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Celebrating Black History Month (2/26/2021)
February 26, 2021

As we look at our research over the past month, we see several photos of Black men, women, and children caring for, rescuing, or bonding with animals, whether it be their own pets or animals in need of help. In much of our research on the history of animal shelters and animal welfare specifically, photos of African American animal advocates are only in the archives of libraries. In several of the photos we found, the people are unnamed. When their names are included, an additional search of their name doesn’t yield much. This truly highlights the lack of appreciation for African American animal advocates throughout history and the lack of diversity of voice and representation throughout the history of animal sheltering and pet ownership. 

This week, we wanted to share some of the photos we found with you all. While we don’t have names for all of the men, women, and children shown, we have shared their names within the description when we do know them. These animal advocates and animal lovers are pictured most frequently in Philadelphia and were instrumental in caring for animals in this region in the 50s-70s. We also take this week to recognize the many other African American pet owners and animal advocates whose contributions to animal sheltering and animal welfare (past and present) are undocumented completely. 

All photos are "Courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center. Temple University Libraries. Philadelphia, PA." 

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“SPCA animal rescue van” - Taken 12/22/1952 

-“An SPCA worker is helping a dog out of Women’s SPCA of Pennsylvania van.”

“Annual dog-dunking service” - Taken 5/29/1973

-“Annual dog-dunking service to ride pets of ticks and fleas, gets under way at the Pennsylvania Societyof the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at 350 E. Erie ave. Charles Hartrung handles the dipping job for Dusty, pet of ten-year-old Brenda Harley, of West Philadelphia.”

“Neglected horses removed by SPCA” - Taken 3/23/1972

-"Neglected horses and ponies were removed from the North Philadelphia property by agents of the Women's SPCA. Agents Robert Gordon and John Jefferson inspect one of the animals. Small boxes at left and rooms of the house at left were used to house the animals. Many larger animals (horses) were kept in barn in background. There horses lived in five foot high piles of their own dung."

“Veterinary care provided at the SPCA” - Taken 3/7/1974

-“William Bolden waits with Ba-Ba who has to have an injured paw treated.” 

“Pups being removed from hole under street” - Taken 10/6/1965

-“Employees of the Women’s SPCA dig for pups in hole under street.”

“New Women's SPCA hospital opens" - Taken 12/3/1975

-"William Mitchell, emergency ambulance driver, arrives at the emergency entrance of the new hospital."

"Peanuts the dog” -Taken 12/17/1964

-“Peanuts the dog is fitted with an aluminum cart by Howard Krawitz and Whitfield Thompson at the West Park animal hospital in West Philadelphia.”

“SPCA catches cat” - Taken 1/31/1963

-“A uniformed employee stands on the roof of the “Ambulance for Small Animals,” while attempting to catch a cat on a nearby roof.

“Orphaned puppy” - Taken 10/6/1965

-“Orphaned puppy, one of two pulled from a cave like hole in a lot...lies atop a mound of dirt as George Jonson, ambulance driver for the Society for the Prevention and Cruelty of Animals, reaches back in the hole to search for any remaining pups.”

This month, we have highlighted African Americans who have had an immense impact on animal welfare, animal sheltering, and veterinary medicine. 

In our first week, we highlighted several African American men involved in the beginnings of animal sheltering in the tri-state area including Ernest Cooke, Rufus Caldwell, and Charles Spencer (supervisor at the Pennsylvania SPCA). We also dug into the history of animal sheltering and the barriers that exist to pet adoption for African Americans in The United States of America. Read our first article HERE.

The following week, we celebrated Black Veterinarians everywhere and highlighted the phenomenal Veterinarian, Dr. Lila MIller and her amazing contributions to veterinary medicine and the advancements of shelter veterinary medicine. We also looked at the demographics of Veterinarians and veterinary students in the U.S. and highlighted some reasons that the profession has remained overwhelmingly white. Read our second article HERE.

Last week, we highlighted a dynamic duo of married, Black Veterinarians who have been paving the path for future generations of Black Veterinarians, Dr. William Draper and Dr. Francoise Tyler. We dug into the importance of representation in the field of veterinary medicine as well as Dr. Draper and Dr. Tyler’s efforts to bring the Black voice and experience to forefront in the field of veterinary medicine. Read our third article HERE.

This week, we highlighted the voices and advocacy of African Americans in animal sheltering and animal welfare who remain underrepresented or unnamed completely. We also take this week to note, this is not the end of the story. Our highlights and articles are by no means an exhaustive representation of the history of African Americans in animal welfare, animal sheltering, and veterinary medicine. We also note that words without action are empty. That is why this week, we also look ahead at what is next. 

So what now? What can we do as an organization? What can you do as an individual? How do we turn our words and learning into action towards inclusion, representation, and racial diversity at Morris and in our lives? 

We have linked a few articles below that provide actionable steps of accountability for ourselves as an organization, for ourselves as individuals, and for our supporters as individuals:

-Article One: Outline of direct actionable items that our Board of Directors is taking to create lasting positive change at Morris, to increase diversity on the Board level, and to ensure that we are inclusive in our hiring practices and adoption approval practices.

-Article Two: Researching common barriers to adoption that limit adoption approval to a small subset of people and not all loving, pet parents. Inject those learnings into our adoption approval practices.

-Article Three: Provide alternative ways of thinking to help acknowledge and eliminate implicit and explicit bias when talking about adoption centers in predominantly black neighborhoods and African American adopters. (2) 

-Article Four: Steps to reducing systemic racism in animal shelters from hiring practices, to event locations, and more.

Saving animals is for everyone, loving animals is for everyone, healing animals is for everyone. One of the articles quotes the senior director of culture and talent José Ocaño at Best Friends Animal Society summarizing the importance of inclusion and diversity in animal sheltering. Jose says, “If we continue being exclusive, whether its intentional or not, we have no right to gripe that animals are dying because we are part of the problem - If you are not making (diverse) people an integral part of what you do, then you aren’t saving as many animals as you can and that's a missed opportunity.” (article four).

Happy Black History Month - let’s hold each other accountable and ensure our learning extends beyond one month. 

Author: Sarah Meding