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2021 ANIMAL Conference set for August 27 & 28 in Oklahoma City

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —

OKLAHOMA CITY – The third triennial ANIMAL Conference will be held in Oklahoma City at the Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, 11 N. 11 Street, on August 27 and 28. The two-day event will bring together advocates, academics, experts, journalists, philanthropists, and community leaders from across the United States and Oklahoma to discuss animal issues of all kinds.

Hosted by the Kirkpatrick foundation, the ANIMAL Conference will include 32 speakers, plus poetry and performance, art installations, a cat cafe, book signings at Full Circle Bookstore, Open Space roundtables for communications and development, and a repeat visit from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs.

On Wednesday, August 25, from 8:30 – 10:30 p.m., a three-night showing of artist Chad Mount’s projection installation at the OSU Discovery Center will be held featuring buffaloes, whales, and monarchs. The exhibition is on view Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights from sunset to around midnight.

A pre-conference, all-day event for members of Common Bonds, an Oklahoma leadership network to end needless euthanasia of cats and dogs in municipal shelters, will be held at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, 1000 N Broadway Avenue, on Thursday, August. 26.  Presenters include Kelly Burley, Matt Biggar, Brent Toellner, and Abby Levine.

Also on Thursday, will be the arrival of Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry at Will Rogers World Airport.

Conference registration will begin at 7 a.m. on Friday, August 27 and continue all day. Free parking available on the east side of Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center.

A welcome address will be given by Louisa McCune, Executive Director, Kirkpatrick Foundation, themed “Animals as a Community Metric.”

This year, the 2021 Kirkpatrick Honor for Animal Wellbeing will be presented to Jamee Suarez and Robin Suarez of Oklahoma Alliance for Animals. The Tulsa-based sisters formed the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals in 2004 and have dedicated their efforts to mitigating pet homelessness, abuse, and neglect. Jamme and Robin have built an innovative organization that helps animals across the state, all while keeping it a mostly volunteer-run operation.

Continuing education credit will be available to attendees. Click the ticket link to register or visit

As reported by George Lang for 405 Magazine, one of the key attractions this year will be an appearance by the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, a fleet of golden retrievers who are specifically trained to be gentle and therapeutic for people experiencing trauma. 

“They are deployed anytime there’s a major tragedy, like Sandy Hook Elementary School after the mass shooting, and they’ll go to hurricane sites and tornado sites and they’ll go wherever they’re asked and they stay as long as they need to,” said McCune.

“They’re like rock stars, you know? Every single news channel in America has covered these dogs,” McCune told Lang. “I mean, there are these people in absolute trauma, they’re in the immediate aftermath of trauma, and these dogs come and provide this comfort. It’s an incredible program. I can hardly talk about it without crying.”

As part of the conference, McCune delivers a “State of the Animals” speech that discusses how animals are faring in Oklahoma, from horses and cows to lab animals.

“Our big, hairy, audacious goal is to make Oklahoma the safest and most humane place to be for an animal by the year 2032,” she told Lang. 

In 2012, the Kirkpatrick Foundation started the Safe & Humane initiative with the goal of making Oklahoma one of the safest and most humane places to be an animal by 2032.

The Safe & Humane initiative is comprised of people who care about the welfare of animals, people who understand that animal wellbeing is a key component of community wellbeing. This includes experts, advocates, civic and nonprofit leaders, business owners, academics, children, parents, school teachers, private citizens, journalists, and philanthropists, who are educating and inspiring others to act. Read the Safe & Humane 2012-2020 report here.

From companion and farm animals, to wildlife and zoo species, the Kirkpatrick Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of all animals through this initiative.

Held just once every three years, the Foundation believes the forum is a key element in achieving that objective. The inaugural ANIMAL Conference was held in 2015 in Oklahoma City.

“Our vision for The ANIMAL Conference is to convene those who are professionally or personally part of the animal wellbeing and leadership community to discuss current topics and concerns, including community wellness,” McCune said.  

“We believe that the conference—a festival, really—and our Safe & Humane initiative will educate and inspire Oklahomans to translate their love for animals into positive action and compassion toward animals and other humans,” McCune added.

Among this year’s event speakers are Philip Tedeschi, Director Emeritus of Institute for Human Animal Connections; James Pepper Henry, Executive Director, First Americans Museum; Jeremiah Davis, Artistic Director, Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center; Judge Amanda Maxfield Green, United States Magistrate Judge Western District of Oklahoma; Nancy Snow, Philosopher and Director, Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma; Josh Plotnik, Conservation Behavior Researcher, Hunter College at the City University of New York; Drew Edmondson, Former Oklahoma Attorney General and District Attorney; and Joe Maxwell, Founder, Family Farm Action Alliance.

There will be a legislative update by Alex Berney, Kirkpatrick Policy Group Board Member.

A complete list of conference speakers is available online. For more information about the ANIMAL Conference agenda and to register, visit

This year’s ANIMAL Conference will once again feature the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs. Facebook photo
On Aug. 27, the ANIMAL Conference welcome address, themed “Animals as a Community Metric,” will be given by Louisa McCune, Executive Director, Kirkpatrick Foundation. Facebook photo
Joshua Plotnik, Conservation Researcher on the behavior of elephants will be one of the featured speakers at the 2021 ANIMAL Conference. Facebook
Philip Tedeschi, director emeritus of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection, will be a featured speaker at the 2021 ANIMAL Conference. Facebook photo
Screenshot of sisters Jamee Suarez (left) and Robin Suarez, founders of the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, the recipients of the 2021 Kirkpatrick Foundation Honor for Animal Wellbeing during a photo shoot by photographer: Shevaun Williams. Kirkpatrick Foundation video screenshot.
Hosted by the Kirkpatrick Foundation, the third triennial ANIMAL Conference will be held in Oklahoma City on August 27 and 28. Facebook photo