Insights from Mother Earth: My conversation with Jane Goodall

By Julie Castle

In June, I had the privilege of interviewing one of my personal heroes, Dr. Jane Goodall, for the Best Friends National Conference. More than any other individual in the history of western civilization, Jane has opened the door of understanding between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. While interviewing her, I couldn’t help but feel that I had the distinct honor of speaking with Mother Earth.

When she strode off into an African forest to study the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream in 1960, her work and observations were not well received by the old-guard, male-dominated wildlife research establishment. Here was this young woman with no formal training crashing their status quo. They objected to almost all of her breakthrough methods, protocols and conclusions. According to the orthodoxy of the time, you didn’t name animals you are observing, you numbered them. You didn’t interact with them, you observed from a distance. You didn’t attribute emotions — and certainly not intelligence — to them. Animals do not make tools; only humans make tools. Etcetera, etcetera.

But Jane didn’t need cognitive scientists from the 21st century to validate her intuitive understanding of animals. She’d been observing animals in the English countryside since she was a child, and as she has said: “I learned everything I know about animals in general from the dog I had as a child. He taught me that animals have personalities and minds and feelings, and what a true friend was.”

As discoveries in animal behavior and cognition in the last 20 years have confirmed, Jane was right and the old guard was wrong.

In 1986, she made the difficult decision to leave her beloved field work and become the full-time activist, ambassador and advocate that she has been ever since — first for chimpanzees and then for the entire planet. She realized that her life’s calling and her responsibility were greater than her personal preference to stay in the forest with the animals. She had hope that she could make our world a better place.

While it’s hard not to be inspired by Jane Goodall for so many reasons — her courage, her message of kindness in action, her defiance of convention, her insights and observations — the fact that she realized and willingly accepted that she was the only one who could be the face and voice for the chimpanzees, the natural world and ultimately the planet is astounding and humbling.

Those of us at Best Friends and in our movement are also called to a transformative cause: to end the killing of our animal friends in shelters across the country. And in our own ways, like Jane, we have set aside our personal life preferences in deference to saving the lives of pets in shelters.

Leading with hope is a theme I often talk about. It’s the crux of our movement. Because of the progress that communities and individuals have made in taking action to save animals’ lives, I am more hopeful than ever about the future. Looking to Jane’s example of hope and determination, we should have hope that the world can be a better place if we set out minds and our hearts to make it so.

When Jane started on her journey, she was faced with obstacles that seemed impossible to overcome, but she never lost hope for a better future for animals and the natural world around us. With her continued determination and vision, she has pioneered a bright future for the relationship between animals and humans. That same vision of hope is one that we at Best Friends share. We need the public’s help to reach our goal of achieving no-kill nationwide by 2025, and we look to Jane’s inspiring example as we continue to fight for homeless dogs and cats and their right to a thriving life.

I encourage you to watch my conversation with Jane. You’ll be as inspired as I am about the difference we can make in our world.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society