Dark History, Brighter Future
Black History Month offers us the chance not only to celebrate the triumphs of the black community but to reflect on the long journey it has taken for them to get to this point. Theirs is a history of pain and perseverance, of fear and the fight for equal rights. These factors have shaped the black community and left indelible scars on the human psyche, but if there is one thing to take away from this dark chapter of our society, it is the amazing ability to take that which was used to oppress and control citizens of their race and make it their own.
Unfortunately, the history of interactions between animals and members of the black community has not always been one of companionship. For many years, man’s best friend was often used in brutal tactics to control and instill fear in people of color. Fear has been a powerful tool in mitigating the fraught relationship between black people and animals, particularly dogs. Long before their role as household pets, dogs have most often been utilized as hunting companions and for protection. The Civil War era offers one of the more poignant examples of when skills originally trained for survival were turned against our fellow men. Slaveowners in America would often use dogs to keep their slaves in line or hunt them down should they try to run away. Fast forward 100 years, to dogs being used to exert aggressive force on Civil Rights protestors. An innocent animal has been forged into an instrument of hate and violence, leading generations to become conditioned with fear.
However, there are many in the black community who choose to nurture beautiful bonds with animals despite horrific incidents in the past. Since the early 20th century, more and more black households started claiming dogs and cats as their own. For some, owning a pet was a way to emulate a higher standard of living like what they saw occur in the white communities, a chance to be seen as equal. For others, these animals simply became part of the family.
Social and economic inequity continues to affect how pets interact and thrive within the black community. While there has been a steady growth in pet ownership over the years in black households, they still have some of the lowest ownership rates of any racial demographic. This can be attributed to the fact that BIPOC people make up nearly 24% of the poverty population as of 2019, without proper access to pet healthcare services or the financial freedom to provide for both an animal and their family.
Luckily, there are those who are fighting to make basic necessities and services for pet owners more accessible, so that every person has an equal opportunity to experience the joy and unconditional love that animals can offer. While veterinary medicine remains a predominantly white field, more and more black vets are discovering their future in this career and bringing their services to neighborhoods that need it most. This in turn helps expose younger generations to possible options for their future they may have never considered simply because they had never seen it in action. “I grew up thinking I was going to be one of the first Black veterinarians because I had never seen any,” says Dr. Tierra Price in an interview with TIME magazine in 2020. When those in marginalized communities are given the opportunity to see people who look like them thriving in interesting and different occupations, it can kickstart a cultural revolution with the power to change the course of so many lives.
By celebrating the successes of those around us, we create an inclusive, collaborative environment where everyone can achieve greatness. Offleash’d aims to inspire our users to foster these safe spaces where each person has a seat at the table. Join us in honoring Black History Month as we continue to amplify black voices and stories in our local and online communities.
Pet Keeping and Pet Hiding in Black America - US History Scene
Poverty Rates for Blacks and Hispanics Reached Historic Lows in 2019 (census.gov)
African Americans changing life for pets | Best Friends Animal Society
Black Veterinarians Say The Field Needs Racial Diversity | Time