Humane Education


What is the Berman Academy for Humane Education?

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) traces its origins to a group of animals abandoned by a bankrupt circus in 1883. Citizens responded by generously giving food and money to provide for their care. The DZS was created on this foundation of helping animals in need.  The naturalistic habitats that were developed in the years since demonstrate a desire to share the beauty of wild places and their inhabitants.

More than 100 years later, the Berman Academy for Humane Education was formed. A series of humane education initiatives were launched in 2002, and in 2005 the Academy settled into its permanent home in the Ford Education Center. The Academy offers a broad range of programs designed to meet the needs of our diverse audiences. Unique and engaging programs utilize a variety of instructional strategies – including traditional instruction, storytelling, role-playing, theater and virtual technology – to match the various learning styles of the community. Through participation in formal and informal experiences, audiences understand the need to treat other living creatures with respect, responsibility and compassion. The Berman Academy for Humane Education was created to help people help animals.

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  • Core Beliefs

    Humane Education Begins with Understanding


    All life is connected.

    No one is alone.  We are constantly interacting with our environment and our environment is interacting with us.

    Everyone needs a home.

    All living creatures share similar basic needs – food, water, shelter and appropriate social and physical environments. A home – or habitat – provides these basic needs. Humane education helps us to appreciate the amazing natural world around us and motivates us to ensure that all animals (human and non-human) have an appropriate habitat.

    The natural world is at threat.

    Nature is fragile and many living creatures are at constant risk. Through humane education and appropriate practices, we can help to protect our planet and all its inhabitants.

    Key Concepts 

    All animals are important. They should be treated with respect, responsibility and compassion.

    • All life is interconnected.
    • All creatures have similar basic needs – food, water, shelter and appropriate social and physical environments.
    • Everyone needs a home. In most instances, humans are responsible for the loss of animal habitats.


    Animals have feelings. This is an important aspect to consider, especially when contemplating an animal’s well-being.

    • Animals have cognitive abilities and emotional qualities.
    • They experience pain.


    All animals deserve consideration and respect for their physical and emotional well-being and should not be exploited. Circuses, roadside menageries, rodeos and many kinds of media are forms of entertainment that harm animals and humans’ understanding of them.

    • Animals in these conditions have inappropriate living conditions and are subjected to significant stress.
    • Animals’ basic needs, both physical and psychological, are not met in these conditions.
    • Animal training methods in these situations are often inhumane.


    Owners should view themselves as pet guardians and assume the responsibility to meet their companion animal’s needs. Pets rely on us for their needs throughout their entire lives.

    • Exotic animals should not be pets.
    • People need to provide for the appropriate physical and psychological needs of their pets for their entire lives.


    An individual has the power to make a positive difference for other creatures. Our personal choices can make a difference.

    • We need to protect and care for the animals that share our Earth.
    • People should intervene if they see an animal in trouble.


    Choices can be made that collectively benefit oneself, people, animals and the environment. Our choices can have far-reaching effects. It is important to recognize the impact individuals and communities have on the Earth and its inhabitants.


    We have a responsibility to consciously consider, respect, care for and protect all creatures and the environment. Our daily activities can benefit the Earth and its inhabitants if the effort is made to consciously think through our actions.

  • On-site Initiatives

    DTE Energy Foundation Humane Science Lab

    One of several interpretive studios in the Ford Education Center, the DTE Energy Foundation Humane Science Lab is the hub of many of the Academy’s programs. The Lab provides an opportunity for students to learn about utilizing humane methods of study, such as virtual dissection models and simulations. Additionally, students, teachers and visitors experience other programs that model gentle ways of teaching and learning science.  Outfitted with eco-friendly décor, the DTE Energy Foundation Humane Science Lab is wrapped in a large-scale humane education mural. It highlights ecological footprints of countries around the world, animals rescued by the DZS and the message of “walking softly and treating the Earth’s creatures gently”.

    Pollinator Gardens

    Pollinator gardens, such as the garden located in the Detroit Zoo’s African Grasslands, show visitors ways they can create desirable habitats for indigenous animals and plants. This area demonstrates that helping animals begins in your own backyard.


    Docents – or volunteer educators – have contact with thousands of Zoo visitors each year through guided tours and informal learning experiences. They promote a humane ethic when interacting with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Each docent training class includes a session dedicated to humane education. This includes a presentation that discusses humane education issues and the stories of the many rescued animals at the DZS in order to better share humane education concepts with guests.

    Humane Education Film

    The DZS has produced a film by Academy Award winner Sue Marx. “From Animal Showboat to Animal Lifeboatillustrates the many ways animals in entertainment are exploited and suggests a different course for the future. This film won an Emmy Award and was co-written and co-produced by DZS CEO and Executive Director Ron Kagan. This film is available to view in its entirety under the “From Animal Showboat to Animal Lifeboat” drop-down below.

    Media and Signage

    The DZS’s frequent press releases about issues involving animal protection and substantial onsite signage about rescue animals create visibility for the problems associated with keeping exotic animals, animals in entertainment and other welfare topics. They also encourage people to become animal advocates.

  • Why is Humane Education Important?

    Several issues demonstrate the need for a concerted humane education effort: exotic animals as pets, habitat destruction, lack of spending time in nature to understand and appreciate it, the pet overpopulation crisis and the cycle of animal abuse and domestic violence.  We are able to make a positive difference for people, animals and the environment when we are provided with accurate information about the following issues:

    Exotic Animals as Pets

    Domestic animals – such as dogs and cats – are the best pets. Unfortunately, millions of exotic animals become victims of the pet trade each year. Well-meaning individuals often purchase exotic animals with good intentions. Tragically, they do not understand the specialized physical and psychological needs of these creatures. Animals suffer and many stories are reported about the dangers when people keep exotic animals as pets.

    Habitat Destruction

    As the Earth’s population grows, the loss of native habitats for animals becomes increasingly great. Many animals and their habitats are affected by the choices we make. Understanding our impact on the Earth can result in the lessening of our ecological footprint and healthier habitats for all.

    Lack of Spending Time in Nature

    In a world of ever-evolving technology, today’s children are increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Spending time in nature helps to instill respect, responsibility and compassion for the Earth’s creatures.

    The Pet Overpopulation Crisis

    Many people share a very special bond with their pets. Sadly, not all people develop and maintain these bonds. Animals are lost, stolen, surrendered to animal shelters, neglected, abandoned or abused. Lack of spaying and neutering is also of great concern. Each year an estimated 3-4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in animal shelters. Pet overpopulation is a significant and serious problem.

    Cycle of Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

    Studies have demonstrated a correlation between animal cruelty and domestic violence. For a number of reasons, individuals may act out frustrations or anger toward animals as a means to demonstrate power or as a way to hurt someone by abusing an animal they care about. These individuals develop a pattern of behavior that sometimes transfers to their interactions with other people.


    Promote a sense of responsibility on a personal, local and global level to help instill a culture that recognizes what we do as an individual has consequences for others.

  • Outreach Initiatives

    Local and Regional Community Events

    The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) participates in many community events throughout the year. An integral aspect, the Berman Academy for Humane Education offers information that encourages people to think about their impact on the Earth and its inhabitants and provides them with tools that help to lessen their ecological footprint.

    City Critters

    The DZS received a 2010 Significant Achievement in Education award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) for its City Critters outreach program. The award, presented at the AZA Annual Conference in Houston, Texas, recognizes outstanding achievement in educational program design.

    City Critters enables children to develop an awareness of the animals that share their neighborhoods. Learning about these creatures enables children to better understand and appreciate them. Children are encouraged to study and enjoy wildlife from a distance. This program teaches strategies to peacefully coexist.

    City Critters also includes a discussion on responsible pet care. Children are taught that their pets rely upon them to provide for all of their needs, including food, fresh water, exercise and love. The importance of always having proper identification on their pet is also emphasized.

    The DZS works with local universities to train pre-service student teachers in humane education. As part of the training, the university students learn how to facilitate City Critters and help us to reach thousands of elementary school students each year.

    The City Critters outreach program is offered to underserved schools, including Detroit Public Schools, throughout the year.

    City Critters Goals
    • To promote an ethic of gentleness for other living creatures
    • To create better awareness and empathy of wildlife that share our environments
    • To promote appropriate pet choice and care (along with our colleagues at local humane societies)


    City Critters Key Concepts
    • All animals are remarkable.
    • Humans have changed the natural environment. Some animals have adapted to this changed environment and reside in urban areas.
    • Wild animals are different than domestic animals.
    • Wild animals should be enjoyed from a distance so as not to disturb them.
    • All animals (including humans) have similar needs – food, water, shelter and appropriate social and physical environments.
    • Our pets rely upon us to provide for all of their needs.
    • Backyards and Schoolyards for Wildlife can be created to develop wildlife-friendly areas.
    • Discovery of injured wildlife should be reported to a trusted adult who can then reach out to a local rehabilitator or shelter.
  • Community Opportunities

    Special Events

    Community special events provide a forum for sharing and teaching humane messages.

    The Detroit Zoological Society hosts Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo, one of the nation’s largest off-site companion animal adoption events, where hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens are available for adoption to loving homes.

    Conferences and Meetings

    The DZS was selected as the hosting site for the 2013 Association of Professional Humane Educators (APHE) National Humane Education Conference.  Humane educators from around the world convened to learn about current humane education issues. The two-day conference included presentations, round table discussions and networking opportunities.

    Members of the DZS Education Department regularly give humane education presentations throughout the community. Recent presentations were given at the Michigan Science Teachers Association (MSTA) Annual Conference and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Annual Conference.

    The Detroit Zoological Society hosts humane education experts to facilitate professional development workshops for both DZS staff as well as area educators. Recent facilitators have come from the Institute for Humane Education, the Humane Society of the United States and HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers).

    Humane Collaborations

    We are working toward establishing relationships with other humane organizations locally, nationally and internationally to verify program agendas and content and to discuss partnership opportunities. For example, we’re currently collaborating with the Humane Society of Huron Valley and the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, discussing humane education programming and opportunities.

    For more than seven years, the Detroit Zoological Society’s Berman Academy for Humane Education has led a gardening program with Oakland County Children’s Village that helps to instill reverence and respect for wildlife and wild places with the 12-17-year-old boys residing there. Children’s Village includes secure detention, residential treatment and shelter care services. We’ve worked with hundreds of boys throughout the course of this program.


    The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) works diligently to decrease the number of animals being kept in inhumane conditions. Through the DZS’s ongoing efforts, stricter regulations are now in place governing exotic pet ownership in Michigan and elsewhere.

  • From Animal Showboat to Animal Lifeboat

    The Detroit Zoological Society has produced a film by Academy Award winner Sue Marx.  “From Animal Showboat to Animal Lifeboat” illustrates the many ways animals in entertainment are exploited and suggests a different course for the future.  This film won an Emmy and was co-written and co-produced by DZS Executive Director Ron Kagan.  This film is available to view in its entirety below.