Companion Keeper
Written by Ava   

Kate Natrass Atema  is a companion in her own right.  As the Companion Animals Program Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) she's a best friend both to cats and dogs and to the people that benefit from the many community projects around the world which she coordinates. in order to help cats and dogs. 

More so, she's a teacher, who teaches her students, peers, and animal lovers how to do the same.  Still, what's one Companion Animals director with an organization behind her to see her through.  The International Fund for Animal Welfare was originally founded merely to stop Canada's baby seal hunt but now has grown worldwide to help animals (like companion animals) in 15 countries.

We had the chance to talk to Kate about her role at IFAW and how animals around the world are benefitting from IFAW treatment.

What do you do in your role as Companion Animals Program Director?

My job is to ensure that we are doing the best work for as many dogs and cats around the world as possible. 

On the one hand, that means helping our community projects in Bali, Russia, South Africa, Mexico and other communities to ensure that they have all the tools to be as effective as possible. On the other hand, that means knowing what is happening for dogs and cats the world and tailoring our resources to address the needs. It means drawing on the best lessons from our work and teaching others how to implement the kinds of model projects we have improved through years of experience. 

What is the International Fund for Animal Welfare and what is its purpose?

The International Fund for Animal Welfare was founded in 1969 to stop Canada’s baby seal hunt. Since then, we’ve grown in size and ambition. We now have offices in 15 countries helping animals all over the world. Simply put, we help animals in crisis.

What are some of the specific issues dealing with animals that you cover (for example, the elephant ivory trade)

We organize our work into six areas: Seals, Elephants, Whales, Companion Animals (Dogs and Cats), Emergency Relief (helping animals  in  disasters), and  Wildlife Trade that is, trying to stop the buying and selling of endangered species.

Each of those areas faces immediate threats. For seals, the focus is the Canadian seal hunt. For whales, it’s commercial whaling, and threats from ocean pollution. Our projects for dogs and cats are predominantly in very poor communities with limited access to veterinary care. Emergency Relief has focused on natural disasters and oil spills. The elephant program is focused on the fragmentation of elephant habitat. Finally, the wildlife trade program has prioritized shutting down the ivory trade worldwide.

What are you doing for the animals in Haiti?

Haiti is an example of emergency work that turned into a long term project. Immediately after the earthquake our work (along with a coalition of like-minded NGOs) began with basic veterinary care – vaccinations and treatment of animals left vulnerable by the disaster. However, one basic tenet of our emergency work is to “leave something behind,” meaning we aim to make the environment for animals better than it was before the earthquake. To that end, IFAW and other groups are partnering on a long term plan for Haiti’s animals. There was almost no infrastructure of capacity to care for animals in that country. We need to create that from scratch, train local Haitians to support it, and tend to an enormous amount of animal suffering. It’s a significant, long term task.

Tell me what some of the IFAW organizations are doing worldwide?

Not to get into semantics, but there is only one IFAW. We have a core group of people around the world committed to caring for animals in need. We are supported by the generosity of 1.2 million people who enable everything we do. What do we do? We do what we can. The recent CITES  (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)  meeting in Doha shows that much of the world thinks of animals as commodities to be bought and sold. We disagree. And we bring every resource we can muster to make that point both in the halls of power and in the world, everyday, where people risk their lives to protect animals.  

We have rescue teams still trying to put the world back together for 700,000 dogs and cats in Haiti, and rescuing dolphins from the beaches of the U.S. We have rehabilitation teams rescuing and rehabilitating rhinos, elephants, birds, bears, tigers and many other animals around the world.  

And we have teams that work around the clock, every day of the year, rescuing and caring for dogs and cats in some of the most impoverished communities in the world.

How does helping animals make it a better world for people?  

This is an interesting question. The answer depends what your values are. If you think an animal is a commodity, only valuable as a seal fur coat or an ivory knickknack or something that can put a few dollars in your pocket, then protecting animals is a waste of time. We think of the fate of animals as intricately intertwined with our own. We take the long view. We don’t just do this because we love the dogs and cats that share our homes, we do, but we also look at protecting animals as a measure of our own humanity. We look at it as a moral duty to protect animals which are, after all, completely vulnerable to the whims of humanity. We protect animals because we can. At the end of the day, it’s a choice. Everything dies, but we can choose compassion and respect over violence and greed. The choice to protect animals is as much about exercising compassion, restraint, resourcefulness, and economy as it is a love and wonder for the natural world. And as a practical matter, our ultimate survival depends on the conservation of  the world we have inherited. When the last animal is gone, we will be the next to go.  

Can you name some of the big things that the IFAW has done for animals? List some examples/anecdotes.

We stopped Mitsubishi from building the world’s largest salt factory in a whale nursery in Mexico. The plan was to put a giant industrial complex in the middle of the pristine habitat of the Pacific grey whale. We saved an entire species of penguin after an oil spill off the coast of South Africa, cleaning and rescuing more than 20,000 penguins. We stopped Canada’s baby seal hunt once (and are hopeful we are about to do it again.) We convinced Russia to end its seal hunt and eBay to stop selling ivory on its site. We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats in the poorest communities in the world. We like to say that maybe you haven’t heard of IFAW, but you’ve probably heard of our work.  

What can the average person do to help animals in their own way even if they don’t have the resources that you do?  

Get involved. We need the help of anyone who cares about animals. There is plenty to do that involves more than money.

How can one get involved in helping animals?

Visit: or contact us by email. We have many opportunities to volunteer or take action.

You can also volunteer at your local shelter, wildlife rehabilitation clinic, or environmental protection group.

What are some things the world can do to be more animal conservation conscious?

Adopt a pet from your local shelter . Most of our supporters love animals because they first fell in love with a pet. Live a greener life. Establish economy and restraint in your own consumption. Take only what you need and respect the natural world. Treat animals and the environment as a gift and inheritance. Challenge yourself to preserve the natural world and pass it on to your children and grandchildren in better health than you found it. Court a sense of wonder. We only get one go-round, make it count.  

What are the future goals of IFAW?  

IFAW’s goals for itself always rest on two principles, trying to help as many animals in crisis as possible and honoring the generosity of our donors by using their money responsibly.