I have been an animal lover since infancy. As soon as I was old enough to meet their minimum age requirement, I began to volunteer at Williamson County Humane Society, located just outside of my hometown of Austin, TX. Since March 1990, I have continued to volunteer at a variety of animal shelters and rescue groups. I also volunteered at a vet clinic until I was old enough to get paid to do the work I was already doing. I was a vet tech assistant for a few years, then I worked as a vet tech for the next 17 years–much of that time as a relief tech, which means I have worked in a wide variety of practices including small animal, large animal, exotic, emergency, specialty, and housecall. During that time I also worked and/or volunteered for aviaries, stables, wildlife rehab centers, and in college I even had a part-time job maintaining the university’s saltwater, freshwater, and amphibian tanks, which is where I developed my love for fish, octopi, and other marine animals.
Even though I loved the work I did, over time I started noticing how the ways in which we interacted with animals in the name of helping them actually made their behavior worse. I watched countless times as minor behavior issues turned into serious or even dangerous ones as a direct result of how we worked with the animals. The cognitive dissonance between our intentions and our results wore me down, until eventually I was so depressed and angry that I didn’t want to work with animals anymore. Over the next couple of years, I started reading more about behavior and training. I read a lot of conflicting information, and felt both confused and frustrated. It wasn’t until I learned from Barbara Heidenreich and Dr. Susan Friedman that I finally got clarity: through the science of behavior, we know that there are much better ways to interact with animals and get the behaviors we want while also performing the tasks which need to get done. We don’t have to sacrifice kindness for the sake of efficacy. We don’t have to sacrifice their mental health in order to save their physical health. That moment when I realized that we don’t have to hurt or scare animals in order to help them was so powerful that I actually cried from relief.
So, in January 2008 I quit both my full time jobs and started my own business as a pet sitter and relief vet tech. Having autonomy over my schedule allowed me to take the classes and get the mentorship I needed in order to become a behavior consultant. I also became a board member of Wings of Love Bird Haven, co-founded and operated Austin Parrot Society, and became the volunteer medical coordinator as well as a medical and behavioral special-needs foster home for Austin Pets Alive!
In January 2010 I became a full-fledged behavior consultant, and saw clients with animals of all species in Austin until the siren call of Best Friends Animal Society drew me away from my beloved hometown in September 2013. I started off working as a caregiver in Parrot Garden for the first few months, but I missed behavior consulting more than I anticipated and ended up transferring into my role as a Behavior Consultant in Dogtown. In this role, my colleagues and I were able to completely overhaul and revitalize the training protocols, as well as provide staff with classes and hands-on workshops to further hone their skills. We also took on the responsibility of ghostwriting all behavior-related articles for Best Friends’ various media outlets to ensure that the organization put out the most accurate, ethical, and effective information possible.
Being an internationally recognized sanctuary, Dogtown receives dogs from all over the country who have severe behavior issues. Through our work with these dogs we have proven time and again that aversive methods are not only unnecessary to resolve behaviors, but oftentimes are counterproductive. Again, we do not have to hurt or scare animals to help them, no matter how severe their behavior issues may be!
Even though I still and will always work with Best Friends, I missed having my own business and am excited to return to working with people and their pets on an individual basis again. My two great passions in life are learning and teaching, regardless of the species. I look forward to learning about and teaching you and your pets.
~ Emily Strong, CPBT-KA