a baking sheet to cook for just over three minutes, drop a yolk into the center, bake for three more minutes and serve over a spinach salad.  It looks – and more importantly – TASTES amazing!  With food that looks like clouds, your family will really think you’re an angel.

You can find the full recipe at

And if we’re going to talk about angels, we really should talk a little about the incredible dogs who not only improve, but sometimes even save our lives.

I’m talking about our Hero Dogs and with Barbara Niven on the line, I just have to talk about our annual Hero Dog Awards, of which she is such a key player.

Barbara, you’ve honored us by being on the show for years, and I know you’ll be thrilled to hear that, this year, we have some of the most heartwarming stories of canine courage yet.

This year, we have 408 heroic hounds in the running – the best of our best friends.  Let me tell you just one of their stories, the story of Aura, as told by the person whose life she has changed:

Aura is a trained hearing service dog. She became my ears after I lost my hearing in a rocket attack in Afghanistan. I was in despair after my injuries. I needed a helper. What I received was a fur guardian angel.

She has restored my independence. I went from being a blown-up deaf person to a person who now feels safe and secure in the world. She never has a day off and I rely on her to keep me safe. She has allowed me to pursue my passions and purpose in life. I have no regrets of losing my hearing.  I would trade my ears for Aura any day.

She knows I am deaf but loves me anyway. Always by my side, head up and ready for anything, she is my hope. I am forever grateful to her.

There is not a medication or a therapy that could do for me what Aura does for me every day.  Aura is the epitome of a hero, putting others before herself, ensuring my safety over hers and her constant service to me asking nothing in return. We will continue to explore, travel and enjoy all the world has to offer. She is my most sacred companion.

Aura, thank you for being a hero when you were most needed.

To find more stories that will inspire you, gladden your heart, and maybe even make you shed a tear, go to . Vote for your favorites in each of seven categories and help us select the 2020 American Hero Dog, who will be unveiled at the tenth annual Hero Dog Awards, presented by the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation and broadcast nationwide on Hallmark Channel this fall.

As Barbara Niven, who has presented on the show so many times, could tell you, you won’t want to miss it!

Barbara:  You need to bring your waterproof mascara.  I remember two dogs especially from past years’ awards. One was Harley who was saved from a puppy mill and the other was Willow, who was saved from a dog meat market. Their stories give us hope and hope is what we need now. Remember, the crisis we’re in won’t last forever.  We have to think what we’ll do different afterwards.  We have to be better stewards of the gifts around us.

Robin: Yes, indeed. We have a moral obligation to take care of animals and each other. And often, we can do both at once. One of our programs, called Pups4Patriots, finds dogs in need of forever homes and trains them to become free, specialized service dogs for veterans coping with Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury.

These dogs improve and save lives for warriors coping with what we call the invisible wounds of war – and are especially important now, at this time of extraordinary stress and isolation caused by the pandemic.

Recently, American Humane received a letter from one of the veterans in our Pups4Patriots program named John, telling us how his service dog, Sasha, is helping him cope with the crisis.  John writes:

I wanted to send you an update on how Sasha and I are doing during this time of Social Distancing and staying at home. I am one of the Americans who has a weakened immune system, so social distancing and staying at home is something I have to take seriously.  Yet during this time, I have Sasha to help me with the emotional and physical difficulties I face.

Sasha’s importance to me has become magnified while staying home.  She is very tuned into me and my levels of anxiety and distress.  If she senses that I need to get outside, Sasha will come to me with her ball.  This gets me up and motivates me to get out and stop concentrating on what is happening and the feeling of being trapped inside my own home. 

This crisis compounds the symptoms of PTS by adding to the stresses I already battle, including thoughts of hurting myself, which seem to come up more frequently.  Having Sasha with me, I’m able to redirect my thoughts to her, using her to ground me. She reassures me that I’m not alone.  Basically, I don’t know how I would be if she wasn’t here with me.

Thank you very much for your dedication to veterans like me. I am forever in your debt.

Thank you, John, for your service to our country…and thank you, Sasha, for your service to one of our brave veterans.  America needs you both and we are grateful beyond words for each of you.

Barbara: Thank you, John for your service and give a hug to Sasha for me.

Robin: In closing, as we begin to celebrate the 105th anniversary of “Be Kind to Animals Week” this Sunday, it seems to me that compassion is more important than ever. It’s too easy in the midst of a crisis to become focused on the immediate, on the self….but even as we adjust to the new reality of our world, we can do something to improve it.

I would ask all of you – and everyone everywhere – to go to our website and social media pages next week and take our Kindness Pledge to help animals on farms by seeking out American Humane Certified foods…help animals in entertainment by watching shows with the “No Animals Were Harmed®” seal….help preserve disappearing species by visiting American Humane Certified zoos, aquariums and centers of conservation…and, of course, by adopting or fostering an animal in need.

By working together and pledging to prevent animal cruelty, a difference can be made in the lives of animals who are suffering. Please help us spread the word about all the work we are doing. Our campaigns, our newsletters and our annual Impact Report are all on our website and can help recruit new humane warriors for our cause, which is more vital than ever before.

Thank you all for what you have done, are doing, and are continuing to do every day for the cause of animals.

I look forward to speaking with you in two weeks at our next Fireside Chat.  Please stay safe.

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