So as Black History Month comes to a close, we wanted to shine light on what role racism was and is still playing in the world of pet ownership and care. As we start to dive in, knowing we’re only touching the tip of the ice-burg, it becomes grossly apparent just how deeply racism is still effecting members of the Black and Brown communities, and we wanted to celebrate Black History Month by doing what we do best– educating.
In ‘The Transparent Shelter: Building Trust With Your Community,’ Kristen Auerbach analyzes the history of animal sheltering and its impact on poor communities throughout history. Government-funded animal control in the US was created in the mid-1800s as a way to control and ‘destroy’ free roaming dog populations (and prevent the spread of rabies). But there was a problem – owned, purebred dogs, dogs of ‘value,’ were also being destroyed, and thus, dog licensing was born.
When a dog was picked up by animal control, it was held for a period of time (usually only 24 hours) to allow an owner to come forward. To reclaim a dog, the owner was required to pay an impound fee; if they couldn’t pay, their dog didn’t make it out alive. Unlicensed dogs could be removed by animal control at any time – sometimes, straight out of their owner’s arms. These laws were designed to restrict pet ownership to the wealthy and make pet ownership inaccessible to poor communities. In many ways, our animal welfare system hasn’t really changed.
Licensing laws are just the tip of the iceberg. In ‘Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon,’ Bronwen Dickey delves into the connection between breed discrimination and racism. In an article written in 2016, Dickey says, “When people talk about pit bulls, they often reveal their opinions on class and race issues while using the dogs as proxies… There is all this coded, racialized language like ‘thug’ or ‘gangsta’ or ‘dealer.'” Breed Specific Legislation in communities and housing restrictions to renters often force those with pit bulls to choose between giving up their dog and losing their home.
And when it comes to dog professions (like training, grooming, and veterinary practice), the lack of people of color is staggering. In ‘How to Support your BIPOC Dog Training and Dog Sport Friends, Ayoka Bubar states that she is “often the only person of colour at a dog show, or trial,” and lists ways to help empower POC in the dog world. #1 on her list? “Listen to us: When we find the courage to tell you about our challenges. Sit down, and listen. We don’t need you solve our problems, we don’t need you to tell us it will be okay. We certainly don’t need you to change the subject because you are uncomfortable. We need you to bear witness to our pain.”
It’s time for us to listen. As the world comes together in support of the #blacklivesmatter movement and while celebrating Black History Month, it’s time for each and every one of us to take a step back and consider how we are perpetuating racism in our own lives.
When looking for amazing places to shop, eat, and have fun, please consider supporting a local black-owned business. Our friends over at Canine To Five Detroit have a wonderful list of amazing Black-owned business that would love our support. Check out this list of black-owned Detroit restaurants, while you’re at it.
Watch a Presentation: ‘The Transparent Shelter: Building Trust With Your Community’ with Kristen Auerbach (there is a LOT to dissect in this lecture, but the part relevant to this post begins at 13:02)
Read an Article: ‘The racist story behind the pit bull’s fall from American icon to demon dog’
Read a Book: ‘Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon’
Learn how you can do your part: ‘How to Support your BIPOC Dog Training and Dog Sport Friends’ from Ayoka Bubar, CPDT-KA
–And remember that this is just the start of the conversation. So let’s come together and start to work towards a greater, more inclusive, and stronger tomorrow.
*A quick note here on the use of the word ‘ownership’ in terms of dogs and other animals: this is not a term that we typically use to describe the relationship between human and animal. We believe that a relationship is just that – a relationship. We work together to communicate and build trust with one another, not to control or force an animal into compliance. In this post, we are using it in terms of legal ownership as, by law, dogs are considered to be property.
Written by Margo Butler, CPDT-KA