by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.
When important social issues are at stake, it takes a special person to see the big picture. When the well-being of New Mexico’s animals is at stake, Robanne Harrison not only sees it, but backs it up with action. Robanne has been a stalwart force for Animal Protection of New Mexico (APNM) for over twenty years. She joined the board of directors twelve years ago and has been the board president for ten years. She helped shepherd APNM through major changes as the organization evolved from Sangre de Cristo Animal Protection to become APNM, the state’s premier agent of change on behalf of animals. She has been instrumental in the development of Animal Protection Voters and is also president of their board.
Robanne’s personal journey toward animal activism began in college. She spent much of her formative years in the south. In 1974 she was a sophomore pursuing a degree in art from the University of Georgia (UGA). It was during her time at UGA that she had an “aha” moment. As an art major, she was required to submit 25 drawings a week to her professor. After several weeks of students’ artwork depicting primarily dormitory scenes, the professor urged the class to get out of their dorms and sketch other aspects of life. He offered the opportunity for students to go to a local dairy farm where they could set up undisturbed and sketch rural life. Robanne took him up on the offer. As she sketched she became fascinated by the social behavior of the cows. She watched them interact, play, and nuzzle each other affectionately. They were as curious about her as she was about them. She realized that they were not dissimilar to dogs, and it completely flipped her thinking about livestock. Her family was supportive of her ethical commitment to become a vegetarian. It took a few years to complete the transition, and she has been a vegetarian for over three decades.
Robanne came to Albuquerque in 1987 to pursue her master’s degree in cultural anthropology at the University of New Mexico (UNM). She recognized immediately that New Mexico’s animals were in need of help. She became involved with Sangre De Cristo Animal Protection. Her interest in broader social justice for animals such as inhumane factory farming, fur farming and other forms of animal cruelty led her to become more involved and she eventually joined the board of APNM. Her vision helped APNM focus on systemic change. Robanne wanted change that was revolutionary. “To me, revolution means a change in society so that you can’t go back to the old way. That’s what I wanted to do for animals,” she says emphatically.
Robanne is proud of APNM’s work, particularly the legislation raising animal abuse from a misdemeanor to a felony, and the concurrent education of law enforcement and judicial officers about animal abuse. She is pleased to see so many issues that were considered fringe or inconsequential twenty years ago such as the relationship between animal cruelty and domestic violence now accepted as part of the mainstream. “Others see that we are a serious movement of intelligent, eloquent, committed and effective people.”
APNM is equally proud of and grateful for Robanne’s work. "Important movements have always been sustained by the unwavering and consistent efforts of those working away from the spotlight, and Robanne Harrison is just such a presence. Her steady hand has helped shape and reinforce the direction APNM has taken, and has contributed to its success over the years," says APNM director Lisa Jennings.
After completing her master’s degree at UNM, Robanne decided to stay in New Mexico. She is a member of the faculty of the Social Studies Department of Manzano High School in Albuquerque where she teaches economics and Advanced Placement world history. She leads with an intelligent and thoughtful demeanor, and is a stellar example to her students of how one person can make a difference in the world. The animals and people of New Mexico are fortunate to have Robanne Harrison as their champion. Brava, Robanne!
Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator. She shares her home in Cerrillos with her husband, dogs and horses.