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Historically, Black individuals and people of colour have not been equally represented in the animal welfare community. According to research shared by CARE, an American organization that is devoted to bringing diverse voices to animal welfare while also advocating for a more inclusive path to pet adoption, this was because economic hardship has been a way of life for many in the Black community, so animal welfare and animal rights have not been a high priority. However, the most frequently cited reason for this under-representation in the industry is that non-profit organizations are not making the necessary systemic changes due to the complexity and long-term commitment of building diversity within their organizations.
At Toronto Humane Society, we are committed to tackling our own barriers. In June 2020, we shared our response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and we made a commitment, a promise, to ourselves and to our community, to advocate for change. Before we can advocate for such change, the change had to happen inside of our doors. It had to happen within our own organization.
The commitment put forward an initial two-step plan. The first step was to hire an employee to help Toronto Humane Society create a foundation for a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Program. In July 2020, Subah Chhabra, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Specialist, joined us and launched a formal Six-Phase DEI Program. Phase 1 of the process resulted in the creation of a Strategic Imperative which answered why it is important for Toronto Humane Society, as an organization, to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are now wrapping up Phase 2 of the program, which contains the Current-State Assessment. The current state of Assessment aims to provide better clarity of where we stand today, what the perspectives of our stakeholders are regarding DEI, and to create DEI benchmarks for us to achieve as an organization.
The second part of our commitment was to launch a research project to assess our accessibility as a whole (programs, services, volunteer opportunities, and donations). This project has two phases; the first phase is to discover our service and accessibility gaps by using a Geographic Information system (GIS), and the second phase is to create and implement a plan of action to address gaps that are discovered. By addressing gaps in our service areas, we may discover that there are families with pets in need of our assistance who are currently not aware of, or have barriers preventing them from accessing, our services. By better understanding the barriers that exist, we will be able to help more community members who are in need and increase our life saving capacity. Currently, we are in the process of gathering and plotting the data. We look forward to seeing the outcome of this project, and better understanding how people interact with our organization as a whole.
Black History Month 2021 is more than a celebration and reflection of the Black Community. It’s about taking action towards a more diverse community. Toronto Humane Society hopes that by taking steps to better understand ourselves and our community that we can remove barriers for Black individuals and people of colour in the animal welfare community. As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed, until it is faced.”