Why We Need To Talk About Racism, Prejudice And Dog Rescue

Let me start by saying, I am a cis-gendered white female that has been in the rescue community since 2006. I have worked alongside many wonderful rescuers, met amazing adopters and like minded volunteers. Toronto has a very low homeless dog population, and despite Ontario’s dismal animal cruelty laws (many haven’t been revisited since the 1890’s) and the insanity of breed specific legislation laws, Toronto is a pretty OK place to be a dog.

However, throughout my ten plus years in rescue, I’ve continued to notice one consistent thing: it’s a lot of white women. Like a lot. Myself included. As years go by and I continue to photograph families and meeting new volunteers, the lack of racial diversity is unsettling. Out of the hundreds of families I’ve photographed, less than 10% of those photos have people of color in them. It is white washed and it is wrong. I’ve truly struggled with this, often venting to friends that the community isn’t diverse at all – mostly because it isn’t.

Here are the three major things I’ve witnessed in rescue:

Discrimination Against Adopters

In my early years in rescue I’ve encountered some uncomfortable experiences. Particularly refusal to adopt to families based on their ethnicity. “Don’t Chinese people eat dogs?” “Oh they will just feed the dog curry” or “You can’t trust immigrant families with dogs!”.

It further extended to “Oh! We have an application from a Jewish family, we’ll charge them more, they’ve got money”.

Making sweeping generalizations about families is horrible. If there were multiple applicants for a dog, it always seemed the white family took priority. It would always be a quick, passing remark. I was barely an adult when I started encountering this or overhearing it. I wish at the time I was better with confrontation but instead I distanced myself and focused my efforts elsewhere. I can assure you today if I were to come across the same statements, my issues with confrontation are long gone and have a zero tolerance for this.

The Saviour Complex

So many of the dogs that come into rescue come from poor areas. Whether it’s the rural United States or the city streets of South American cities, race is always implied. Many of the dogs that come into rescue in Toronto come from poor areas – whether it’s the rural United States or the busy streets of South America or Asian cities. No one ever thinks to give dogs who look abused or neglected a second opinion – no matter where they came from, whoever owned them was a bad person.

There’s refusal to acknowledge the socio-economic conditions these dogs came from. Many times, these dogs were loved, but their families couldn’t afford to feed themselves, never mind a dog, and therefore had to turn them out to the streets.

The most important aspect in these situations is that a Canadian, a white woman, rescued it. She plucked them out of their horrible conditions, she deserves praise. Not every homeless dog came from an abusive home, many do yes, but not all.

A Community That Isn’t Inclusive

While I continue to question myself and those around me as to why there is a lack of diversity in rescue, including volunteers and adopters, many questions remain. The ideal home for rescue dogs, is that of a wealthy one. If a dog isn’t in a home with a backyard, a million toys, pristinely kept, then it’s not good enough. It would be helpful if rescues posted that they are open and accepting, that is if they truly are. Accepting of race, nationalities, LGBTQ2S, religion and more. In today’s world, that can’t be implied. It needs to be stated.

When I told my friend Rodney, who is a person of color out of California, about this article he said: “I didn’t know that was a thing but now I think about it I never see pictures of anyone who isn’t Caucasian adopting a dog. Certainly no stories.” Are people of color simply not adopting or are they opting to go to breeders because rescues give them such a hard time?

Change Is Necessary

While I continue to question this issue, as to why there is a lack of diversity in rescue, including volunteers and adopters. The ideal home for rescue dogs, that is in the mind of a lot of people, is a wealthy home. If a dog isn’t in a home with a backyard, a million toys, pristinely kept, then it’s not good enough. Moving past appearances, there is something that the rescue community fails to do: be inclusive.

It would be helpful if rescues posted that they are open and accepting, that is if they truly are. Accepting of all races, nationalities, LGBTQ2S, religions, and more. In today’s world, that can’t be implied. It needs to be stated.

The future of animal rescue is working with the community, not against it. That means helping disadvantaged communities keep their pets, building affordable vet clinics, and providing resources and education. The days of white women swooping into communities over run with homeless animals, is far from over. However race and gender shouldn’t matter one way or the other in the rescue world, yet somehow it does.

I realize that being a white female has given me privileges. I have the time and resources to dedicate to pursuing my passions, in this case helping dogs. Even having a dog, and affording the daily extra costs of having a dog (or two, in this case) is not something everyone can afford to do.

It’s time to start talking about inclusivity in the rescue community as a whole. We must continue to help animals but keep in mind the myriad of socio-economic circumstances that make animals homeless. We’re not playing devils and angels here. Being compassionate should apply to people and animals. They shouldn’t be separate.

You can not end the homelessness of animals if you do not address the root of that problem. Oppression that keeps people in poverty, is that same oppression that keeps animals on the streets and dying in shelters.

We Want To Hear From You
If you’re a POC or LGBTQ who has had an experience with rescue that they would like to remark on, whether adopting or volunteering, we’d love to hear from you! Your voice matters.
E-mail nicole (at) redemptiondogs.com


  1. Francine Atkins Reply

    Very thought provoking article. I am an African American and I have been involved in rescue since 2008. I often wonder why I see so few people of color at meetings and adoption events.

  2. Doris Reply

    Thank you so much for writing about this! So many animal activists don’t believe there is racism in our movement. If we don’t acknowledge the problem, we can’t work on the problem.

  3. Amy Reply

    What a great read. As a woman of color, I’ve often remarked to my husband that I am the only person of color at adoption events, volunteer meetings, etc. It’s both sad and, at times, infuriating. I’ve often balked at how quick people in the rescue community are to demonize owners who have to rehome their dogs for financial reasons, or to go on rants about dogs they find homeless and in bad condition, but they never stop to think about the roots of what may have caused these dogs to be in these situations, or seem to care to do anything about it.

    I think the saddest part about it is that I will be ostracized and bitched at if I share this post on my newsfeed. White women everywhere will get defensive and angry about it, instead of using it as a starting block to open their minds and hearts. Thanks for writing it, anyway. It’s heartening to know I’m not alone in my thoughts.

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