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18 June 2012 ·

Animal Careers & Carers: Debra Duel, Director, Humane Edcuations WARL

Debbie Duel, the Washington Animal Rescue League’s Director of Humane Education, has more than 25 years of experience in humane education—leading classroom programs and professional workshops.  She is the author of the book, Nigel, a popular Operation Outreach-USA ( title.  I had never heard of a role like this until I received an email from her last year. You can see several reasons why I warmed to her in this excerpt from her original email:
“I just read Lost! A dog Called Bear.  Thank you for writing a book for early readers that not only paints animal shelters, and their staff and volunteers, in a positive light, but stresses the importance of micro-chipping AND is a really good story.   The humane education program that I administer is literacy based. We provide classroom teachers with humane-themed books for their classroom libraries, and whenever possible, give every student In the class a book of his/her very own.  I am going to add Lost! A Dog Called Bear to my list and can’t wait to get Missing!  A Cat Called Buster.
I also wanted to let you know that I believe  that the strongest message in your book, and there are many without preaching a single one, is when Hannah decides not to adopt the guinea pig!    That is such an important, and often lost, message.”

Debbie’s childhood friend Teddy

No wonder she was the first person I thought of to interview for this new series of posts on animal careers and carers.

How would you describe your job? .
Lots of fun, but with a serious message.   I actually get paid to spend every day with my wonderful dog, Nigel, and children who care about animals!  My job is to share information about animal welfare with students  so they can strategize ways in which to help animals and make a real difference.  I tell them, you don’t need to live with an animal to help them.  Animal welfare is everyone’s  responsibility.
What was the path – or the passion(!) –  that led you to working to animals in general, or this job in particular?  
I couldn’t find a job when I graduated college in 1981, so I started volunteering with the local animal welfare organization in Tallahassee, Florida.  That led to a job in the adoptions department at the shelter.   I didn’t feel like I was doing enough to prevent animal cruelty and make a real dent in the overpopulation crisis in that position, so I started a volunteer humane education program for children, and that eventually led to paid position.  Now I visit students in D.C. area schools.  The students and I explore ways to end animal suffering including spaying and neutering cats and dogs, lobbying for stricter animal protection laws, and  emphasizing responsible animal care school-wide.
Did you have pets as a child? 
Debbie’s Dad with his “Black Hill Sheepdog”  Ted

We adopted our first cat when I was 9-years-old.  That was a big deal because my mother was scared to death of cats.   I’ve lived with cats ever since.  Later, my family added a puppy to the family.   The card on his cage at the shelter said shepherd mix.  But Teddy, a fluffy black puppy grew into a very handsome 60 pound shaggy dog that didn’t resemble a shepherd at all.    People would stop us and ask what kind of dog he was.  My dad made up a name, he would say, “Ted is a Black Hill Sheepdog.”  People would often reply, “Wow, he’s beautiful, I’ve never seen one of those before,” or “You don’t see many of those in south Florida, do you?”  “No, you don’t, “ my dad answered.  

Do you have an animal companion now?
My dog, Nigel, came to live with my family 7 ½ years ago.  He is a black Labrador retriever, who neither swims nor retrieves (characteristics associated with retrievers).  My son, Max, who was seven when we adopted Nigel wanted a dog more than anything in the world.  Since I worked in a shelter, I saw dogs every day, but none of them were the “right” dog.  Eventually, one of our humane officers brought in a very friendly, but terribly emaciated black dog.   The veterinarian who examined him said that he had been nearly starved to death.  Nigel, now a very handsome 75-pound dog, weighed just 48 pounds the day he was rescued.   For me, it was love at first sight.   Nigel comes to work with me at the Washington Animal Rescue League, and he visits students in Washington, D.C.   I wrote a book about him shortly after I adopted him and we give the book to every student we meet.   Nigel and I also live with three shelter cats, Micky, a Morris-the-cat look-alike, Merl a brown tabby named for a cat in one of favorite picture books, My Big Dog,  by Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens, and Charlotte Tibbs, our most recent addition.
What would your pet tell us about you?  
 Charlotte would complain that I refuse to let her go outside.  She is very curious and is always trying to escape out the front door.  I explain to her that she is much safer as an indoor only cat (and so are the birds!), but she is not very accepting of this reasoning.   She is young and fearless; scratching posts and toy mice are not nearly as thrilling to her as towering maple trees and real-live rodents!
Any advice for people wanting a pet?  
An animal companion is a HUGE financial and time commitment, but if you are sure that you can, and want to commit to both, you will have a true BFF!
Favourite animal books? 
I have so many and I love sharing them with students.   Right now the first two books in the Rainbow Street Series are my absolute favorites for young chapter book readers and Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata and The Nine Lives of Travis Keating by Jill MacLeanis  are my must-read picks for fifth and sixth graders.  I think both of those would make great movies!  I have way too many favorite animal picture books to name, but I list many of them on my blog,

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio