Want to be more open and inclusive at your animal well-being organization, but not sure where to begin? Looking at your current policies is a great starting point. This is what Allison Cardona of the County of Los Angeles Animal Care and Control and Alex Tonner, Paws for Life K9s, talk about in a huddle recording for the last Open Arms Challenge. The huddle was all about how letting go of old ideas can open new opportunities to processes that are equitable and inclusive.
“We’re an incredibly diverse county, and the one thing we’ve worked on is looking at our policies,” shared Cardona. “Because it’s one thing to say ‘open arms,’ but what are the policies and practices that may have unintended consequences and still be quite discriminatory?”
Cardona says that they started by looking at their adoption practices. No matter where you start, be sure you’re asking questions like: Are these policies serving us? Who are we excluding? Who are we benefiting? And what impact are they having on the animals?
“One of the policies we looked at was our adoption screenings and interviews for certain breeds of dogs. We really got curious about it more than anything. How many animals are we actually adopting out because of this? How many people are we turning away? We also interviewed our staff to see how they were trained to do the interviews and we also looked at our behavior assessments.” They realized that it was rooted in bias.
“Not intentionally, but here were these ideas of what a good home was. Fenced in yard, spending a lot of time at home, etc. We really took a hard look at that and said we’re going to do away with that entire system, teach our staff to have conversations and we’re going to look at our own biases,” said Cardona.
She shared that the biggest thing a person used as a marker for pass/fail was a ‘gut feeling.’ “I know this feeling and it’s almost always rooted in some stereotype or bias. So instead, we decided we’re going to trust people. We really want people to be able to adopt and support that bond. We’ve really done a complete 180 in about two years.”