Spotlight on Animal Heroes:
NYSHA Recognizes Valerie Lang Walden – A Professor and Lawyer Who Advocates for Animals
How many times do you hear something that sounds too good to be true? At NYSHA, we have worked with Val Lang Waldin on multiple issues and projects, and in her case, all the good things we hear about her we know to be real. Val’s resume is so packed with achievements we could fill this newsletter and still not have enough space to list them all. With degrees in the law, economics, and library science, she has devoted her energies to countless community and nationwide animal protection initiatives.
As a professor at Hudson Valley Community College, Val established course outlines leading to the Animal Law and Certificate Program, the first of its kind for undergraduates. She is a consultant for legislators, a sought after speaker, and co-founder of HVCC’s Animal Outreach Club. At the request of well-known TV host Bob Barker, she established The Animal Rights Forum at Drury University. In addition to the many other hats she wears, Val is currently VP of Responsible Animal Care USA, concentrating on statewide animal control and cat licensing.
Val is such a thoughtful and thought-provoking person, we decided her own words say more than a biography. Following are highlights of a recent conversation with this impressive and beloved advocate.
Was there a point in your life when you decided that animal protection was something that you wanted to devote yourself to or were you just born loving animals? There was. I had always loved animals innately, but for some reason was truly awakened when I was once surfing the Internet about animal careers. I saw a Humane Society of the United States piece on downed cows. I had no idea how we treat the animals we eat. I vowed that day to somehow make a difference and still have a picture of that beautiful and helpless cow. It changed my life.
What is the most challenging issue you have faced in your work? By far the biggest challenge has been people who think animal rights activists are inaccurate or with a crazy agenda. Animal rights activists have seen what many people don’t want to see. My biggest obstacle has been people who don’t want to change their way of thinking or living, and conclude the animal rights agenda is extreme. I obtained a substantial grant from Bob Barker for the administration of a credit bearing animal advocacy program at the community college level. The momentum was great and the public wanted this. Nevertheless, the college administration then was not ready for such a progressive program. Another challenge is the emotional drain that can happen when you devote your life to animal protection and you realize the extent of institutionalized ignorance and apathy that exists. However, most people DO care, and WANT to know what they can do to make a difference. This gives me great hope.
Who are your heroes or the people who have influenced you the most? Sue McDonough, retired NYS Police Investigator and animal cruelty expert, has taught me virtually all I know about animal cruelty law and investigation. She has given me great courage. When you know the law, you are not afraid to say what should be done. She really is my hero. Of course, my elderly parents with their simple values are my other rocks.
What are the biggest concerns we should have about animals? The biggest hurdle is humane education. It may ruffle feathers, but when people know what goes on, whether it is in the food industry, clothing, entertainment, science or with companion animals, something awakens in them. Knowledge is power. The biggest challenge is finding people with the courage to convey that we are not the only species that matters and that everything we do counts. When young people learn the realities, their priorities change. It is never too late to change course.
What is your biggest achievement(s)? To date, my biggest achievement is creating the Animal Law certificate program at HVCC and bringing in hundreds from the community to realize they have a voice; they can change the trajectory of their lives and the world. I saw a great quote about education — the greatest success is how you make people feel. I reached the core of many looking for direction. I still see former students working in the field, believing in themselves and their mission, because I equipped them with passion and facts. My other accomplishment is coming to terms with my husband’s stage 4 lung cancer and accepting lack of control over the outcome, while maintaining a daily love of life. Words can’t express this. My faith in a Power greater than us sustains me.
What advice would you give people who feel overwhelmed and defeated by the cruelty we see every day? Follow your heart, trust your instincts. Your work is among the greatest on the planet: speaking for those who can’t. Take time out if you have to. I recharge my batteries during the summer and return in the fall with a renewed commitment to the work. Remember, it is a marathon, not a sprint.
What are your current and long-range goals? I plan to retire from HVCC in four years, teach animal law, lobby for animal protection laws, and live on the lake where I grew up. I would love to see the institution of statewide animal control including cat licensing, a crackdown on horse racing for the criminal enterprise it is, and greater acceptance of the sustainability of a vegan lifestyle. I hope my husband will be with me.
New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XXXIII Spring 2019.