Don’t Go There, That’s the Bad Part of Town
“Don’t go there, that’s the bad part of town,” is something people used to say to this week’s guest on the Individual Animal. When Kim Wolf lived in New York, people would tell her to stay out of neighborhoods because they judged people based on socio-economic and racial stereotypes. But Kim isn’t one to do what people tell her, because she knows that stereotypes don’t solve problems and that talking to individuals does.
Kim, a former AFF employee, has worked in both animal welfare and in human services. She’s always gone places people told her not to go and when she does, she makes sure she paves a path for people to follow.
Listen to the Episode
When she lived in New York, she ran a Facebook page called Dogs of New York as part of her nonprofit Beyond Breed. The page served as a window into the lives of other people, people just like us who love their dogs.
“Once you start talking about dogs, people tell you everything in their life.”
Kim Wolf and her dog Snickers, who is mentioned in the podcast.
Nikki, Regina, and Kim talk about the adoption barriers that crop up when age, health, and ability come into play. These barriers exist because there are a lot of “what if” fears when it comes to someone’s age and health, not dissimilar to the fears people have about “the bad part of town.”
We talk about what it means to be an “older adult,” (spoiler: it means something different to everyone) why you can’t judge health based on age, and why health conditions shouldn’t keep someone from adopting a pet.
Pop open a beer, pour some wine, or do the responsible thing and just drink some water and listen to the latest episode of the Individual Animal.
Read the transcript
Kim [00:00:00] And there’s. Oh, fun. So somebody just came to do the lawn, is that loud? Can you hear it?
Nikki [00:00:08] I can’t hear it at all.
Kim [00:00:09] OK.
Regina [00:00:10] I can hear it a little bit, but we’ll see how it goes, if it becomes a problem. I mean, I’ve podcasted it with people jack hammering outside my window. You know, stuff happens.
Kim [00:00:22] Yeah.
Nikki [00:00:22] And I have the fan on which is probably is a little bit annoying. OK. That’s off now.
Regina [00:00:29] Oh, it was your fan that I was hearing? That must have been the feedback I said I was hearing.
Nikki [00:00:34] Yeah. I forgot to turn it off. And then the lawnmower reminded me.
Regina [00:00:38] So I feel like we should leave this in as the introduction because once, ONCE I had a fan on because I was roasting in my room and Nikki would not leave me alone about having the fan on.
Nikki [00:00:53] So you turn it off and then.
Regina [00:00:57] I turned it down. I was so hot, I was sweating and she shamed me into turning this fan off. And now she had a fan on and I was like, what’s that noise? “I don’t know,” It’s a fan!
Nikki [00:01:13] I literally didn’t know what it was. Now it’s off and my hoodie is now off. I’ll be sweating.
Regina [00:01:23] All right. I will start.
Nikki [00:01:26] Yes.
Regina [00:01:28] Hi and welcome to The Individual Animal, a podcast about dogs, people and discrimination, as always. I’m Regina, and that’s Nikki.
Nikki [00:01:37] Hello. And today on our podcast, we have Kim Wolf. And I know I usually introduce like a name and a title, but I feel like, Kim, you have so many titles of all of the stuff that you do. So, Kim, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your past stuff you’ve done in animal welfare and what you’re up to today?
Kim [00:02:01] Sure. Sure. And thank you for having me. It’s really great to be here. I really enjoy listening to your other episodes. So I’ll start by saying that I used to work for Animal Farm Foundation. This was back in, I believe 2011 and 2012. I was a community outreach or community engagement, something of that sort of specialist. So I did a lot of traveling around the country, working with shelters and communities and other stakeholders really focused on breed-specific legislation back then, but also about “breed.” And I’m putting breed in quotes, kind of like we put “pitbull” in quotes, policies that existed in shelters in terms of adoptions. So making people go through special practices or policies to adopt a dog that they had label “pitbull.”.
[00:02:52] Before that, really since 2004, my work has focused on human services. I’ve done somewhat I call macro-level work, doing a lot of policy work at AARP’s headquarters in D.C. I was there for about four years. So looking at state and national policies and also programs that are designed to improve the lives of older adults and the people that love and care for them. I’ve also done a lot of hands on or direct practice working with older adults and also working with caregivers. So I’ve done that and a number of different cities up and down the East Coast, that included case management, but also advocacy. At one point I worked for an agency where we served as legal guardian for individuals that were adjudicated incapacitated and needs that needed somebody to look over their finances and their medical decision making, so and so forth. I’ve also worked for a number of animal shelters. I’ve worked for the Pennsylvania SPCA and most recently I worked for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, where I ran the community outreach department. One last thing I did as I worked for a human service agency in New York City for three years that served older adults but I oversaw a program that was designed to help older adults keep their pets at home with them and also keep the older adults living in their own homes for as long as possible. Right now, I am in Athens, Georgia, and I’m finishing my graduate studies. I’m pursuing a master’s degree in social work and also a master’s degree in public health with a concentration on gerontology.
Nikki [00:04:42] Now, while you were in Iowa, you…., was it? I don’t even know if it was when you were in Iowa or before you moved to Iowa is when you were introduced to Snickers. Right. Can you tell us that story? Because that’s a fabulous story.
Kim [00:05:00] I love to talk about Snickers.
Nikki [00:05:00] I figured.
Kim [00:05:02] So when I was in, when I was working for Animal Farm and this would have been, I believe 2011, we came across a case where a Chicago retired police officer named Jim Sack had he had a stroke that left him paralyzed on one half of his body. And he had a dog at the time named Snickers. And Snickers had just been a pet. Up until that point. But after the stroke, he and his, I believe, his occupational therapists trained Snickers to actually become a service dog for Jim. So Snickers was trained to help with some tasks related to Jim’s new disability. He did a lot of mobility work, balance work. If Jim ever fell out of the wheelchair or fell in general, he would use Snickers as a brace and to get himself up and Snickers would go get help and so on, so forth. They moved to a small town of Aurelia, Iowa, actually, to take care, to be closer to his wife’s mother, who was not doing well and needed a caregiver. And it just so happened that the town that they lived in, in Aurelia had a “pitbull” ban. So shortly after they got there, the city tried to, well, they did tell them that you either need to move out of Aurelia or we’re going to come take Snickers and impound him and have him killed. So Animal Farm got involved at that point and we kind of took on the case and we connected with an amazing attorney based in Des Moines, Iowa, named Sharon Valero and Michelle Warnock. And they provided legal reputation, real representation for this case. And it went all the way up through the federal court. And the judge who heard the case issued an opinion basically saying that “too bad you can have your breed specific legislation but Jim is disabled and he is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is a federal law that clearly states that breed or any perceptions, fears about a dog based on that type of category really cannot be used as a reason to deny someone their right to a service animal.” So this is a really groundbreaking case and it’s set the precedent for a lot of others that followed. Again, just emphasizing that breed can’t be a reason to deny someone with a disability, their service dog. And it was really a touching case for me to be involved with. But even more so several years later, when I moved out from New York City to Iowa, it turned out that Snickers previous owner Jim passed away and there was no one else who was able to take care of him at the time. And because of that, he was no longer a service dog. And so he was no longer protected by the ADA. Well, I happen to live near there. And I said, well, gosh, I’ll go get him. We’ll figure something out, but I’ll go get him. I got in the car and drove to Aurelia, Got Snickers, brought him back to Des Moines, where I was living, initially, just to try and get him to safety and figure out what we’re going to do. But I remember thinking on the way there, even before hand, I was like, man, it would be so nice to adopt Snickers. I’ve been wanting another big dog, an older dog and man that would be so cool. And I guess the rest is history because I did get to adopt him. And there’s one more really special part to this story is, you know, he lived with me from 2016 on. And we he quickly became we were a certified therapy dog team. And we actually did a lot of work with the police because he had when Jim was working as a Chicago police officer, Snickers was kind of like the mascot for his unit and so Snickers spent a lot of time at the police department hanging out around police. And so I remember doing some therapy dog work with Snickers in Des Moines right after two police officers were shot and killed on the job. So Snickers went and got to bring some comfort to them. And to be honest with you, I think they brought a lot of comfort to Snickers because it was kind of like he was back around his people again.
[00:09:21] But eventually we, I moved to Georgia. I moved there in 2018 to pursue graduate work. And about four weeks after I started school, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So my whole life changed. And my physical and mental health changed significantly. I went through chemo for five months. I also had a double mastectomy surgery and it was really amazing because I live alone. I’m the only person but I needed somebody because I was starting to have a lot of problems with mobility and balance. I was falling a lot and it was really scary. And so it shortly dawned on me that, wait a second, Snickers has done this before. Snickers knows how to do this. And so I worked with him and he just picked up where he left off. And it was amazing how easy it was to transition those tasks from Jim to me. And so he would help me. There were times where I would fall or kind of lose my strength and end up on the floor and he would help me. I mean, he also came to chemo with me. And it was really wonderful. And I don’t know that I could have stayed in school and stayed where I’m living alone without Snickers because he really gave me my mobility and my safety and independence.
[00:10:49] So it really came full circle. And unfortunately, Snickers, he got diagnosed with cancer. So between that and his advancing age, you know, he was 12. He hung in there with me all through the process, all through chemo, all through my mastectomy. And I said good night to him last February. But he was there with me through it all. And he rang the chemo bell with me. He was really an amazing, amazing dog on so many levels.
Nikki [00:11:21] Now, I can’t talk because I’m crying.
Kim [00:11:23] Oh, yeah. He’s something else. And I mean, even before he was my service dog, say even doing therapy, dog work was so powerful with him. We did a lot of work. We did some episodes, some visits at a alzheimer’s unit. And, you know, sometimes dogs can be really uncomfortable around wheelchairs and people that use mobility devices. But snickers during the the final months of Jim’s life. Snickers with with Jim in a nursing home. So he was very accustomed to that setting. And I’ll never forget this one time where we were in the day room with all the individuals that were in the memory care unit and a man was wheeled in in a wheelchair and nobody was really paying attention to him yet. The dog, the other therapy dogs were there. They were all visiting with other people. But Snickers guided me like right over to that man and he just sat next to his wheelchair and was just kind of chillin with that man. I was like, Snickers, you get treats tonight. That is amazing. He was he was really cool. He was some.
Regina [00:12:40] Well send me some of your favorite pictures of Snickers because I know that people want to see stickers, so make sure you send me them. Yeah. So I will post them along with the podcast.
Kim [00:12:51] Absolutely.
Nikki [00:12:52] And you have another dog Kim that’s a pretty hilarious dog who I see on your social media. Who is maybe the opposite Snickers it feels.
Kim [00:13:05] Yeah, yeah. The reason why i was mentioning that I’m tired before! So my other dog is Cappie. I adopted Cappie in 2007 and Cappie is a very special boy and he’s also the reason why I tell people not to go by breed labels when they’re choosing a dog to adopt. Cappie was labeled as a pug mix and it turns out he is mostly pug. But in my mind, I didn’t know much about dogs back then. This is in 2007 and I thought Pug meant a dog that’s going to quietly like be a lap dog and just kind of be there but not really do a lot you know, one of those.
Nikki [00:13:43] Yeah.
Kim [00:13:44] And they said he was a pug. So I was like, well I need him, I need to adopt, you know, sight on seen. And I remember like when I went to the shelter to visit with him, I was so convinced of what a pug would behave like that I was just overlooking the fact that I’m pretty sure he crawled across the ceiling during that short visit. I mean, he was just on fire. But again, in my mind, I was like, he must just be having a bad day. He’ll settle down. Well, here we are twelve years later. He’s now like 13 or 14 years old and he does not skip a beat. He gets younger every day of all the dogs. It’s funny because, you know, people say that, like “pit bull” are so active and you need to be like this super active person and go on hikes. And I’ve managed to find that “pit bulls” that really didn’t fit that description at all. They were pretty chill. Yet as Cappie, my pug mix, that man like you just can’t, there’s not enough activity that can be done to calm him down. So I like telling that story when people insist on using breed labels to match people with pets. You really do have to look at the individual dog.
Regina [00:14:53] Yeah. That’s actually that’s going to go into one of the topics that we’re going to discuss today, which is that we want to touch on ageism and ableism and animal welfare, especially as it relates to adoptions. But before we do that, I do this is an interesting tidbit about you that I didn’t actually know until a couple of months ago that you ran the Dogs of New York Facebook page.
Kim [00:15:19] Yeah, I did. I actually started a nonprofit called Beyond Breed that’s still active. I started that in 2013. And it was really to focus on the human-animal bond and different ways that we can support the human-animal bond for everybody, not just for people that have all the resources privilege in the world, but for, so that everybody can experience that. So we do a lot of direct services helping pet owners in need, but we also do other projects that are really intended to challenge some stereotypes about people and challenge discrimination that occurs. And one of them, one of the projects is Dogs of New York. So it’s a Facebook page it’s been kind of silent lately, but we have like over a thousand photos on there of people that I met in New York City just out walking our dogs. None of this was preplanned we didn’t put a call out for people who wanted to be included this was all organic, spontaneous. And I really spent a lot of time outside the well-known part. New York City. So know I wasn’t going to Central Park much, I was really going to the areas that weren’t as well-known and really had been associated with places that people would tell me, don’t go there. That’s the bad part of town. That kind of stuff. And I happen to live in an area with the highest violence, you know, violent crime rate. And you know, it is also a very diverse area. And so if people would tell me, like, don’t go there, it’s like, well, that’s not going to work they live there. But I really loved the neighborhood I lived in and I found that even though I was part of the 2 percent of people that were white, I found it very easy to connect with my neighbors because so many of us would connect over dogs. You know, they’d have a dog or I’d have a dog and we just start talking about dogs and then from there, you know. It’s funny people ask me like, well, how do you approach people? How do you get them to talk? Like, oh, that’s the easy part because they have dogs or we’re talking about dogs. The challenge is once you start talking about dogs, people tell you everything in their life. The challenge is actually ending the conversation. So I got to know so much about people through their pets, but really about their lives, about their experiences. And I tried to capture that on the dogs in New York Facebook page, giving people a platform to share not only what their dog means to them, but just, you know, who they are and what they want people to know. And I think in the process, it really helped break down a lot of these stereotypes about who a person might be as a dog owner based on where they live, based on the color of their skin, based on how old they are, based on what they choose to name their dog. All kinds of things and I really miss that. It’s a, New York’s such a special place because hardly anybody has a car. So you’re always walking, you’re always meeting people. I mean, it was such a wonderful place to be doing it.
Regina [00:18:21] I love the page. And I’m. I remember when I worked for Bark Box, it was a page that we all checked a lot because there were so many great stories.
Kim [00:18:32] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, one that comes to mind is I remember meeting this this gentleman. We were in bed sty neighborhood of Brooklyn, which, you know, it’s really been gentrified, unfortunately really. But back then it was not as gentrified as it is now. And there was a man who was walking his dog. And because it relates to the story, I’m going to share that this man was black, he was young and he had a “pit bull.” And I talked to him, as I said, man, that’s a really cute dog. And we started talking and I said, what’s your dog’s name? And he said, Danger. And he was pretty reserved at this point. And I said, oh, you know, one of the questions I love to ask people is, how did you come up with that name, rather than assuming things? You tell me how you came up with that. And he just started cracking up and like his whole persona just shifted. He was giggling. And he’s like, why did I name him Danger? Because he’s anything but dangerous. So, you know, I just noticed working in animal welfare and working with “pit bulls” that people are so quick to make assumptions and, you know, like they can look at a person’s skin color where they live, the type of dog they have and naming a dog Danger and like get actually angry at people. Like why would you name it danger? You just feeding into the stereotype. And it’s like, wait a second. Now, there’s so much more going on in terms of stereotypes and to think that like first of all like this person is not responsible for the stereotype. We’re responsible for these negative stereotypes and the bias we bring. But it was this is a great story because had I not asked why he named the Danger right, I could have assumed, oh, because he’s dangerous maybe he has him for protection, maybe you know, this that the other though it was just a joke because this is a nice, friendly, silly dog.
[00:20:26] You know, those are some of the really great things that I wanted to share. But, you know, kind of really became teaching moments for especially people in our field or people that, you know, identify as “pit bull” advocates. You know, we so often approach this from a white middle to upper-class perspective and which we do with so many things. And that’s just that’s really unfortunate because that’s just a sliver of the perspective. And if we’re gonna be talking about people, then we need to give them a microphone to you know, we shouldn’t be talking about people. We should be talking with people. And we don’t know that in animal welfare enough.
Nikki [00:21:05] Yeah, I was actually just thinking today about that perception. We hear a lot is that dogs, people see “pit bulls” who may like walk across the other side of the street. I’m sure you guys both have heard people say that about.
Kim [00:21:19] I’ve heard them say that.
Nikki [00:21:21] So, I was thinking today about the I’m going to do a PSA with my dog. We have this PSA that’s out and we’re asking people to do it. So I was on my way to work this morning and I was like, oh, what am I going to say in the PSA? And I was like, how I got my dog was I saw this I know a dog that would be perceived as a “pit bull” and literally ran across the street to pet this dog. This was before I worked in, at Animal Farm or in any sort of animal welfare capacity. And I was like, OK, so I did the complete opposite. And I’m sure I’m not the only person that is doing the complete opposite. This is such a big thing that we think happens. That actually doesn’t happen. I don’t know. I’ve never. Could anybody cross the street? While I was walking my dog and my dog be a pit bull. it’s sort of funny.
Kim [00:22:12] I think it’s so interesting.
Regina [00:22:14] Yeah, I was gonna say that I think some of it kind of relates to the things that you talked about Kim is that sometimes it depends on the context.
Kim [00:22:21] Absolutely.
Regina [00:22:22] Because people put their own. There is that stereotype of who owns a “pit bull.” It’s a thug, right? We’ve all heard that racist stereotype.
Kim [00:22:33] I hate that.
Regina [00:22:34] And and let’s just be honest. That is one of the reasons why. “Pit bulls” got labeled this dangerous because “thugs” own them. I mean, the racism there, I mean, that’s another podcast, but it’s so it’s so ingrained in there. But I think that’s it it’s also the context when people cross the street. Are they crossing the street because of the dog or because they’re racist or classist assholes?
Nikki [00:23:03] Or are they not crossing the street at all? I don’t know.
Kim [00:23:06] Yeah. That’s a really important thing. And I, Nikki, I had a very similar experience. I mean, I’m sure there were people that crossed the street. I just never really thought about it that much because I hadn’t really focused so much on this construct we’ve created. If you have a “pit bull,” people will cross the street. You know, so if I had been thinking about that more, I probably would have assigned more weight to when people did cross the street. But I think at this point where we are now, especially like I don’t know that we’re doing much service to people when we prompt them, with that, “oh, you need to be aware that people are going across the street” first because then you’re going to be thinking about it so much more and you’re going to go looking for it. But second of all, like we don’t know what’s going on with the person either. And I had an experience once in New York City where I had just had a really tough medical procedure done. And at this point, I had already worked. I was working for Animal Farm, actually. I had quote “pit bulls.” So clearly I wasn’t afraid of them, but I was feeling like garbage after this medical procedure. And I was standing outside the building I was waiting for the person that was driving me home to get the car and come pick me up. And I’m standing there trying to throw up, trying to pass out. And this guy walks by with a “pitbull.” And I saw him coming and I just moved to a different spot to avoid the dogs, but not because they were “pit bulls” and not really just dogs more. I was just afraid I’m going to throw up on you or I’m going to pass out. And if all jumps on me or if I still try to pet it, like I’m actually afraid for my safety because of what I will do. And so I just basically got out of the way and he goes, oh, you know, because it’s a “pit bull.” And I’m like, oh, honey, you don’t even know. Pardon me while I puke. And then I’ll explain you what’s going on here. But like no, this is not what this is.
Nikki [00:25:07] Yeah.
Kim [00:25:08] But I do. I mean, I want to validate that there’s definitely people that have had others cross the street for the sole reason that they’re walking “pit bull” and they have bad perceptions of that. and that’s real and that’s valid. But I am glad that our movement in general doesn’t talk about that as much, because I think at this point it’s changed so much that that’s a conversation I have on an individual level. But I don’t want to plant that in the minds of everybody because it’s kind of like when all you have is a hammer you’re only going to see nails or whatever that whatever that saying is. Well, like, if we’re telling everyone this is going to happen, then you’re going to be looking for it. They’re gonna find it. They’re gonna attach meaning to it. Rightly or wrongly. And that’s just no like that shouldn’t be what having a dog is about. You know, like it shouldn’t be a hassle. Should be a project in that way.
Nikki [00:25:57] Yeah. So.
Regina [00:26:00] Let’s, oh go ahead, Nikki.
Nikki [00:26:02] So I know this is supposed to be about ageism and ableism, but before we get into all that, I really want to hear more about this veterinary social work that you’re doing. First time I’ve even heard of such things, so I don’t know if I missed the boat. Tell me more.
Kim [00:26:26] Sure. So I’m in graduate school for social work. I’m finishing up a masters. And to get your master’s in social work, you have to do a certain number of hours in a field practicum. And what that means, it’s kind of a fancy word for internship where you have to spend a pretty good chunk of time working in an agency under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker and work in that setting. And so for my field practicum, the University of Georgia School Social Work and the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine just started a partnership where, independent of the partnership, they have a licensed clinical social worker working full time at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. And so we started a partnership where MSW Social Work interns can be placed there to do their field practicum. So I’m the first one that’s being placed there and I’m working under their clinical social worker. And it’s really it’s fascinating stuff. It’s some of the work is similar to what I’ve done in the past, but I’ve never worked under I’ve never worked in the specific circumstances. So a lot of what we will be doing and what I’ll be doing is working with clients. The client would be the owner, the animal owner, and the patient is the animal that they’re bringing to the vet hospital. And to have an animal at the vet hospital there, you have to be referred by a regular DVM and you’re there probably for some sort of specialty or critical care need. So it can be anything from an emergency. You know, they have an emergency department to maybe your pets going through cancer and is there for chemotherapy or maybe your pet needs a special surgery or rehabilitation, that kind of stuff. So it’s kind of like the difference between going to your primary care doctor and the hospital or a surgery specialty center. That’s what that’s what the setup is like. And it’s a teaching hospital. So it’s also where veterinary students and residents and interns are really learning their skills. So I’m going to be working with the clients, which would be the owners of the animals when they’re there helping with like end of life decision making, care planning. You know, really trying to identify what their goals are for the medical care, what they want to see happen, but then also making those tough decisions that come at the end of an animal’s life and then doing a lot of grief and bereavement counseling and supporting people when their animal does pass. And, you know, I’ve told some people I’m doing veterinary social work for my field practicum and they kind of laugh like, are you kidding me? Like, that’s a thing kind of dismissing it. And, you know, even people that have pets have said that to me. And so I encourage them to think of it a little bit differently. Like, we wouldn’t laugh at a social worker being in a regular hospital or a cancer institute and doing these team types of things around a loved one or a person, but a loved one going through cancer and dying sort of that whole process. Course, you would want a social worker there to help with that. Well, for many people, for most people to have pets, pets are family. And when family dies, they grieve and they deal with all the struggles and questions about end of life and that sort of thing. So even if your pet may not be family or you can’t understand that we can all relate to the feelings of grief, suffering, of not knowing what to do. Having to make some really tough decisions. Or even if it’s not involving euthanasia, if let’s say that you’re your dog has a surgery and their limbs amputated or they’ve lost use of their back, their hind legs. There’s going to be an adjustment period. And you and your role as a caregiver is going to change because now they may need some assistive devices. They need more like home care to manage that. There’s all kinds of things that go into that. And so these feelings and these emotions are very real. It really doesn’t matter whether they’re feeling them towards another human or towards an animal because the person themself is still feeling them. So I’m really excited about this field. This is a growing field. It’s not a new field per say. And we do see other schools of social work and other colleges of veterinary medicine that have these human-animal institute. There’s one at the University of Denver, there’s one at the University of Tennessee, there’s some other ones out there and we are seeing more and more veterinary social work taking place in the veterinary setting. But it’s growing. And if you want to have me back, I’ll tell you where I think the field needs to go. In terms of just very quickly, I think this is amazing that we have this. And you know, what a privilege it would be to have veterinary social workers in every vet’s office, even. You know, my hope and one of my career goals is to see veterinary social workers at animal shelters as well, because in my experience, animal shelters actually centers tend to see the bulk of the crises that the euthanasia is the oh, my gosh. My dog just got hit by a car. Oh, my gosh. My dog is sick and I can no longer afford to care for him. So I need to surrender. Having been in that role and run outreach departments at shelters, I know there’s tons of people that are dealing with the same trauma, grief, not knowing what to do, but they can’t even afford to get to a regular vet, let alone a veterinary hospital. So who’s really working with them and who’s supporting them? And I think in animal welfare we do our best and we’re recognizing more and more that we need to be focusing on that more. But we don’t necessarily have the training to do that. And that’s OK, because that’s not what our focus is. The focus is on the animals. But I hope that one day I can come back and do a podcast. Years from now, telling you about how we now have social workers working in animal shelters and animal control facilities. And by extension of that, you know, in veterinary social work, you’re not just working with the clients you’re also working with the veterinarians. Because veterinarians as a field and this includes vet students have one of the highest rates of suicide of any profession. And we know that we also see that in animal shelter workers as well. So while in my field practicum, I’m also gonna be attuned to, you know, supporting the professionals that are providing the care in the hospital. I think in animal shelters, we need social workers that can help support the workers and the volunteers that are dealing with massive amounts of trauma every day because we need them and we need them to be well. And I think who better than a social worker to to fulfill that role for them as well?
Regina [00:33:22] Well, it touches on something that happens that we see happening a lot is that there is rightly the pull to work with your community at large and animal shelters. But then we see some people trying to be social workers and they’re not their animal welfare workers. And then that stress of trying to be something they’re not something they’re not equipped to be increases the stress that they’re already dealing with. So obviously having to.
Kim [00:33:52] Absolutely.
Regina [00:33:53] So having what you’re saying, having social workers work in the shelters is so much better than animal welfare workers feeling like they have to fill that role.
Kim [00:34:03] Exactly. And, you know, just like we wouldn’t want veterinarians providing mental health practice to clients because that’s not what they’re trained to do. That’s not that’s not their lane, really. You know, we would recognize that that’s really not appropriate to be a mental health practitioner just on the basis of being a veterinarian. I think we need to take the reverse of that too. Animal shelter workers and I’m not saying they can’t also have the skill set. I want to be very clear. But you have the training and you have the expertise of working in animal shelters, working with animals. That’s your expertise. Right. But you’re not, your expertise is not to provide crisis intervention counseling to somebody or it’s not you know, you’re not trained on how to assess for depression or suicidal ideation. So, yeah, I mean, it’s not fair to put them in that position. And I also think that it risks causing harm, because when you don’t know how to do something, you’re gonna wing it. And you may not only be doing something that’s ineffective, but you may be doing something that’s actually increasing risk or causing harm for that person. So I guess a way to summarize all of this is we are all talking about the human-animal bond. We’re not talking about humans. We’re not talking about animals. Talking about both and how they work together. So in a veterinary setting, it makes perfect sense that we should have human-focused specialists and in an animal setting it should make sense that we have human-focused service as well. Right. We need people who can kind of jump between both worlds. And so I think that’s so important. And a lot of the training that I’ve done. You know, I I’ve been in social work. I’ve been in social services for a long time and I’ve had a lot of that training. I’m finishing up my master’s now, but I’ve tried to kind of share a lot of that expertise with people. And like you said, because that can really contribute to burnout if we’re not we’re not educating people and sharing information on that. So I think that’s the next big thing. I hope it’s the next big thing. And if any donors are listening, give me a call, because we can make this happen.
Regina [00:36:10] But you do ok. So you, what I was thinking about you talking about all the things you do. I was in my head like running through a list of everything that I just that I know that you do. And I’m sure there are things I don’t know. I was thinking what doesn’t Kim do or what hasn’t Kim done. But you also talk to people about adoptions. You talk to shelter workers about adoptions, correct?
Kim [00:36:37] Yes. Yes. I did a lot of that with Animal Farm. I did a lot of that working for the Pennsylvania SPCA and Philly did a lot of that. Even though I was running the outreach department in Iowa, I’m constantly working with adopters and and pet owners. But also, you know, in my view, part of community outreach, it’s not just spay neuter and it’s not just pet retention. It’s also making sure that adoptions are accessible to everybody. So part of that is, you know, based in the shelter, like making sure we’re doing open adoptions, we aren’t putting up unnecessarily roadblocks to adopting. But I think that it needs to be more than that. We need to make sure that people out in the community who aren’t stepping foot in our shelter either because they don’t know about it or for whatever reason, that they can also have the opportunity to adopt an animal as well. So, you know, overcoming transportation barriers, overcoming knowledge barriers about the fact that we have a shelter, that kind of stuff, we need to bring adoptions out into the community just as much as we’re bringing spay neuter out into the community, just as much as we’re bringing wellness clinics, vaccination clinics out into the community.
Regina [00:37:50] I actually wonder if, now, and Nikki can certainly speak to this, that open adoptions are not as rare as they once were and the tide is not just is changing, but it has definitely changed as far as that goes. But some of the feedback that I’ve heard, though, is people don’t even bother to investigate what an what open adoptions are and they because they don’t like the term they think open adoptions means here, take a leash and a dog and we’re not going to talk to you at all. But, you know, you just call it accessible adoptions and I wonder if maybe that’s a better term for it, because that can make more sense to people.
Kim [00:38:30] I think so for sure. And you know, again, I feel like we always need to I need to do this. I need to step out of my animal welfare bubble. And, you know, I think what is open adoption mean to the rest of the world? Most people open adoption means when you’re adopting a child from an agency that you are able to find the child that’s adopted will be able to find their birth parents at some point or have contact with their birth parents as opposed to not being able to share with the adopter or the adoptive child any information about that. So for most people, when they hear open adoptions, they’re actually thinking of something else altogether. So kind of another example of how we get in our bubble, the animal welfare. And we don’t think about how these terms mean to most people. But yeah, I think the accessibility is really what we’re talking about. And keeping an open mind, of course, but it all goes together. And I think we’ve kind of pigeonholed ourselves talking about “open adoptions” in a shelter context, because what we’re really talking about is having an open conversation. But I would take it a step further and challenge us to think we can’t even have those conversations if people can’t get to the shelter or aren’t getting to the shelter for whatever reason. So like we’ve realized with spay neuter, we can’t just offer it and expect people to we’ll just tap our fingers until they get here. We need to go out and make it happen. Same thing with adoptions, should be no different.
Regina [00:39:51] We’ve seen some shelters that close at four during the weekdays and aren’t open on weekends. When are people suppose to adopt a dog or a cat or.
Kim [00:40:01] Exactly. You know, we assume that everybody’s retired, I guess, or, you know, I mean, or shelters where you can only adopt on the weekends. Well, what if you work weekends? You know, I mean, there’s just all kinds of, the world is much different than our own personal experience in it and we have to always be remembering.
Regina [00:40:17] Yeah. Well, all right. So let’s swing into talking about ageism and ableism in adoptions. And the reason why I wanted to do this podcast is that you’ve mentioned it before on social media. You’ve talked about it. And I thought that would be something great for a podcast. Although we have so much other great material on this podcast now. We’ve talked about.
Kim [00:40:44] You can always crop it into two.
Regina [00:40:47] You know what, though? I feel like it all plays together, especially with your experience and what you’ve seen and you’re a whole long history of your work that led you to care about these issues.
Kim [00:41:03] I agree. Not just for me personally, but for these topics in general. I mean, you can’t really talk about one without the other. I mean, you can, but you’re going to be missing a lot. And it’s so interesting. When I worked at Animal Farm, I would always say, you know, because I had worked with older adults for quite some time. By that point, I always would say, like gosh. “Pit bulls” have taught me a lot about older adults and older adults have taught me a lot about “pit bulls” because they both get stereotyped. They both get lumped into these groups with these arbitrary terms. You know, the term older adult itself, like I may have something in mind. I might mean 65 and older. You might mean 75 and older. Nikki might mean 50 and older. Same thing with “pit bull” like that means different things to different people. When we talk about older adults or seniors or I don’t like the term elderly, but elderly people like first we need to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing, you know. So it’s really similar concept.
Regina [00:42:00] So just we could probably go back and explain what ageism is, although actually I think you just really kind of did it’s judging other people as less than in some way because they are of a certain age, whatever that age means to you. And often in animal welfare and in adoptions, it is that someone may not be able to handle a larger dog or a dog that is perceived as a “pit bull” because of the stereotype that the dog will have a lot of energy. So therefore, somebody may say people over 50 can’t adopt. Dog label, “pit bull” or Nikki and I hear this so often, a quote unquote, power breed, whatever the hell that means.
Kim [00:42:47] Oh God, I would like for them to meet Cappie. My little pug mix is certainly a power breed if we’re going to be talking way.
Regina [00:42:56] Yeah, it is those age restrictions that that also then compared with, you know, restrictions that people put on dogs who look a certain way or receive a certain way, they go together. And then that also goes into ableism, which is discriminating against people who have disabilities or health issues. You know, like I wonder if when you know, when you were going through your treatments, if you went into a shelter and wanted to adopt a dog, would they maybe only show you some dogs? Because they thought because they assume that they assumed your energy levels, they assumed your capabilities based on the fact that you were going through treatment?
Kim [00:43:44] Well, yeah, and it’s funny because when I was going through chemo, I’m still in active treatment for cancer, but I’m no longer in chemo. And when I was in chemo, I was bald. So it’s very obvious to most people, like something’s up, right. But now my hair is growing back now. I just look like I have a funny haircut. And people don’t think I’m sick anymore. But actually, I feel so much worse now. Physically and mentally than I did when I was going through chemo. I mean, I. Not to say that chemo wasn’t very difficult. It was. But a lot of the longer term side effects of chemo and of all the other changes that have happened in my body, they’re just now starting to pile on. So I actually feel even though I look healthier, I feel worse and the opposite. So it’s very it’s fascinating how people perceive you and how much your physical appearance definitely goes into it. And I’ve had other serious conditions that were invisible, you know. So I this is not my first time having this, which is which has helped because I’ve kind of I kind of know what to expect. But yeah, we do that. We do that so much. And I would say that even people very close to me, like my family, when I was diagnosed initially, they thought they would need to talk me into getting rid of my dogs and my cat, i have a cat, too, because it would be too much of a risk to go through chemo and having a suppressed immune system with dogs and cats. And it wasn’t until like late, you know, as this process went on, they really got to understand that if you had taken my dogs and my cat away, I probably wouldn’t be alive right now. So, you know, not to mention that the risk the actual zoonotic risk was probably pretty low. So probably a little education could have fixed that. But yeah, I mean, people really underestimate what the dog or the cat or whatever the animal can do for you beyond what you can see. You know.
Nikki [00:45:41] That’s almost scary to think about because you were lucky enough to have the resources to know that, like this is what you needed. But not everybody has that or understands that. And I’m one for those people that I’ve been diagnosed with an illness and and like thought that the best thing to do would be to get rid of their pets.
Kim [00:46:05] It happens a lot. And, you know, there’s actually a lot of interesting research back still today, but especially during the height of the AIDS epidemic, veterinarians were basically advising their clients who had HIV or AIDS to get rid of their pets because they were so concerned about the zoonotic risk and how it would, you know, because if you have HIV AIDS, your immune system suppressed. And so then later, we saw more research coming out, really giving like guidelines to veterinarians on how to work with patient clients that have HIV like so that they don’t just automatically tell them you need to get rid of the animal. And this largely came about from this recognition that, gosh, if you’re going through that, you need your pet now more than ever. So the the harm of taking a pet away can actually be just as fatal in some ways has just as much of an influence on your physical health outcome as the disease itself. So I think we’re gonna need to see that same research. I don’t think, I know we need that same research to take place with regards to veterinarians, but any other helping profession working with older adults who have chronic disease or have some sort of impairment, not to just blanket tell them they need to get rid of their pet. You know, and one of the really powerful ways that I like to think about this is I understand and I validate that we’re all concerned about risk. Nobody wants to take risk if it means it’s going to end in bad things. Right. Like we all are coming from a good place. But we need to also be thinking about the upside of risk. You know, like for me, in my case, what would be the upside of risk? The upside of risk is letting me keep my animals. And my animals were my primary sources support going through cancer. So I really attribute much of my outcome attributed to my doctors and science and all that stuff, but also to my pets because they gave me the mental strength and Snickers in some ways gave me the physical strength as a service dog to get through it. So we look at the negative of risk, but let’s look at the upside of risk, too. Like what if we let this older adult keep her pet? What might be the good things that come out of that? You know, because we don’t want to discount that, because I can. That’s not fair either.
Regina [00:48:26] One of the things that we have heard and that there was a popular viral story a couple of years ago, I think it’s been a while of a, and this was a rescue, not a shelter that denied a woman a dog, not because she wasn’t on paper a match for the dog or even an interview. It was just because of her age. And they didn’t want to adopt a younger dog to her because she might drop dead tomorrow. And they were very open about this, that they had these actions completely open about it. And they were making assumptions about her health based on her age.
Kim [00:49:07] Right. And there’s been a number of those stories. And I think so I’m actually behind the scenes working on another research project investigating the prevalence of how common those policies are. But then also trying to understand why shelters and rescues have them in place to begin with. And I’ll just leave it at that. But yeah, I’ve seen I’ve noticed an increase in the number of those cases coming and making headlines and going viral. And I I hope we don’t keep seeing an increase, but I think we’re on that path. And what a shame that is. And it really gets into this question of where is this coming from? Why do you think that anyone over a certain chronological age is a bigger risk than somebody younger? And what I’ve found is that most, if not all, animal shelters do not track the adopters age on an application necessarily. Or even more importantly, they don’t track the age of a person relinquishing a pet. They may ask for proof of I.D., but they’re not necessarily recording the date of birth, and both the shelters that I worked for did not do that. Or they’ll check to make sure you’re 18 or older. But beyond that, they don’t track it. So in my experience, I’ve heard so many shelters and rescues tell me what we have to do this for older adults, because they just tend to relinquish animals so much more frequently than anybody else. And so my next question is, Will, how do you know that you have the data? Well, no, we don’t track that. But I just know and I’m thinking, well, oh, wait a second. Where have I heard this before? “Pit bulls.” So it may be that when an older adult returns a pet, they adopted or relinquishes a pet, that people remember that more because it’s it may be more upsetting for them and the pet may have been more bonded to the person maybe we don’t know. But I have found zero evidence that somebody is as you go up in age. Your risk of relinquishing an animal increases as well. In fact, I’ve actually seen the only data I have seen is the exact opposite. It came out of the University of Tennessee published last December, I believe, and it looked at relinquishment rates across a number of different categories. But one of the things they looked at was the age of the person. And they actually found that older adults. And I think they defined it as 55 and over 65, something around there that they actually relinquished the least. The rates of relinquishment were the lowest of any age group. So, again, I think if we’re gonna make these policies based on our hunches, we need to first do the research on the data. What is the data telling us? Because our hunches may be very wrong, as we’ve learned with “pit bulls,” if we’ve learned with other things. You know, what we think is happening may not actually be what is actually happening.
Regina [00:52:10] That’s really interesting. And please, if you can find that study, share it, because I know people sure want to get an idea of our understanding. But the the issue does I mean, the ageism and ableism them go hand in hand because the fear is that someone who is of a certain age, again, whatever that age may be, whatever I feel that this is, people are thinking at whatever age, somebody is incapable of caring for somebody else. Right. That’s what the assumption is.
Kim [00:52:43] Well, actually, I mean, a lot of shelters, I’ve seen them put it up at 55 and older. And it’s not necessarily the assumption that they can’t do things. It’s the assumption that at some point they’re not going to be able to do things.
[00:52:55] And then, you know, I mean, spoiler my hypothesis is that a lot of these policies are formed based on an inaccurate data about aging, you know. So if people think that most people think the average life expectancy is like 72 in America, they’re going to be quite surprised to learn that it’s much higher than that. And aside from the last few years, is projected to keep increasing. Another example would be I found across the board that most people think that the majority of people 65 and older live in a nursing home. And the reality is that at its height, it was only about nine or 10 percent. That was decades ago. That was over a decade ago. Now it’s between like two and a half, maybe a little bit higher. Percent of the people, population of people 65 and older will live in a nursing home. It’s very small. It’s actually declining. And there’s a lot of reasons for that, a lot that goes into that. But if you believe that most people, once they, you know, enter the population 65 and older are going to live in a nursing home, I can understand why you think it’d be a big risk to adopt a pet to them, because most nursing homes, you’re not allowed to have a pet there. But it’s the assumption that’s wrong. It’s the data that’s wrong. So we need to give more accurate information about aging and older adults, same with people with different abilities, because we’re shaping policies based on junk info.
Regina [00:54:23] Yeah. And also not on individuals. Right. So let’s say that even if.
Kim [00:54:27] Yes.
Regina [00:54:28] Even if those stats that people believe are those assumptions, let’s say those are true. But you don’t know if that’s true for the person that walks into your shelter or your rescue.
Kim [00:54:36] Absolutely.
Regina [00:54:37] You’re.
Kim [00:54:37] Absolutely.
Regina [00:54:38] If your goal is to get dogs out of your shelter or rescue and into homes, why shut down a perfectly good adopter based on an assumption that may not apply to that individual? And, you know, my mom is over 70 and nobody ever believes that she is because she’s actually healthier than I am.
Nikki [00:54:59] She looks 45.
Regina [00:55:01] And I apparently look in my 20s, which is amazing because I am 40 and I’m not healthy at all. My mom is healthier than I am. And so you just don’t know a person’s health based on their age and you often don’t even know a person’s age based on how they look, especially not me.
Kim [00:55:21] Certainly. Certainly. And even when you do know their health conditions, you can have two people with identical health conditions. But how they manage can be totally difficult. You know, like my experience with cancer is nothing like my friend’s experience with cancer. Who is also the same age? Same diagnosis. And it’s certainly not like, you know, I mean, there’s just so much diversity within a health condition, too. I mean, one of the thing that I I think should be guiding us is whether we’re talking about aging or disability, that I’ll just go with aging. Aging is universal. We all grow older. And in fact, aging starts the day were conceived. It’s not something that just kicks in at the end of life. Like we’re all aging from the moment we are conceived. Aging is universal, but it’s not uniform. So how we go through that process is going to look very different depending on the individual. And there’s a lot of factors that go into that. So when you look at somebody’s chronological age, like my chronological age is thirty nine. You cannot assume that all 39 year olds are exactly like me. That seems crazy to us. Or if we thought like if we made a blanket statement, you know, people from 30 to 35 are this, we would be like, huh? That’s crazy. Like, we can’t do that. There’s so much diversity yet we somehow think we can do that with a population of people that spans up to four decades. You know, we talk about the 65 plus population as if it’s this homogenous group. They’re actually the most diverse group of any age group, you know. I mean, you cannot even if you just took sixty five year olds, there’s gonna be so much diversity. But then we lump it in with one hundred year olds and we talk about this group as if it’s uniform and it’s anything but. You know, if there’s one takeaway from this podcast, I want people to know that as you grow older, people become more diverse in terms of abilities, in terms of resources, in terms of health, status, everything. It actually becomes we become more unlike each other. And what I find to be a parallel, whether it comes to people with disabilities or people who are of, you know, more advanced age is we tend to treat them like children and we tend to forget that they are the expert on their own lives. Just because somebody has a disability, just because somebody is 70 years old doesn’t mean that we need to look out for them now because they can’t know what’s good for them. Now, this is not to say that with certain conditions that may arise. For example, if you have Alzheimer’s disease, if you’re past the point where you can really make decisions, you’re going to need help with that. And that’s why there’s processes in place. But just by virtue of being 70 doesn’t mean that you need help with that. And it’s wrong and it’s discriminatory to assume that somebody does just based on their age or just based on their disability status. And I find that a lot of the ageism and ableism that occurs in animal welfare with adoption matches is actually may be coming from a good place. They want to help the person and they want to help the pet. But still the end result by being so protective and trying to avoid risk, they’re actually the outcomes just the same. They’re denying people an option. They’re denying people the right to be the expert on their own lives, you know. So when we see things like if you are 65 and older, you can only adopt small dogs. That assumes that you know better than each individual 65 year old. And that’s wrong. That’s the evidence. Doesn’t support that. Morally, that’s wrong. And you’re causing harm. Not to mention like with that example, because I see that one all the time, that older adults should be encouraged to adopt small dogs. Where’s your evidence on that? Because I’ve looked at the evidence. You know, how about falls? Fall is, falling is the number one risk factor for most older adults. Right. So we want to be very careful about that. But I have not found any evidence that the size of the dog actually dictates the risk of fall or even the risk of the severity of the injury that may result from the fall. Because we think about how so many people tell me we can’t have older adults adopt large dogs because they could knock them over. And I would challenge them to say, have you ever tripped over a small dog?
Regina [00:59:49] Yeah, that’s what i was thinking.
Kim [00:59:50] Especially one that you can’t really see as well.
Regina [00:59:54] That is what I was thinking. To me, it’s the opposite to me. A small dog, you can’t see it. It can get under for anybody. I mean, a small dog can get under your foot and you trip.
Kim [01:00:03] Yeah, exactly. So there was there was an article that was published in one of the JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association Journals, in which trauma surgeons for humans advised older adults to get small dogs instead of large dogs. The study was on the frequency of falls and injuries related to falls that were caused by dog walking and in there. In the JAMA published article, one of the most prestigious journals, they said that older adults should be encouraged to adopt small animals. So long story short, I got in touch with the authors of this research and I said, Why did you do it? Why did you make that decision?
[01:00:44] I mean, I think another thing that I see happen a lot is mental health discrimination. And I think another point that we we oughta make to that, disability rates tend to increase with as with age. So, you know, you’re gonna see higher rates of disability among older adults than you wouldn’t you would see among older younger adults in general, generally speaking. So I think it’s really important that we talk about the overlap but, also when it’s not overlapping, you know. because this happens with younger people, too, you know.
Regina [01:01:32] Mm hmm, mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, when that article about the rescue that wouldn’t adopt a dog to that woman because she was over, I can’t remember if she was over fifty five or sixty five came out like I posted it on my page, my Facebook page and I ranted about it and I was really shocked and saddened by how many people on my friends list were defending the rescue. And I said to several of the people, you know, I commented individually and I said, well, you know, I’m not healthy. Do you think I shouldn’t have my dog?
Kim [01:02:10] Yeah, I posed that same question.
Regina [01:02:13] And none of them. I mean, it was crickets, right? Because none of them wanted to respond to that.
Kim [01:02:18] I did the same thing I said, you know, because when people get a we don’t want adopt older adults because like they’re gonna die soon. So. Well, I could die soon and anyone could die soon. But now I have an increased risk because I have cancer. Are you saying that I shouldn’t be allowed to have a pet? Well, no. You know, it’s like but you’re not everybody. There’s a face behind all of these cases just because you don’t know the person, you know you know me. So you know that that’s not fair. But just because you don’t know these other people doesn’t mean it’s any less unfair.
Regina [01:02:52] I’ve also seen discrimination come from if somebody goes to a shelter and they’re open and honest about their mental health issues and they say, well, my doctor told me that I should get an emotional support animal because I have depression or because I have anxiety and they thought having an emotional support animal would be good for me. I actually had someone who she may be listening to this podcast and she’s a great person. But this was a couple of years ago, she asked me if somebody had come into her shelter and had said that. And she was like, well, I just want to make sure that you think it’s OK that I that I adopt a dog to somebody who said that this is why they want a dog. And it was a very weird thing. It was like as if maybe she thought they weren’t being honest. I don’t know. It was strange. But the fact that it even crossed her mind to ask somebody else if it was OK that she did that. I just thought that was a bizarre thing, but I I have also seen that happen before, where it will make some people in animal welfare, think twice about letting somebody have a dog. If they say this is why I want the dog, even though we all talk about how much we know, dogs benefit people.
Kim [01:04:15] Yeah. And the thing that baffles me with that is like you seem to think that everybody is being forthcoming with you, not you guys, but with the having a mental health condition. You are doing this every day, all day long to people you are adopting dogs to people with mental health conditions. They just haven’t told you. I mean, what are the current stats? I think it’s that like 1 in 4 people in America has a diagnosed mental health condition and that’s just diagnosed. We know that most mental health is not diagnosed. So there are people all around us, way more people than we think. This is far more prevalent than we think. So, you know, like we’re already doing this. We just don’t know that we’re doing it. You know?
Regina [01:05:01] Right. And the thing that gets me is that where does it stop? Like you said, you don’t know. You don’t know that you’re already doing this. And so what are you going to start doing? Asking everyone, well, do you have any mental health problems? Do you have an invisible illness that I can’t see? I mean, so it just it feels like an invasion of privacy. And then people are having and then people were punished for feeling comfortable enough to be open. And that’s the thing with the stigma with disabilities and with mental health disabilities especially, we want people to be open. And then there is and there is a huge. Just to tie it back to ageism. I mean, there there is a lot of and has always been, at least for quite some time in this country, discrimination against people who are older for a variety of reasons. And that needs to change. And it’s not going to change if. I mean, think about it, we’re denying people the simple companionship of a pet. And what was about this earlier in the podcast, if we had Shannon Glenn on Who’s from My “pit bull” is family, and she said something that was really a really great quote I thought she said “animal companionship you know, it doesn’t have anything to do with class or race everyone deserves to have a companion.” And that also goes into what we’re saying also have anything to do with age or physical or mental ability and that everyone deserves that companionship.
Kim [01:06:37] Right.
Regina [01:06:38] It’s not just for the privilege of you.
Kim [01:06:40] Exactly. And not to mention look at the population of people that work in animal welfare. I mean, we see such high suicide rates, right? Well, where they’re suicide, there’s probably mental health that was occurring. So it’s not like our own field has been free from any sort of experience with mental health. You know, like we’re talking about ourselves here, too, you know. So when we make these like us versus them ideas or roadblocks like. Wait a second. Oh, I think this just doesn’t work. No matter what way you approach it, it just doesn’t work. Not to mention the fact that, again, what have we learned through open or accessible adoptions? We learned that people just go somewhere else to get the pet then, we’re not actually preventing anything. We’re just causing them to have to get a pet. That’s probably not spay neuter. That’s probably not been vaccinated. This, that and the other and we want people, no matter who they are or what’s on their plate, we want them to come to us when they have a question or they have a concern. You know, the cat’s not using the litter box. We want them to be able to call us up and asked for some help with that. That’s part of the value, the service that we provide through adoption. So from forcing them to go elsewhere to adopt, we’re also not giving them that that added benefit of having good resources and information.
Regina [01:08:07] It’s something that Nikki and I hear a lot, and I am sure you hear this, too, and this is immediately I mean, I can first see the comments section once that when I post this podcast. But we have to think about the dogs and what you know and and we’ll go back to the risk that you talked about and people being concerned about the risk for the dog, because that’s something that, like you said, it’s dog. It’s dogs and people together like AFF’s mission statement, dogs and people together to end discrimination. People often aren’t thinking about that together part, it’s just the dog, and not that dogs live in the context of humans. They are companion animals, companions to us we are companions to them so you can’t just think about the dog. And are you really thinking about what’s best for the dog? Because here is somebody who wants to love the dog and your fear is in keeping that dog in the shelter.
Kim [01:09:07] And I guess it’s like why do we turn that fear on sometimes and not other times? Kind of like what I’ve learned with “pit bulls.” It’s like we want to protect the “pit bulls.” So we make all these special hoops that people have to jump through. But in essence, it’s like well, does that mean you care less about the other dogs because you’re not making those people jump through all the hoops? So you know what? We need to do this across the board if this is a concern. You know, because every dog should be a concern to us, not just the “pit bulls” are not just this dog or that dog. And it’s kind of like another way of saying this is, you know, we think we can cover every possible scenario that might come up. So we want to ask the adopter, what would you do in this case? What would you do in that place and have a plan for that. But we know that life’s not that orderly and it’s going to be the thing that we didn’t ask about that’s going to happen, you know? So like we think. You know, with dog adoptions or cat adoptions, we do this all the time like people have to show that they’ve thought this through, that they have a plan in case if they have to move and bring their pet with them or if they no longer have a yard or if this happens or that happens and it’s like you can do all that preparation you want. And first of all, like the best laid plans don’t even work out sometimes. But you know, what’s gonna be the challenge going to be something that you didn’t think would happen? So now what? You know. So at some point we just have to rather than trying to screen people out, we need to bring people in and share knowledge, share information, share resources and keep that door open so that when that unexpected scenario does come up, they can call us and we can troubleshoot together. And if we don’t know the answer, then we bring in somebody else. You know, that’s what really what we need to be thinking of, not trying to eliminate risk, but how we’re going to face risk when it becomes a reality.
Regina [01:10:59] I think that’s a good spot to end even.
Kim [01:11:02] Can I just add one more point on ageism?
Regina [01:11:05] Yeah.
Nikki [01:11:06] Go ahead.
Kim [01:11:06] It does cut both ways. You know, we talk about it usually in the context of discriminating against older adults, but it happens with younger adults as well. And the way that, you know, the idea that you’re so young, you can’t possibly know or that type of stuff. And we see this with other types of ages, adoption policies. When we throw up these arbitrary roadblocks, like you had to be 25 or you can’t be a college student. I mean, I understand 18 and older because that’s when you’re legally an adult. That one I get and I support. But these other ones that, you know, I know a lot of places used to say you have to be 25 or older because, there, and when you asked why, they said because we don’t want college students adopting. And they think that by age 25, most people are out of college. And again, this is so, this is so problematic because, first of all, we work well, for one, we know that most people in America don’t go to college. So, you know, this doesn’t apply to most people, actually. And just because a person is, say, 21 really doesn’t tell you much. That number alone doesn’t tell you much about how mature they are, how prepared they are, how resilient they are, how how they can access resources. I mean, there’s plenty of people, grown ass adults that don’t have their stuff together, you know. But we don’t worry about them because they’re a certain age. You know, again, it’s the individual it’s not the age. And, you know, so ageism definitely works both ways. And, you know, we can’t screen our way out of these things. You know, we just can’t. Doesn’t work that way. You were bound to fail. Instead, be thinking about. How we can be supporting people when an issue does arrive as an issue will arrive, even in those cases where you think this is a match made in heaven, that could not possibly have gone to a, quote,” better home” And I hate that. What does that mean? But even that person, something can come up. I mean, so many people have told me, gosh, you would be the perfect person to adopt a pet. You’re like the best home. Right. And I think that’s based on all the work I’ve done for animals, like whatever. I don’t know. In my mind, I’m thinking really, because like, i don’t always have my stuff together too, you know? But like, think about it. These people that thought that I was like the perfect adopter. Well, what about once I got diagnosed with cancer, you know, like this could’ve gone in a totally different direction? Or what about when I was going through a divorce? Like, there were times where me, the so-called perfect adopter, had to think long and hard about giving up one of my pets and actually did have to give up one of my dogs, my dog Marty, who we were a therapy dog team. Now, she went to she didn’t go to a stranger. She went to live with my ex-husband, but she was no longer living with me. And if it wasn’t my ex-husband, it would have had to be somebody else. So, you know, even these people, there’s types of people that we put up on a scenario. They deal with unexpected things, too, you know. So the bottom line is, being there for somebody when they’re in need regardless and not shutting them out from the get go.
Nikki [01:14:22] Perfect way to end this podcast, I think.
Regina [01:14:27] All right. Awesome.
Help Us Keep Dogs and People Together to End Discrimination
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