Since George Floyd was murdered on May 25th, I and the Potter League have stayed quiet about his death and the injustice surrounding it. During that time, I have been listening and looking at myself and our organization. How do we contribute to injustice and inequity, and how do we fight against it. First, I feel compelled to tell you where we have fallen short of where we should be to build a just and equitable society.
The board of the Potter League does not include any people of color, nor does our leadership staff. While I firmly believe that everyone in those leadership roles is compassionate, and would never knowingly contribute to any inequities or harm to others, we must acknowledge that equity, diversity, and inclusion have not been priorities for our organization and that lack of focus in itself does harm. I’m not sure I can tell you today what our clear path is to doing better, but I know we cannot keep ignoring our responsibility to include everyone in our community in the work we are doing. We will begin by acknowledging that we have not to this point been anti-racist, and commit to changing ourselves in the hopes of those changes radiating into the community we are so ingrained in.
Lack of diversity and inclusion is a problem in Animal Welfare as it is for Nonprofits in general. We haven’t been good enough and we’re still not. Saying we stand by protestors is still standing still, and we need to start walking. I know that we are a group of passionate and effective people, and looking back, we should have pinpointed this sooner, but we didn’t, and we’re sure to make mistakes as we try to change moving forward, but we will not stop. If we value diversity and inclusion and knew how to change the status quo, we likely would have already done it. We don’t know how, so we’re going to have to go outside ourselves and take an honest look inside to see what we find, and we’re going to need help.
Having pets as a part of our families is a positive experience that is shared across racial, ethnic and economic divides. There are people who care for pets throughout our communities and that common love for animals should bring us together, but historically we have not bridged our divides with our love for animals. The systemic forces that separate us are too strong for that alone to bring us together.
We know that systemic racism impacts animals and their owners. Black and Latino households are about twice as likely as white households to rent making it more difficult to find pet friendly housing. Because of the continuing legacy of redlining and other housing discrimination, segregated communities have been created where there are frequently few resources for pets. Most of all we must recognize our implicit biases that may guide who receives help, who can adopt an animal, and who may be passed over.
I think our programs serve everyone equitably, but I’m not sure we’ve examined them all closely enough. We practice what are called ‘open adoptions’ that attempt to remove biases of all kinds from the adoption process, we distribute pet food to anyone who is in need of economic help without questioning their circumstances, we provide subsidies for veterinary care to anyone in need, and our spay and neuter clinic provides discounted services for people from communities across the state without screening. I think all of these programs provide help for people from a broad cross-section of our community, but we’ve never tested that assumption. Frankly, we’ve never asked.
Now the real work begins with a focus on how we can truly and honestly bring people who have been marginalized into the Potter League family and remake ourselves into a community that consciously reaches out to people of color who don’t know who we are. I wouldn’t say the Potter League as an organization has been racist, but we haven’t been anti-racist.
So, I’m going to ask questions, listen and learn because, clearly, if we already knew how to be inclusive, we would be. As the Board Chair of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, our national professional association, the association is launching a new national initiative to transform animal welfare’s approach to diversity equity and inclusion at our June virtual conference. And we at the Potter League are going to hold conversations among our staff and listen to these experts in outreach, diversity, inclusion and equity. We’re going to review and adapt our recruiting and hiring practices to make the Potter League more accessible and inviting to all animal lovers, regardless of race or personal circumstance. The time to take actions that will result in greater diversity is now because people of color who live with companion animals need a greater voice in decisions that may affect them.
Racism has infected every part of our society and the way we see our relationship with animals has not been immune to systemic racism. That needs to change and we are committing to being part of that change.
Brad Shear, CAWA