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Necessity of Antiracism Work in Animal Training

There is a glaring inequity in the representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals in the animal training and animal welfare industries, and a vast number of obstacles exist that disproportionately obstruct BIPOC individuals from pursuing their passion for working with animals. The overwhelming majority of my early education and supervised experience came from other white men and women, and I remember clearly the first time my eyes were opened to the impacts of white privilege on my interactions with my clients.

I was working a private lesson with a fearful pup who had been charged and bitten by an off-leash dog. We were discussing strategies to discourage approaches from dogs they might encounter in the future, and I began to rattle off a list of suggestions, including that the team carry sprayshield, a compressed and concentrated citronella spray that can be used to deter an approaching dog. I showed them a picture and explained how it worked. My client was unbelievably kind as they smiled at me and told me they would not feel comfortable carrying that. If they passed by police, or if police were unfairly called on them for any false accusation, such as suspicion of failing to pick up their pup's poop (although they always did), carrying something that looked like pepper spray, a weapon, could put their lives in danger. The blood drained from my face as I realized that despite my internal belief that I was informed on and cognizant of social justice issues, I had failed to consider my client's experience, recognize the privilege in the advice I had been parroting, and the weight of the risk of what felt to me like a harmless suggestion as it rolled from my tongue, hit me like a ton of bricks. The biases and prejudices that exist in our society and in ourselves can entwine themselves in every facet of our lives. It is the responsibility of every member of a diverse industry aspiring for equity and inclusivity to actively work to dismantle these and approach all areas of our lives from an antiracist perspective. Antiracism work can take many forms but certainly includes seeking out the perspectives of and supporting BIPOC members of our industry, as well as a constant and proactive pursuit of education on the subject.

"Help the People and The Dogs: Allyship and Anti-Racism in Animal Advocacy" is an incredible webinar offered on YouTube by Kassidi Jones, Ph.D. candidate at Yale, pursuing her fourth degree in African American Studies, a first-time dog mom, and social justice advocate; with a special interest in zodiac and how it can help us to gain insight into ourselves. This webinar was produced by Every Dog Behavior and Training, an incredible non-profit organization that provides accessible training and behavior resources to the Austin, TX area and beyond. Please consider supporting these wonderful people by donating.

This enlightening webinar is filled with heart-wrenching accounts of the past, and how the dehumanization of black people remains interwoven into our society today. I will not offer a summary of highlights because there is no part of this webinar more valuable than the rest. It is not sufficient in our antiracism work to strive for shortcuts to consuming educational resources. Instead, I urge anyone reading this post to dive in fully, to sit and absorb every word spoken by those who are taking the time, and putting in the immense effort to provide education. Dedicating our time to listen is the bare minimum that we can do.

The cover of the book "Antiracism in Animal Advocacy" by Jasmin Singer, Aryenish Birdie, Michelle Rojas-Soto

"Antiracism in Animal Advocacy: Igniting Cultural Transformation" is a fascinating compilation of essays that explore the intersection of animal rights and racial justice. It delves into the ways in which people of color have been historically excluded or obstructed from animal advocacy and offers practical solutions for creating a more inclusive movement. A quote from the foreword written by Aryenish Birdie: "If you find yourself moving to the edge of your comfort zone as you read and engage with this content, I encourage you to pause and ask yourself why...

Think back to when the concept of animal rights felt difficult to confront and how you challenged yourself to grow, despite the reckoning you needed to face with your own participation in animal suffering. Liberations practitioner Andrea Ranae reminds us that 'antiracism is not an identity or a checklist; it's a practice.'"

This book challenges us to think critically about the impact of their work on marginalized communities and provides valuable insights into the experiences of people of color within the animal advocacy movement. By understanding the ways in which racism and speciesism are intertwined, trainers can become better advocates for both animals and people. A powerful call to action for trainers to become more aware of their own biases and to work towards a more equitable world for all beings. Additional Resources:

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