Ok so I will attempt to keep politics out of this blog post as much as possible, but I felt that recent events in America could not be ignored. The horrific and inexcusable death of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 has caused global outrage that has not been seen since the sixties. Shock and anger can be seen in the protests that are happening in the US and around the world. This tragedy gave me cause to reflect on the relationship between BAME groups and the dog industry as a whole, in particular in terms of trainers and behaviourists.
As I have developed TheDoGenius, recruiting course writers and teachers from BAME groups has been almost impossible. I really wanted to try to represent an inclusive team, yet it seems that the profession attracts the stereotypical white, middle aged, middle class women, from relatively privileged backgrounds. Finding the minority amongst this majority is a difficult task.
Historically there appears to be a popular cultural perception or (misconception perhaps?) of people of colour and dogs. The narrative is long, often violent with examples shown in the media of law enforcement with German Shepherd dogs, lunging at the accused, or attacking protesters. According to the blog ThinkProgress.org, in 2013 the only people to be bitten by police dogs were black or Latino. According to the ThinkProgress story, in the 1980s, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department reportedly referred to young blacks as “dog biscuits”—a terrible legacy.
We have all heard to expression of dogs being ‘man’s best friend’ yet the historical context suggests that dogs were the white man’s best friend. According to Joshunda Sanders, ‘The cultural adhesive that bound dogs to white people did not extend to African Americans, in part because some of us were not considered fully human enough to make best friends of beasts. There is, too, the financial responsibility of adding a pet in a context in which families historically had less disposable income to expend on the needs of a dog; it made dogs a luxury not easily afforded.’ (2014). In more recent times the relationships between well-known BAME figures have been noted. The Obamas publicly enjoyed their dogs Bo and Sunny and showed them being part of their family. Oprah Winfrey enjoys the company of many rescued canine companions and African American stars in the music industry are ‘instagrammed’ with their dogs, as extensions of their own image perhaps.
Despite the rich and famous few, it still begs the question where are the BAME reps in the training and behaviour industry? Indeed, I could ask the question how many people of colour do you see at the dog park on a daily basis? I had a quick look at the research and the cultural and political aspects as ever are very influential in this issue. But the literature available is scant. It seems that nobody is very interested in researching this demographic dissonance. So, I ask you as colleagues, professionals, humans, what are we getting wrong and how can we do better at being inclusive?
Perhaps we should take a leaf out of our dogs book and lose the prejudice, try to be less conditional and love people as much as dogs.