SUU and Best Friends Partner for Master's Degree

Posted: March 01, 2022 | Author: Abbie Cochrane | Read Time: 5 minutes

Best Friends Animal Society partners with SUUPets have gone from the barnyard, to the backyard, to the living room. They are a part of families, contributing to individual and community wellness. Animal services as a profession is changing across the nation to meet the needs of the community. Gone are the days of animal pounds where pets were killed for convenience or lack of resources. To meet this societal evolution, Southern Utah University and Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) have joined forces to create a degree of emphasis in Contemporary Animal Services Leadership.

The BFAS/SUU partnership was established in 2019 and offers professional development and degree pathway offerings, including SUU’s Master of Interdisciplinary Studies (MIS) graduate-level option. As the nation’s first animal services discipline is beginning to take shape at SUU, coursework at the graduate level is also a critical component to the partnership’s evolution.

The Contemporary Animal Services Leadership (CASL) graduate program was designed to offer a master's-level emphasis for those looking to specialize in animal services at the graduate level. The MIS degree is a 30-credit program with three specializations that divide the degree into learning blocks, emphasizing different aspects of focus by the student’s choosing. In the CASL emphasis, students learn how to manage an animal-related nonprofit by taking classes in animal services, business, grant-writing, social media management, crisis communication, and other such topics.

The reasoning behind the pathway is simple.

“The field of animal services is in a state of revolutionary change. The nation’s shelters are evolving to become community resources that support saving healthy and treatable animals, and most importantly keeping pets with their families wherever possible,” said BFAS Senior Manager of Learning Advancement, Aimee Charlton.

Where animal shelters across the United States vary in their policies and regulations, other universal departments such as firefighting, education and healthcare follow the same outline of procedures and practices. At SUU, the CASL MIS degree emphasis was created to bridge the disconnect between animal shelters and create standard operating practices.

“Best Friends Animal Society has subject matter expertise that helps provide a blueprint for running a lifesaving focused organization. Best Friends also has partnerships with local animal shelters and their leaders who have successfully implemented contemporary animal services practices. These proven strategies emphasize both animal lifesaving as well as appropriate support and services for every individual who comes through their doors,” Charlton added. “SUU is a forward-thinking higher learning organization that is a national leader in innovation. The University embraces opportunities to partner with industry and subject matter experts in the creation of professional certificates and course work that supports the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in contemporary animal services.”

The program’s first graduate and current BFAS Director of Learning Advancement, Tawny Hammond, continues to be a trailblazing force in the field of contemporary animal services leadership today. Hammond graduated SUU in 2021 with a Master of Interdisciplinary Studies degree with an emphasis in animal services. In January of 2022, she gave a TEDx Talk at SUU titled, “Not Your Grandpa’s Animal Pound.” In her speech, she emphasized the rapidly-changing policies of the animal services industry and why it is crucial that the rules be adjusted so that fewer animals' lives are at risk. She emphasizes that the goal isn’t to stop true euthanasia. Euthanasia is the term for humanely ending an animal's life, usually via chemical injection. The euthanasia of animals in pain can be considered an act of mercy, but often healthy, treatable, and rehabilitatable animals are euthanized solely for the purpose of creating more holding space in the kennels. Hammond further explained that once she became involved in the animal services field, she was insistent about reducing the number of adoptable and treatable pets losing their lives prematurely every day. With her resilience and problem-solving, she and her team were able to provide life-saving options for the majority of animals that were listed on the euthanization list.

But the work is barely underway. Now Hammond and her colleagues are determined to help revolutionize animal services protocol across the country until every companion animal that is healthy and adoptable finds a home. Her goal begins with the pet shelter protocol.

“Creating a compassionate, integral, and consistent discipline would not only help thousands of our pets but would also positively impact the health and well-being of communities across the country,” Hammond stated in her TEDx Talk.

Studies have shown that companion animals are sources of health and happiness in the lives of individuals and the community. Pets create a less stressful and more physically and mentally challenging environment. A pet’s presence lowers the stress hormone cortisol levels in the human body. Plus animals have proven to be beneficial to the economy. So why aren’t their needs a top priority?

That’s where the SUU and BFAS collaboration come in. By adding a higher degree option that forges the game-changers of tomorrow, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pets’ lives can be saved. The curriculum is designed to emphasize creative problem solving, practice business skills and marketing, demonstrate superb leadership, political acumen, and diplomacy to further expand the work. Students of CASL are able to challenge the status quo and implement new programs and regulations that can lead to achieving the goal of a 90% save rate for all shelters in the nation. This accomplishment supports Best Friends Animal Society’s broader mission to Save Them All.

Visit the SUU MIS Contemporary Animal Services Leadership website to learn more about how you can start your path in the field. For those who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree or are looking to earn a career certificate in the field, visit the SUU professional development website to explore opportunities. To learn more about how you can get involved, contact your local pet shelter or Best Friends Animal Society to learn of ways you can get involved.

Tags: Student Interdisciplinary Studies