Animal Writes
From 5 July 2003 Issue

The Best of the Best
By Michelle Rivera - [email protected] 

Last September, I reported on my visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and encourage all of our Animal Writes readers to make a pilgrimage to this very special place. The article started out this way:

In a tiny Utah town just south of the Utah/Arizona border called Kanab lies a little slice of heaven, the Rainbow Bridge and some of the world's most compassionate people.

For there, in Kanab, is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a truly unique place. I had the privilege of visiting Best Friends while on a road trip that began in Las Vegas and took us through Arizona and Utah.

As a professional humane educator, I serve on the board of APHE, the Association of Professional Humane Educators. It was through this association that I first met Nathania Gartman, Humane Educator for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Over the past few years we have shared stories about our experiences in the field, working with inner-city kids, trying to teach compassion for animals to kids who barely know the meaning of the word. And as a South Florida resident, I frequently run into the problem of language barriers as so many of my students are speakers of Creole or Spanish. But Nathania's challenges have been even greater, for her students are more apt to be Navaho Indians, with a sub-culture and tradition like no other, and teaching them about animal rights, animal welfare and just basic companion animal care when the closest veterinarian is a half-day drive away is more intimidating that I can even imagine. But Nathania never complains and she always speaks of her community with grace and gratitude. When I heard Nathania had been battling breast cancer, my admiration for her soared even higher given the challenges she faces in her professional and now in her private life. Unfortunately, Nathania was away at an APHE conference (from which I was playing hooky) during my visit but we were given the royal tour just the same.

I knew, at the time of writing that article, that Nathania was battling breast cancer but was winning the battle. Indeed, it was only a few months ago when I traveled to Lafayette, Indiana, to meet with her and other humane educators for another APHE conference and to interview her and others for my new book, Canines in the Classroom (Lantern Books, Fall 2003 publication). Nathania was the picture of health. She told me stories of how her doctor was amazed at her progress in fighting the disease, and how she had immersed herself in education about breast cancer so that she could mount an aggressive assault on it. She was even teaching others about the merits of a plant-based diet to avoid cancers such as hers! Ever the teacher, the educator, Nathania was traveling around Kanab helping others face the fears of cancer.

Sadly, I must report that the humane education movement has lost another soldier, another teacher, another activist. Nathania succumbed to breast cancer on July 3, 2003 and leaves a terrible void at that little slice of heaven that is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

During my visit with Nathania, she gave me some sage advice to pass on to other humane educators. I leave you with Nathania's words:

"Be clear about what you want to do, the message you feel you have the expertise to give, if you are a mother with a child who has gone back to school and you want to give classroom presentations, be clear about what you can do, know your audience, know your teachers, if you are with an organization, know what their policies or mission is. Know what is age appropriate. If you are not comfortable with kids, work with the rotary club or find some other adult groups. Stay focused. Organizing humane education means to stay focused and move humane education along. The animals will benefit from all your hard work. They will reap the rewards of your initiative and energy."

I am sure that Nathania has stopped at the Rainbow Bridge along the way to be greeted by the hundreds of animals whose lives she touched before being called home. What a tail-wagging, tongue-slurping, purrs and kitten kisses greeting that will be!

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