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PAWS Atlanta, Inc.: REDI Training Grant Report

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

Making issues around diversity and inclusion a priority in our work has become increasingly important. We realize that constantly improving how we assist the animals in our care must include how we look at and engage with the community we serve. This grant has allowed us to think more about diversity and inclusion and what we can put into place to advance this work.

Our staff members recently completed the training and began discussions about specific actions we could take. What we recognize is that this is an ongoing process that does not happen overnight. It involves specific steps we can take in the short term, but it also includes doing everything we can at the systemic level—including a cultural shift—to constantly improve.

At the organizational level, for example, one of the tasks our staff and Board of Directors are exploring to implement right away is updating and simplifying our adoption and foster applications to remove any explicit and implicit biases that are creating barriers to adoptions.

For instance, we are reexamining requiring individuals and families who live in apartments to provide their landlord’s contact information so that we may ensure the apartment allows pets. We know that this requirement is oftentimes a barrier because, by the time we hear back from a landlord, the animal someone is interested in might no longer be available, and we are keeping potential responsible pet owners from adopting.

It would also help us at an organizational level because contacting landlords can be time-consuming for staff. With limited staff capacity, this would alleviate some of this work that can be burdensome for an already overworked team. We will also closely examine what questions we are asking that might be creating negative ways in which we judge potential adopters and fosters (by money, race, number of children, type of home, etc.). We are targeting a fall 2022 deadline for this update.

We also want to increase the frequency and breadth of our diversity training for our entire staff. What the training made clear is that we might not even be aware of the microaggressions we are engaging in. It is important to understand that these are taking place, what we can do to ensure we are not engaging in microaggressions, and how we can do so in a way that best creates a positive and thriving work environment (which, in turn, positively impacts the animals we serve).

We are also looking at introducing equity, diversity, and inclusion training at the Board of Directors level. We will also examine ways to work more closely with our local community. Can we direct a portion of our operating budget to purchase supplies/services from local vendors? Can we direct recruiting efforts to hire more local residents?

For the pets in our care, this training will help us determine how to make our foster program as open and diverse as possible. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we had an enormous spike in individuals and families stepping up to foster our dogs and cats. What became clear during that crisis is that if we can limit the number of animals housed at the shelter and house more animals with foster families, we could focus even more on those animals at the shelter. We can provide them with additional behavioral training, etc., which, in turn, finds them homes more quickly.

We should assess our blind spots about fostering (as they pertain to equity, diversity, and inclusion). What can be done? How can we welcome a more diverse group of individuals and families to join our team of foster-care providers?

As a part of this, we should ask the people in our community what we should be doing. What do they need from us? What are the barriers for adopting or fostering? We have made it a priority, for instance, to impact our adoption and foster rates by looking at our social-media presence and how we can give a greater and more powerful voice to people of color.

Our hope is to find a way in the coming months to create a way to survey/reach out to our community to ask those and other questions. Our grant has helped us refine how we will think about that process.

This will also impact what we do for our outreach efforts for pets in the community. Feral cats are a good example of where we can continue to improve. There are places where there are feral cat communities—apartments, abandoned lots, etc.—but we need to understand that often there are already people in those areas doing the on-the-ground work.

We should not be going in assuming they need our help to “tell” them what to do, but, instead, to equip and support them in their work already. To this end, can we put a better plan in place to supply resources like communicating that we can loan traps to do TNR work? What about supplying food or medication such as preventatives? What actions will we take to engage with our community to solicit guidance?

Overall, we are excited to implement many of the thought-provoking and forward-thinking ideas outlined throughout the series of training videos. We are grateful to have received this opportunity.

How many pets did this grant help?

Approximately 90 for the remainder of the calendar year

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

While we are in the early stages of studying and putting into practice what we have learned from the training, a pup who was helped by this grant was Suki. Her tale represents the importance of being open to individuals and the obstacles they encounter.

In this return-to-owner story, Suki was surrendered to PAWS Atlanta after her owners separated. One of her owners wanted to keep her, but had no choice, because his ex-boyfriend stayed in their home, which meant he had to find new housing and could not take care of Suki.

After his ex-partner surrendered Suki, he searched for a new home that allowed pets. When he was able to find a new place, he rushed to PAWS Atlanta and told our team his story and his wish to bring home Suki, his dear friend whom he missed desperately!

Reunited, he adopted Suki on June 17 and we receive regular happy updates. Suki enjoys fun outings, meeting lots of dog friends, and snoozing on her fluffy bed.

Further Reading