Dear New England,
The NEFHS has served as a platform to discuss important issues impacting the field of animal welfare for decades. We have hosted tense conversations regarding cat transports, open adoptions, and euthanasia decisions. Despite our track record of tackling difficult issues, not once have we facilitated a conversation to address the lack of People of Color (POC) within our field. Nor have any of our workshops addressed the disproportionate, negative impact many organizational, local, and state animal welfare policies and practices have on POC. These are pretty important topics to have missed.
With a fair amount of certainty, I can say that this isn’t due to a lack of realization. I’m not sure I have met anyone in the field who hasn’t commented on the homogenous (read: white female) make-up of animal welfare. In 2005 (15 years ago), Sue-Ellen Brown, published a commentary on a small study she conducted to gain insights into this issue. It’s a quick, but important read to start the journey towards understanding and action; Brown’s commentary can be found here.
Until our organizations look like the communities we serve, we cannot serve them well. I know many of you value this sentiment. Now it is time to take action. So, where do we begin?
I had the opportunity this week to speak with James Evans, President of Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE). James has had a long history of work in the animal welfare field, helping to develop important programs such as Pets for Life and Adopters Welcome. In his work with CARE, he is helping to, “…bring diverse voices to the Animal Welfare industry while also advocating for a more inclusive path to pet adoption.” With a focus on research and education, the work CARE is doing will be key to the changes needed in our field. James noted the importance of reaching out to Black and Brown leaders in your community to start the conversation. Look not only to the religious leaders in your community, but also those who are perhaps less obvious, such as well-respected coaches and local business owners. Start the conversation with listening to learn and better understand the needs in your community.
We also need to have some difficult conversations with ourselves and within our organizations. We need to address implicit bias through policy changes and staff training. There are many of you who have already begun this internal dialogue. It is important to realize that this is not a one-time conversation and must become a part of your organizational culture. If you haven’t come across this tool to assist your staff in understanding their own implicit bias’, I encourage you to check it out: The Implicit Association Test.
The NEFHS Board (primarily white and female) acknowledges the need for continued evaluation and learning for all of us, our Board included. It is important to prioritize this issue throughout the year, every year, until systemic racism no longer exists. The NEFHS is committed to providing resources to help you through this journey, as well as workshops in the Fall and at our Annual Conference to keep us all moving forward. Our Board will undergo a strategic planning process, including evaluating our succession planning this year; addressing the lack of representation by Black and Brown animal welfare workers will be a priority during this process.
In the meantime, if you aren’t sure where to start, reach out to James at CARE. Increasing diversity in Animal Welfare is their mission, and he is more than ready to help you start. We are also excited to have him join us in providing learning opportunities in the upcoming year. Stay tuned for details on these events.