Jane’s parents talked about her adoption story from a young age. Learn how their memories of The Cradle’s adoption process instilled an appreciation for the importance of communication that later shaped Jane’s life and career.
Evelyn and Donald Shaw were living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in the mid-1960s when they began the process of adopting a child through The Cradle (The Cradle worked with families in multiple states at that time). Eventually they were matched with a baby girl whose birth name was “Anne” during her 45-day stay in The Cradle Nursery. She would become their daughter, Jane Shaw.
“At the time,” Jane says, “The Cradle was concerned [with whether] babies were developing normally, so they would stay in the Nursery longer and have a series of doctor examinations. The agency did its due diligence to ensure that everything was progressing appropriately before a baby was adopted.”
For Evelyn and Donald, Jane was their “dream come true.” They returned to Michigan with 7-week-old Jane in the spring of 1968.
Talking About Adoption From an Early Age
The family moved to Palos Verdes, California, for a brief time before settling in northern New Jersey when Jane was 3. Over the years, Evelyn and Donald adopted four more children — all boys.
Stories about The Cradle were a constant in the Shaw household while Jane was growing up. They often talked about specific memories of the adoption process and moments from Jane’s childhood; many moments featured in the baby pictures sitting on top of the antique piano in the family’s living room.
Her parents told her that The Cradle was a prestigious organization and that it was highly selective when it came to approving and preparing the families who would adopt Cradle babies. When Jane was in middle school, her mother took her to Evanston, Illinois, to visit the agency.
Finding a Calling in Veterinary Medicine
Another constant in the Shaw home was pets, specifically rabbits and poodles. “I loved animals from a very early age,” Jane says. “I’ve always had a strong connection to them and to nature.” This connection inspired her to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine from Michigan State University.
Tragically, during Jane’s third year of vet school, her adoptive father suffered an acute heart attack and passed away at age 63. “It was one of the hardest times of my life,” Jane says. “He provided unconditional love and was one of my true champions.”
As the only daughter, Jane had always been “daddy’s girl.” It was difficult to deal with her grief while keeping up with the intense demands of school, but Jane persevered, becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1994. She went on to receive a Ph.D. in epidemiology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, in 2004.
During her studies, Jane’s personal appreciation for the human-animal bond — and her recognition of how supportive and healing it can be to share your life with an animal — grew into a passion that helped shape a new discipline in veterinary studies.
“What has happened over the past decade or two in veterinary medicine, and in our culture in general, is that animals have been recognized more and more as members of the family,” Jane says. “The closer our animals are to us, the greater our stress and anxiety when they get sick.”
Pioneering Veterinary Communication as a Discipline
When Jane became a veterinarian, she wanted to find a way to support other vets by giving them tools to support their clients when a pet is ill.
“How do I help my colleagues,” she wondered, “so they can be both effective and compassionate communicators who in turn can help their clients — pet families who are facing tough decisions or who are simply there for an annual visit? How do we enhance the way the vet works with the pet family to provide the very best care for the animal?”
The answer was veterinary communication, a discipline which Jane and a few others pioneered in the early 2000s, and which they continue to grow and advance today. Communication is now part of the curriculum in vet schools across the country, and it is widely recognized as key to positive clinical outcomes for veterinarians, their clients and animal patients.
Jane received tenure after seven years on the faculty of Colorado State University, and shortly after, she launched the first half of her intensive, two-part course on veterinary communication for third-year students. In the first part of the course, they work on gathering a detailed history from the client (the animal’s “story”) and on building a safe, trusting, supportive relationship. Students come back the following semester to work on the second half of the client interview: educating pet families and offering medical explanations both in understandable terms and in a logical sequence that leads to appropriate follow through.
In addition to her duties as an associate professor, Jane directs a specialized program within CSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine called the Argus Institute. Her responsibilities include teaching veterinary students compassionate communication skills, a clinic-support program staffed by veterinary social workers, a pet hospice program, and research to advance knowledge about veterinary-client communication and its benefits. Jane also leads workshops in communication for other universities and organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association.
While Evelyn is tremendously proud of her daughter, Jane is equally proud of her mother.
“My dad was always the one to say, ‘You can do it, you can do it,’” Jane says. “Now I’m taking on that role for my mom.” After Donald died, Evelyn went back to school to finish her bachelor’s degree. Since then she has completed a master’s degree and is getting a certification in English as a Second Language.
For 100 years and counting, The Cradle has built nurturing families and provided lifelong support to people whose lives have been touched by adoption. Faces of The Cradle is a celebration of their stories. Meet more of the people who make what we do possible and all the more meaningful.