On Saturday, November 14, raise a glass to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) during its annual To the Rescue! gala. The virtual soiree will begin with a pre-show at 7:30 p.m., followed by the gala at 8:00 p.m. Saturday Night Live Emmy nominated cast member Cecily Strong will serve as this year’s host, while Tony, Grammy and Emmy award-winner, singer and actor Audra McDonald will entertain attendees during a special performance and also host the pre-show.
“In a time when the world can feel unsteady, the Humane Society of the United States continues to change the world for animals,” Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winner, singer and actor Audra McDonald said. “By adopting my dog Butler and having animal rescues throughout my life, I have seen firsthand how special animals are and I cannot imagine my life without them. We must be a voice for the voiceless and protect those who cannot speak for themselves.”
We caught up with Gala Chair Georgina Bloomberg and Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Kitty Block about this year’s virtual soiree, HSUS’s vital work and more.
Tell us about this year’s gala and pre-gala show.
GB: This year’s gala is obviously going to be like no other, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of us are now somewhat used to doing things virtually and many of us have already tuned into a couple of virtual events, so we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Instead of focusing on the things that we won’t be able to do, HSUS is focusing on the things that we can do that we normally can’t. We are excited to have people “attend” who maybe wouldn’t have been able to previously because they live in other places and couldn’t make it to NYC. That means our reach can be broader and we can engage people across the country and beyond. There’s no limit to the amount of people who can tune in, whereas before we had a limit to how many people we could seat; and then of course had to provide food and drinks, things that we can now save money on. Lastly, we are really lucky to have Audra McDonald as our pre-gala entertainment and Cecily Strong as our host for the event. We know it will be different, but we are focusing on the good not the bad. I think it will be a really fun evening for everyone.
What was the biggest challenge in regards to hosting the gala virtually this year?
GB: There are always challenges in getting a virtual event to be interesting and entertaining, and finding ways to get people to take the time to tune in without the benefits of being able to get dressed up and come to an event in person. But on the flip side it’s an opportunity to attract people who may not like going to in-person events or who prefer the opportunity to enjoy a gala from the comfort of their couch. We had to make tweaks to the run of show to make sure to keep people entertained the entire time when they won’t have food, drink or a table full of people to talk to like they usually do. Thankfully we have a great host in Cecily Strong and pre-gala entertainment by Audra McDonald, so our biggest challenge of keeping people engaged and entertained should be no problem!
You’ve been a longtime supporter of the Humane Society of the United States and animal welfare. Why was this a cause you wanted to champion and could you speak to your work with the organization?
GB: I have always been an animal lover but that wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to do something to help them. I became slowly more and more involved with rescue work after I adopted my first dog from a shelter in 2008. The experience of going into a kill shelter and having to see so many dogs who wouldn’t make it out of there was really difficult, but it inspired me to understand why they are there and to then figure out ways that I could help. I started working with HSUS soon after on their efforts to end puppy mills and became more and more involved with the organization over the years and in their different efforts to save and improve animal’s lives. I joined the board three years ago and am more and more impressed with everything that I have learned that they do. Their efforts are so much more than the amazing rescue work that they do, they fight for laws to be changed to help animals in years and generations to come and so much more.
Could you speak to the role that animals have played in your life?
GB: Animals have played a role in my life in so many ways. I have always had pets and appreciated the company and unconditional love that they give, but they have also given me a career with the horses and a way to feel like I am giving back with my rescue work. There is very little about what I am passionate about on a personal or professional level that isn’t connected to animals in some way, and I can’t imagine what my life would be without them.
When in the Hamptons, what are some of your favorite spots/things to do?
GB: My favorite thing about the Hamptons is by far the beach. I love being able to wake up and start the day by walking some of my dogs, and then love finishing the day by doing the same thing while enjoying a nice sunset. It’s the perfect way to start the day and end the day. My favorite place to grab breakfast is Golden Pear, which is where I end up most mornings, but if I have time to meet friends and sit down for a meal I love Estia’s. For a nice dinner out and some fun, my favorite spot is by far Almond in Bridgehampton. They have great food, a fun bar scene and everyone who works there is welcoming and friendly. I’m also a huge BuddhaBerry fan, and my son and I love going to Sag Harbor to get frozen yogurt and stroll around.
Could you speak to the Humane Society of the United States’ mission and impact?
KB: The Humane Society of the United States fights the big fights to end suffering for all animals. Together with millions of supporters, we take on puppy mills, factory farms, trophy hunts, animal testing and other cruel industries. With our affiliates, we rescue and care for tens of thousands of animals every year through our animal rescue team’s work and other hands-on animal care services. We fight all forms of animal cruelty to achieve the vision behind our name: A humane society.
What will funds raised during the gala support?
KB: The gala will benefit the continued work of the Humane Society of the United States to end puppy mills, the fur industry, trophy hunting, factory farms, animal testing and other forms of animal cruelty.
This year we are celebrating everyday heroes who work tirelessly to help animals in need, without wavering, even during a pandemic. These heroes take action in their daily lives by recusing animals in crisis and promoting cruelty-free lifestyles to make collective transformational change for all animals.
How has the pandemic impacted the Society’s efforts?
KB: The HSUS has been in crisis response mode since the first days of the pandemic lockdown, helping vulnerable animals survive and delivering aid to communities where people and pets are struggling. As the nation’s biggest force for animal protection, the HSUS has been able to harness the collective power of our expertise, influence, networks and partnerships to mitigate new threats to animals as a result of COVID-19. While the organization has mobilized to prevent new suffering, the HSUS has also remained laser focused on longstanding causes of animal suffering.
Due to the pandemic, we developed a toolkit for animal shelters to help them respond to the needs of their communities and we are always in close contact with our Shelter and Rescue Partners to share information. We continue to urge state and local officials to include animal needs in their planning for response to Coronavirus. We have worked with 35 states to ensure animals are included in COVID-19 response orders.
Our Pets for Life program, which supports pet owners in underserved areas, has delivered additional supplies to senior and immobile clients and is modifying spay/neuter and veterinary appointments to maintain those valuable services within guidelines. We are shifting our client visits to phone outreach and modifying our delivery of food and medications to avoid close contact for at-risk clients.
In many states throughout the country, such as Texas, Indiana and Oregon, we are working with local food banks to coordinate donations, assist with delivery and share resources online.
But despite the pandemic, we are charging ahead with all forms of animal protection, whether that takes place out in the field, through our work with policy makers or in the courtroom. For example, our attorneys are working with other organizations to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to consider Endangered Species Act protections for giraffes. We also worked with Nordstrom to develop a company policy that bans fur and exotic animal skins. To see what else we’ve been up to, visit humanesociety.org.
Over the years the Humane Society of the United States has made a difference in the lives of so many animals and furthered the fight to protect and care for them. Since you’ve been with the Society, what has been your proudest accomplishment?
KB: I have been with the Humane Society of the United States for almost 30 years in several roles before my leadership position as CEO. Within that time, I have witnessed countless forms of cruelties that animals have endured. I have also seen the countless ways that our organization has been at the forefront to stop these cruelties. I remember assisting in one of our 17 dog meat farm closures in South Korea and will never forget the horror that these innocent creatures faced. Being a part of our rescue team on the ground that day, and seeing these dogs go from being terrified in barren cages to being loved in their forever homes is something I will never forget.
The protection of whales, dolphins, and other wildlife has always been a priority for me. I have been fortunate to represent the HSUS and its affiliates in numerous meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the International Whaling Commission, and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. Securing protections for dolphins with successful litigation and landmark dolphin-safe tuna legislation, as well as leading a successful lawsuit over commercial whaling brought against Japan by Australia in the International Court of Justice is something I will always be proud to have been a part of.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
KB: While there are new challenges with transforming our annual gala into a virtual experience, the level of our celebrity talent and the focus of telling our stories remains the same.
This year we will be using new technology that will transport attendees into a magical 3D environment fully customized to take guests through a fantasy setting of flowery meadows, glamping-style yurts and a backstage barn to watch the main show.
Celebrities and speakers at the event will be augmented into the virtual reality. The platform also provides guests interactive opportunities such a virtual photo booth that allows them to take photos and make gifs with the background options of the ceremony or customized photo frames.
We know our supporters will miss the comradery of being together in one grand exciting New York City space – red carpet and all – but we promise to have an inspiring evening that will transcend their expectations! Our hope is that viewers will feel inspired and want to do something to join our fight to end cruelty for all animals. We understand that this year is different, which is why we are using innovative software to ensure the viewer experience will be exceptional.
For more information about the Humane Society of the United States’ To the Rescue! gala, visit www.humanesociety.org.