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‘PET’ CLOWNS: Responsible ‘pet ownership’ regulations are racist, some scholars argue

The claims of racism ignore that rescuers and shelters have a moral and institutional obligation to the vulnerable animals they serve to ensure those animals are not placed in harm’s way.

GRACE BUREAU: The term “responsible pet ownership” has its roots in “racism, classism, and the White dominant culture.” That is according to researchers with the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection, who argued that some animal control policies perpetuate racial and income inequities in the United States. “Punishment to Support: The Need to Align Animal Control Enforcement with the Human Social Justice Movement” was co-authored by scholars at the institute who posited that animal control enforcement and punishment disproportionately hurt people of color and low-income communities.

The authors, led by Kevin Nolan Morris, University of Denver research professor and American Humane endowed chair, stressed the influence of racial biases on the problem. Not only driven by “racism, classism, and the White dominant culture,” the legal concept of “responsible pet ownership” is also “largely unobtainable for anyone in the U.S. other than white, middle, and upper-class individuals, their paper argued. This includes animal welfare practices such as “providing shelter, behavioral training or veterinary care.”

The authors also said that animal control policies can reinforce structural or racial inequities. They cite rabies vaccination requirements, anti-tethering laws, monitoring of “at-risk” animals, regulations for adequate care of animals, and investigations of cruelty, abuse and neglect, among other practices. Central to the scholars’ argument is the belief that systemic racism is rooted within the animal welfare and adoption systems… Adoption requirements vary by state and shelter, but common policies include access to yard space, provision of high-quality food, and proof of home ownership…

Published in October 2020, the paper gained attention this month from animal rights activist Nathan Winograd. In a June blog post headlined “The Racism of Low Expectations,” Winograd argued that Morris and his team missed the mark. Their conclusions “ignore that rescuers and shelters have a moral and institutional obligation to the vulnerable animals they serve to ensure those animals are not placed in harm’s way; which can and should be done using standards that don’t focus on a potential adopter’s skin color or size of their bank account, but on their ability to provide for an animal’s physical and mental health,” Winograd stated.

This convergence of social justice activism and animal welfare has gained traction in recent years. Though activists are tackling multiple human-animal justice issues, adoption requirements frequently draw the heaviest fire… Objectively, cultural differences and racial inequalities in the U.S. do exist. Racial demographics vary widely in average levels of education, median household incomes, mortality rates, and other statistical signifiers.

Blaming certain practices of animal neglect and abuse on cultural differences, though, contradicts some standing data. For example, a 2017 study — also co-authored by the University of Denver’s Professor Morris — found that when socioeconomic barriers were removed, race and ethnicity “were not primary determinants of veterinary service utilization.” The study provided service vouchers to white, black and Latino pet owners. When given the financial means, black and Latino participants were not deterred culturally from seeking veterinary care for their pets.

Moving forward, Winograd argued that “the animal protection movement must embrace an animal-centered approach.” If animal protection is the goal, then some “ways of relating to animals are better than others,” he opined in his June column. “Arguing otherwise isn’t animal advocacy; it is its antithesis.” SOURCE…


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