Module 7: Get to Know a Shelter

Social Justice in Animal Welfare

Animal shelters and rescue groups – like the veterinary profession – have long lacked diversity in leadership, staff, and volunteers, who are overwhelmingly white, female, and prosperous. There is ample evidence that this lack of inclusivity prevents shelters from fully serving the needs of their community.

The following commentaries are offered by leaders in the animal sheltering field as they look inward at their personnel, mission, and operations. They are offered for optional review by readers of this textbook who would like to explore current conversations and resources about race in animal welfare.

Fair warning — this topic is fraught and complex, so be kind to yourself and others.


What the Blogosphere is Saying

The Sniff logo

Recognizing and Dismantling Racism in Animal Rescue

By AJ Albrecht

Black Lives Matter.  I’m proud to see how many fellow animal rescuers and advocates have shared these words over the past week. But I also find myself pausing and reflecting on how much racism is at play in the dog and cat rescue world. For years I’ve said I would write a blog about this. I’ve never built up the courage. I’ve convinced myself I’m not the right person to hold the microphone. But I’ve kept a list of ways that rescuers and organizations reinforce structural racism within our movement, and I’ve thought a lot about how we can do better. And I want to share it with you.

These are things I have seen over the years. Some of them are things I have done. And the ideas for changes are just that–my ideas. They are not perfect. I haven’t tried them all. But I can’t stay silent.

Adoption requirements that are a coded way to “weed out” adopters from marginalized groups.

  • Refusing to consider people who don’t own their own home.
  • Refusing to consider people who don’t have yards, or fenced in yards.
  • Refusing to consider people who live a certain number of miles from your community.
  • Refusing to consider people who don’t feed the high quality food you feed.
  • Refusing to consider people who don’t have a relationship established with a vet.

Instead: consider any home where the pet’s needs will be met and they will be loved. Make a conscious effort to recognize when you are biased toward adopters who look like you, or whose homes are similar to yours, or you share a lot in common.

Read more  . . .

Ann Dunn with cat

By Anne Dunn

Director, Oakland Animal Services, California

I want to share my thoughts on our industry and the incredible opportunity we have now to begin again, cooking social justice into our foundation.

The animal welfare industry lives at the intersection of white privilege and systemic racism. What is important to understand, and accept, is that we are all biased, and racist to some degree, but that doesn’t mean we’re monsters. If you work in animal welfare, you are probably a good and compassionate person, but, if you are white, you may also be unaware of the extent to which you are a product of this culture, or the ways in which that both benefits you and harms others.

Read more . . .  Anne Dunn_Racism & Animal Welfare

Toronto Humane Society logo

At Toronto Humane Society, we strongly condemn all acts of racism including police brutality and racial profiling against the Black community. We recognize that this is not just an issue we see in the United States, but one that exists globally and right here in our own backyard. Systemic racism will not be fixed by one organization or one voice, it is going to take society to come together to make this change. The humane community we have been fighting for cannot exist so long as systemic racism does, and up until now we have been structurally blind to its impact and effects on and within our organization.

Read more  . . .

Try This

Implicit bias infographic

Project Implicit: Complete a self-test for implicit bias (15 min)

The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key.

Explore This


“We believe in the inherent goodness and dignity of all people. Ex-offenders, People without Homes, Seniors, Renters, Families with Small Children, and Yes, People of Color. To that end, CARE’s mission is to bring diverse voices to the Animal Welfare industry while also advocating for a more inclusive path to pet adoption. CARE is using evidence-based tools and narratives to inspire organizations to be more inclusive and less biased. All in an effort to save more companion animal lives and elevate the value of all human life. CARE believes this effort is the defining challenge for the Animal Welfare field. How does a humane movement move forward with love and compassion for all the people? Ultimately, if we want people to adopt from shelters and rescues versus acquiring pets from other sources, we must become more inclusive and welcoming to all types of people and the varied lives they lead.”

Read more on the CARE website  . . .



Hear This

Listen to A Profession in Crisis: Discrimination in Veterinary Medicine (7 minutes)

“Diversity is one of the most critical challenges facing veterinary medicine today. Beyond the indisputable fact that our profession is one of the least racially and ethnically diverse in the nation, it can no longer be ignored that the future relevance of our field hinges upon the growth and development of a workforce that more closely resembles the American population at large. The veterinary community has discussed and explored the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion enough. The time for talk is over. The time for decisive, committed action is now.” – Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association

Portrait of Sterling Davis, TrapKing

Listen to Sterling Davis, the TrapKing, talks about race, cat women, and being a Black man advocating for cats (43 min)

“I think being a black man in cat rescue is rare, and my experiences going into black neighborhoods to trap cats have given me insight into what needs to be done to be more inclusive. We need to build trust. Black people think white people are coming in there to mess things up. They think they only care abut the cats and not about them, so they don’t want them there. We can fight against stuff like that with unity and with working together.”

Read This

Marceau Book Cover

Beyond Cages: Animal Law and Criminal Punishment

By Justin Marceau

“For all the diversity of views within the animal protection movement, there is a surprising consensus about the need for more severe criminal justice interventions against animal abusers. More prosecutions and longer sentences, it is argued, will advance the status of animals in law and society. Breaking from this mold, Professor Justin Marceau demonstrates that a focus on ‘carceral animal law’ puts the animal rights movement at odds with other social justice movements, and may be bad for humans and animals alike. Animal protection efforts need to move beyond cages and towards systemic solutions if the movement hopes to be true to its own defining ethos of increased empathy and resistance to social oppression. Providing new insights into how the lessons of criminal justice reform should be imported into the animal abuse context, Beyond Cages is a valuable contribution to the literature on animal welfare and animal rights law.”  –  Amazon



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