Oluademi James-Daniel: Overcoming Systemic Racism in the Dog World
Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at www.functionalbreeding.org, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.
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Jessica Hekman: Hi friends. This week, I had the pleasure of talking to Oluademi James-Daniel who has recently become a force for change in the dog world. Her Facebook group Inclusivity in Dog Training is a major player in the conversation about whether the dog world is inclusive (spoiler: there’s lots of work to do) and what we can all do to make things better for minorities. In this episode Oluademi talks about bias in the dog world generally, and especially in breeding, and how breeders pick their puppy owners. There’s lots of great information here about different perspectives on the dog world, and I learned a lot.
So Oluademi, thank you so much for coming on the podcast with me. I’m really excited to talk to you about this stuff.
Oluademi James-Daniel: Yes, I’m super excited too.
JH: So I always try to start people off with the hardest question first, which is can you tell us about your own dogs? Like, who do you live with? Where’d you get them? What do you do with them? That kind of stuff.
OJD: Uh huh. So I have three dogs right now. The oldest is a 14 year old Yorkie mix. Pulled from like pretty much off the euth list at a shelter in New York City. We call her the Velocirapterrier. (laughter) She’s full of piss and vinegar 99% of the time and then like very sweet the rest of the time. Second dog I have is a nine year old windsprite. And windsprite is a new-ish breed. They’ve been around since like the 80s. But it’s pretty much a long-haired whippet. Normal sighthound personality. Very like, “Yeah, let’s do this for an hour and then sleep for 23 hours.” (laughter) So and that’s Juliet. The Yorkie is Ginger. And then third, number three, is the newest addition, Peridot. She’s also a windsprite. I got her two months ago, two or three months ago. Yes. She’s five months as of today, actually. So.
JH: Oh, wow. I’m now fantasizing that she’s gonna come sort of like walk behind you so I can see her. (laughter)
OJD: No, she got locked out with other mom because I know, without fail, she would show up randomly to be like, “Hi. I’m gonna sit on the laptop.” (laughter)
JH: Yeah, I can have certain of my dogs in the room during podcasts and then one dog is not allowed to. (laughter) Yeah, windsprites are very cool. We have a windsprite breeder in my area. So there’s a couple of them around. They’re lovely dogs.
OJD: Yes. So those are the three, and there’s a bunch of other critters. I have two cats. I breed Ball Pythons. I think that’s it for right now.
JH: Cool, so you do have experience with breeding? That’s awesome.
JH: Very nice. All right. And so then what’s been going on with you recently is that sort of in the last few months you have really been a force for recognition of issues of systemic bias in dog training. And I was hoping you could start out by just telling us a little bit about what’s been going on? What kinds of stuff you’ve been doing in that area?
OJD: Yeah, definitely. So it’s always been something, especially in the last year or so, that’s really, really, you know, come to light and frustrated me where it’s sort of like, okay, there’s a lot of problems here in the dog world. A lot of them period. And a lot, a lot of them, you know, rooted in not just racism, in a lot of other -isms, too. That was the one that I saw it most.
And about a little over three months ago when we had, you know, the most recent iteration of the BLM protest starting to really rev up, obviously it’s on people’s minds a lot more. People are saying, you know, “Oh, this is… We need to figure out how to fix this even in tiny, little, nitty, gritty communities.” And a couple of friends of mine were chatting, and we were sort of frustrated and just seeing the lack of inclusivity in other dog communities where sort of like, “This isn’t something that really matters. This doesn’t apply to dog training.” And it was sort of like, “You don’t matter. You don’t apply to dog training,” was how I ended up hearing it, and I think a lot of other people, too.
And so it started kind of just as a little roundtable group on Facebook of, you know, about 15-20 people. All friends of mine who are, you know, in dog sports or breeding, and some just, you know, pet owners who are, “Okay, let’s just chat about this.” And in the last three months we just reached over 2000 members. We have, let’s see, I would say about 10ish posts a day. There’s three admins and at least one of us will try to post something to start a conversation once a day. And Mondays and Fridays are what we call “BIPOC Monday/Friday” where only people who are identified as BIPOC are allowed to post and everyone else can read and comment and react. I mean read and react, but they can’t comment. So that way it gives everyone more of a chance to have their voice elevated. Because that was really the biggest point of the group that we all wanted to really strive for, was there all of these voices of BIPOC people who have, you know, either they want to be included, have no way to get in, they’re sort of in the community, they are pretty much stuck in quicksand, can’t get anywhere because they don’t have whatever, various connections or availabilities. Or they’re people who have been doing the damn thing for 10-20 years, and have had no recognition at all. And so it’s all of this wide, super widespread experience of people who are all saying, “How can we change this? How can we start from this little, tiny community of dog people and really focus on inclusivity and focus on sort of trying to root out the biggest causes of you know, that systemic racism?” And we’ve had… Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
JH: I’m sorry. Yeah, no. I was just gonna say it’s so important. And I’m really glad you’re doing it. And I also wanted to jump in and make sure that I think there may be still a few people who don’t know what BIPOC stands for? Because it’s a newer term. Yeah. Just, I wanted to make sure that before you went on too far, you unpack that a little bit for people.
OJD: Yes, so BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Originally, it was POC, which is what more people are more familiar with. And it sort of became, “Okay. Let’s narrow it down a little bit more just so that people can understand which sect of minority we’re talking about.” And you know it’s something where, and this is something that I’ve had to really struggle with even in the group where, yes. I would like to make sure inclusivity is for literally everybody. I would love to do that. But it’s sort of how thin can you spread yourself sort of a thing. (laughter) And so that’s become really the focus of the group.
I think one of our plans kind of later in the year, later in the year, early next year, is to try to find people to have additional inclusivity sort of offsets for, obviously, we have a huge LGBT, LGBTQ population. We have a huge disabled population. And so all these people who are saying… Huge neurodivergent population. So all of these other subsets of minority who are going, “Now that you mention it, this thing sucks for us, too.” Like, “Yes. I know. Yes.” It’s not just, “Okay, this is only for us,” and then no one else gets things. Like, no, I absolutely, you know, I want to make sure everyone is spoken for, and has availability and has that space to be whatever version of dog person they want to be. So yeah. That’s kind of how it started. (laughter)
JH: It’s great that you’re growing, both that the group is so big and vibrant and active right now. And I love the idea (I hadn’t known) that you were thinking about spreading out into more areas, and that’s fantastic.
OJD: Yeah, yeah. And we, you know, we have a lot of discussions of people where we get into that intersectionality, where there are people who are BIPOC and also neurodivergent. And so we have a lot of conversations about that, where it’s sort of, “Hey. I’m, you know, a First Nation person. I use a wheelchair. Let me just vent about the super frustrating thing that happened at trial this weekend,” kind of a thing. And so I like that we can still have those conversations because I do want to make sure that people are seeing no, there’s… You know, the point of it being “systematic” is that it’s a system. (laughter) And so there’s so many different aspects that really need to be addressed.
JH: Yeah, and so maybe you can unpack some of those aspects for us. So you mentioned already that some of the pushback that you’ve gotten is people saying, “Well, I don’t, this isn’t a big deal. It’s just dog training. And I don’t see any problems in dog training.” So you know, “Surely it’s fine the way it is.” So maybe you could tell us a little bit about some of the issues that people see or some of the conversations that you have on your group?
OJD: Yeah, definitely. We’ve, we have so many conversations. Sometimes we’ll have really, totally not related to dogs at all conversations. Like there was a really big conversation a couple days ago about just the BIPOC hair types, and how we care for our hair. Stuff like that. But yeah. Some of the ones that are a little more nitty gritty, as far as, I mean, kind of the first almost initially is representation, where if you go to a Fast CAT, or you go to a confo show, or you even just look at, you know, local breeders of note, it’s, you know, you’re going to be very hard pressed to find someone who is a BIPOC. And, you know, my mother always refers to this as “one speck of pepper in the salt shaker.” (laughter) And when I was a kid, I was like, “Mommy, that’s such a silly phrase.” And then I grew up, and was like, “Oh, I get it.” (laughter)
Um, so that’s, that’s one of the big things, if you want to be a part of something, and you don’t see people who look like yourself, it’s really hard to want to be a part of that thing. You know, if you think as, you know, a white person, if there was a super cool show, somewhere in like, one of the Slavic countries where it’s not even a Latin based language, so you can’t even find tiny little things. And everyone around you is speaking that language and you know, like five or six words, you’re going to feel pretty uncomfortable. And more uncomfortable when people are kind of glancing at you and muttering, and more uncomfortable when you are feeling anxious and nervous, and you mess something up, and then you hear the mutters increasing. And so, things like that, just being able to see yourself in it is really important.
Outside of that would be just being able to get to that opportunity. There’s so many, I won’t even call them hurdles, because hurdles are designed to be jumped over. Like, at least you can physically with a lot of training and effort and, and you know, good glutes get over one. But it’s like a huge brick wall where, okay, so you’re a black kid, who grew up in Chicago, and you really, really want to do dog training. Okay? Where are you gonna start (laughter) there’s maybe two or three, you know, BIPOC dog trainers around you. They’re very busy, they don’t have time for you to shadow them. You email the others, they’re just gonna go, whatever, I don’t have time for this kid. You don’t see anyone who looks like you, you certainly don’t have money to join any club, much less buy a dog. If you do get a dog, it’s probably going to be, you know, a three or four year old generic mutt from the shelter and then you’re stuck fixing whatever problems that dog has. So it’s so, so, so much to even get to that point to be able to be a representative for other people to look up to.
A lot of other smaller things too come up in the group, not smaller, but more easily digestible, I guess. (laughter) We’ve had a lot of interesting conversations about cultural appropriation and breeds. Where if you have a breed, you know, like a super ancient breed type, like a Saluki, where, if you go to a meet the breed, yeah, you’re gonna want to dress your dog up in what you know of the culture that dog came from. Is that cultural appropriation? Where do you draw the line? So, cool conversations like that.
Other things where people just kind of point out microaggressions where you might not necessarily consider that you said something that was really offensive. Something like, “Oh, you know, this isn’t the kind of dog that I thought I would see you with.” You being, you know, 5’6” black woman and you have a greyhound sort of thing. I had some other people say, people would ask, “Oh, how did you, is that your dog? Is that you know, are you co-owning? As though it’s there’s literally no way as a BIPOC you could ever own a dog. (laughter)Up to some downright just really nasty things, where we have one of our members who’s Asian was saying she had someone ask, “Well, do you just have lots of dogs because you stock them up for food?” And sort of like just really, the kind of things where if you heard a six year old say them, you’d be like, “Hey, kid, you can’t say that.” And that’s the age where you would expect that commentary to stop. And it hasn’t.
So you know, all sorts of really, really constructive, even the conversations that have gotten sort of spicy (laughter), have still been really constructive, because the group sort of exists in a way where you have to make yourself uncomfortable. Because the idea of being in a majority race, and not knowing how other people exist, means that hands down at some point, even if you’re the most amazing person in the world, you probably did something super racist. And you didn’t mean to, you weren’t going like, “Aha, this is definitely what I’m gonna do now.” But it’s being able to recognize those things. Accepting that because the problem, the problem with racism is that it is so deeply entrenched in culture, that it’s not going to be a simple, “Okay, well just don’t be a racist anymore.” (laughter) It takes a lot more of the sort of nitty gritty, untangling thousands of knots, as opposed to just taking one little knot out kind of a thing.
JH: Yeah, 2020 is so hard for everybody. And I totally hear what you’re saying, I have done some incredibly stupid things in the past. (laughter) And then it’s like, you have this this gut instinct to just be like, “No, I didn’t, I didn’t do anything stupid. That was fine. What I did was totally normal.” And it’s so hard to listen to the other person’s perspective and then say, “Yes, I was wrong, I apologize.” And it’s so great that there’s a place for people to start airing their perspectives and talking with each other.
JH: So this is really interesting for a way to see how these issues intersect with dog training. Do you think that—so this is a dog breeding podcast—do you think these issues are relevant around dog breeding as well?
OJD: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s one of those—if we don’t have dog breeding, then we don’t have dogs to train. (laughter) And, so it’s very much, and I find it’s actually something I didn’t even realize how sort of big the Venn diagram overlap is, between dog breeding and dog training until I really started becoming involved in the community and seeing how much of it is really nature versus nurture. Yes, you can have a superbly bred dog who is just terribly annoying and awful to train. And you can have a generic inbred, shelter, you know, question mark lab x mix, who’s the best dog you’ve ever seen. Um, but absolutely, breeding is a big part of it.
You know, if you just go in from conformation, obviously, you’re looking at what is the best example of that breed. And so to be able to show what is the best example, then you’re going to have to have access to animals of that breed. And so, going out from there, any of the dog sports, of course, you’re looking at function over form, obviously, but you’ll still need at least a good—you don’t expect everyone to have a dog that’s generations of grand champions, but you need a dog who can, you know, pretty well get the thing done with a little bit of work and elbow grease and a good, you know, pocket of treats.(laughter) And so yeah, I think it’s, it’s a huge (indistinct).
Um, and, you know, especially if you’re looking into doing it less as just a hobby, as a thing that, you know, “this is fun to do with every couple of weekends or so,” and more really getting involved. You need a good dog. And that’s really hard to come by, on a good day, for average, you know, 25 year old white person, much less, as a BIPOC, who has experience, who has the knowledge and can’t find a breeder, can’t find the breed that suits them. It takes a lot of searching and researching and a lot of making mistakes.
I mean, when I started with dogs 10ish years ago, I was so in love with German Shepherds. I was like, “Oh, I love German Shepherds. I’m always gonna have German Shepherds.” And then I started working with German Shepherds and I was like, “This is not the breed for me.” I love them. I love working with them. I love sending them back to their people. (laughter)
And, and that’s kind of how I got into sighthounds because they’re just so chill, until they’re not. And they’re a very on/off switch kind of dog and that’s perfect for me. You know, I need a dog who, “Hey, we’re gonna go for a five mile walk today.” Okay, cool. “Hey, we’re gonna watch Netflix today.” Okay, cool. Um, but being able to be in circles where you can make mistakes, or learn from other people to realize that about yourself, requires a very specific level of knowledge and privilege that a lot of people just are not afforded
JH: A network. Actually, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Because I’ve been thinking about, and we should definitely talk about, how hard it can be once you know what your breed is to get the well bred puppy. But just figuring out what the right breed is for you it’s really important to have people that you can talk to who you trust, who know you, who know where you’re coming from, and who know a lot about the particular breed that you’re interested in. So what you’re saying is that as a BIPOC, you might not have access to that network of people.
OJD: Right, exactly. And you know, of course, there’s always the herding people versus the non sport people and the gundog people versus the molossers, and so forth and so on. But even with that, within those communities, being able to find people who will mentor you, who will, even before you get the dog, even before you get your your first dog or co-own, or even handle, to have people say, “Okay, well, this is what I’ve experienced with the breed,” and have people be that sort of honest, as opposed to like, “Oh, yeah, I love dachshunds. They’re super sweet and fun, and they love to play.” And then you go and get a dachshund and you realize what you wanted was like,I don’t know, a really old basset hound. (laughter)
JH: Or just a dog that doesn’t bite people maybe. (laughter)
OJD: Right, something that didn’t hunt badgers. (laughter)
So yeah, having just that base community is super important. And then of course once you do, you know… If you start off with just handling, if you start off with a co-own, being able to have a breeder who is going to be in your life. I mean, that’s the ultimate goal of any breeder, and any person who purchases the breed is that I can go in four years… I can call up my windsprite’s breeder and go, “Okay, so she did this weird thing today. We were at Fast CAT, and I don’t really know what happened.” And she’ll go, “No worries, I’ve seen this before. When do you want to come over and chat?” And I think a lot of people don’t realize that that’s a relationship you’re supposed to have with your breeders, that it’s someone who’s gonna be in your life for the rest of your dog’s life. And so being able to find someone who is going to be more or less dog family for you for the next 10 to 20 years is hard.
Especially when you have to consider what their personal/political/etc. affiliations are. You know, one of the conversations that was had in the group recently was someone who was like, “I’m looking for my next sport dog. And is it just me, or do all people have to literally scour through hundreds of breeders’ personal Facebook pages to make sure that they haven’t posted, you know, like the one video of something super offensive, or the one “All Lives Matter” kind of a thing?” It’s sort of like, okay. And then it was like a 200plus comment group of other people going, “Oh, my god, yes. I’ve also had to do that.” And that sucks.
It’s really hard because it’s either you do tons and tons and tons of research and you happen across a person, or you play Russian Roulette, and you say, “Okay, this person seems fine.” And then in a year and a half they don’t want to contact you anymore. Or you just never find anyone. So yeah, those sort of, again, not hurdles, but brick walls are definitely things I would say translate between training and breeding.
JH: Yeah, it’s interesting I hadn’t… So I’ve gotten one of my three dogs I got from a breeder and I did not worry too much about what her political affiliations were before I got the dog, and it’s another thing that I hadn’t really thought about as something that might be harder if you’re coming from a different situation.
So we’ve also… So we’ve talked about some sort of more overt racism that might be a problem when someone’s going to get a dog. Like the example, that just beautiful example of, “Oh, do you have a lot of dogs because you’re going to eat them?” You know. So that kind of stuff is really blatant. And it’s something that when you hear these stories, you’re like, “Oh, God,” but then I think a lot of people also are sort of like, “Whoa, that doesn’t happen that often though, right?” But there’s also the less blatant stuff, right? And you’ve mentioned some of that. But I think there’s the situation where a lot of breeders, they really want to place their puppies in really good homes, and as they should, right? But some of the ways that we approach placing puppies that have been handed down for a long time, I think can end up putting up some of these brick walls for BIPOC. So do you? Could you sort of talk about that a little bit?
OJD: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and I was chatting with someone else from the group about this question. Because I mean, as far as breeding ball pythons, I’m not gonna be like, “Do you have a fenced yard? Like it doesn’t… I’m okay. (laughter) But I wanted to kind of get her input. And she made a really good point of, humans are biased. That’s just what we do. And as a social species it’s something we’ve had to develop to be able to function. And so it’s making sure those biases aren’t bad (laughter) where the tricky part comes in.
I remember I got in a lot of trouble at my old shelter because I would approve applications that were supposed to not get approved, because they were in low income communities. But everything else about the family was fine. It was, you know, a mom and dad, three kids, two kids who were over the age of 13, home all the time, and it would just happen to be in this really rundown community. And so it was “Nope, we can’t let them have the dog.” And then I would just very quietly move the application over to “Yes. You have the dog. Congratulations.”
But yeah. I think it’s hard because obviously, as a breeder, you want… I mean, you’ve put so, so, so, so, so much into producing a litter. Obviously, you want the very, very best for them. And I think it kind of comes down to what is best for the dog, as opposed to what you think is probably best for your dog. Like, they’re not yours anymore. You produced them. And, you know, you went through all of the pain and research and waiting and sleepless nights. But they’re not your animal. And so it’s what is what is going to be best for him. I may not necessarily like… You know, say I breed border terriers, and I meet the prospective family and they live in a high rise apartment in Philly, so I go, “I don’t know about that.” That’s, that’s not my place to decide. Because that could be a family where they’ve got, you know, family in Virginia on a giant farm, or they are super excited to do Earthdog and Barn Hunt and so that’s why they ended up getting a terrier. Or they’ve had them all their lives. And so now they’re in the city and they just, they know what they know of breeds. They’re going to go, “Yeah, I know that these hurdles are going to be huge and more of a problem than if we were in a suburban area. Whatever.” And I wouldn’t know that if I just went, “Aah, you live where in Philly? Okay, nevermind.” (laughter)
So you know, really looking at the puppy that you’re placing and saying, “Okay, here are the nonnegotiables. This puppy has to have an active home period. This puppy has to have a home with people who are going to understand that it’s going to turn into a 115 pound dog.” Like, those are things that you can’t ignore. What are the things that you can be a little loose on as opposed to “Okay, yes, I really would prefer that my Bernese Mountain Dogs went to a home that had super active people outside because these puppies really like doing anything.” They’re Bernese mountain dogs, They’re not gonna care. As long as they’re around people and they get to romp around every now and then and do silly things and occasionally break your furniture because they didn’t realize it was there, they’ll be fine. (laughter)
So really, knowing your puppy and knowing the people is really important because you’re kind of a matchmaker at that point. Once your litter is on the ground, you’re looking to say what’s best for them and what’s best for the puppy. You’re just the party making it happen. So that being said, you know, a lot of the biases that come up, obviously, cost being the biggest thing. Um, puppies are expensive and not expensive in the like, “Oh, yeah, well, you know, if you can’t afford this puppy, then you can’t afford to take care of the puppy.” I couldn’t afford… if I had to purchase all three of the dogs that I had without co-owning, without being a rehome, there’s no way I could have afforded them. I’ve talked to friends who are breeders who said, “I couldn’t afford my own puppies. I couldn’t.” (laughter)
You know, and that’s even with them being fairly priced. We’re not talking, you know, $4,000 dogs. We’re talking, okay, this is a good price for a pet erring towards show or sport-line puppy. And so having that kind of mindset of, “Well, if you can’t afford them…” doesn’t really help. And even if it was, where is that money supposed to come from? Is that money coming out of money that they would have used for vet bills in a month? If they really are looking to get this dog who if the puppy’s say over $1200-1400, and they want to get a loan, good luck being a BIPOC going into a bank and saying, “I want a loan for a dog.” They’re gonna laugh at you. Like, it’s not gonna happen. Even if you go in saying it’s for businesses, they’ll go, “Nope. There’s no way.” And so that sort of redlining is extremely difficult to overcome.
And then, you know, if you don’t outright purchase a puppy and you do co-own, it’s… Again, it’s finding a person that’s a part of your life, even more so. So they have to be, they have to understand the kind of person you are. You have to understand the kind of person they are. I’ve known way too many to be comfortable with, BIPOC who have said that they were super excited to get a puppy. They did all their research. Been looking at breeders for forever. They contacted the breeder finally, and the breeder straight up just never responded. And like, but you see them posting on their social media. You see that it’s not like they just disappeared off the face of the earth. They just saw that this person had an Asian name or Hispanic name, and they went, “Never mind. Nope.”
So that just sort of straight up denial… Even if you really, really are a very resilient, optimistic person that’s going to wear on you really fast. If you are an average person, you’re going to give up after like, two tries, you know? So it’s sort of an accidental gatekeeping in a way, where people are saying, “Oh, well, I’m super friendly. I’ve never been racist. I’m always saying hi to people.” It’s less being welcoming and more making sure that space is there for those minority groups. So yeah, I forgot what we were talking about before.
JH: No, you got passion talking. And that is perfect. That is what we want. And, I will say that I catch myself frequently making assumptions about people based on their last names. And it’s really hard to admit to yourself that you’ve done that.
So if you are listening to this podcast as a breeder who’s saying, “Well, I don’t know if I am as welcoming to BIPOC as I would like to be. Like, I would like to be.” So what would your advice be to someone like that? Like, how could you give them some guidelines for how do you think about placing puppies? Or, you know, how do you think about who to really engage with when someone contacts you? What would be your criteria for, “This person is not worth talking to,” or, “This person is worth having a conversation with?”
OJD: Yeah, definitely. I think there’s a lot of avenues you can go down. And it’s sort of exciting, but also a little scary where we are as a community of dog people. Because we’re at this really weird cusp in socialization where there are so many cool things we can do with dogs. Like, there are already dogs that are trained to sniff out COVID, and that’s fascinating.
JH: I didn’t know that. That’s amazing.
OJD: Yeah, it’s so cool. And so it’s, there’s so many different things that you can do to… You know, it doesn’t have to be a straight up, “Okay, I made sure that I call literally every last community organization in my entire state to make sure that I have puppies available for any BIPOC.” It’s, you know, something as simple as putting posters in local community centers when you have breedings coming up. It’s something as simple as, are there local events at your, you know, local high school or community center? Call them and ask, “Hey. Do you… Is there something that I could do as a breeder? Or even if there’s a trainer that needs a dog to demonstrate something at this event? Is that something I could do?” Because then you’re putting, you’re putting not only the passion for dogs, but your animals into the community.
So people are seeing “Oh, well, right here in the like, what everyone else would consider the bad part of town. But here’s this white person here with their dogs. Okay, I guess they’re probably pretty cool. Actually, my cousin did say he wanted a dog.” And because how much of dog stuff is word of mouth, you know, and that’s just kind of how it’s evolved. I mean, dogs are the only animals that have evolved alongside humans. And so, so much of communicating and working with dogs is just straight up talking with other people. And so, yeah, putting yourself in the community is a big thing.
When you get applications… You know, asking questions less as someone that you’re doing a business transaction with, and more someone who you want to have a relationship with. So you know, think of fun questions. Think of, you know, “What’s the first toy that you’re thinking about buying for your puppy?” And it seems like something that’s like, “Okay, I don’t see that this is an important question.” But for people, someone who’s been dying to get their dog for the last 15 years it is “Oh, my God. Okay, so I have like three Kongs put aside. And I got like two Nina Ottoson puzzles, and I’m super excited.” You’re gonna see that passion come through immediately.
Ane of the other things that I’ve seen a couple people do, just generally asking, “What are you most excited about?” You know, even if you have had the… Even if your whole family has grown up with dogs. Even if you are getting a dog because you need it for whatever your line of work is. If you’re herding, or if you live in New York City and have rats (laughter). You can see that passion come through really easily. And they’ll say, “I’m really excited because I’ve been looking for this.” Or they’ll say, “I’m really excited, because I have no idea what I’m doing. But you seem like a pretty cool person. And this seems like a good breed for me to start with.”
JH: That’s fantastic. I think a lot of breeders are really concerned that someone will come having seen a particular breed on TV, think it’s cool, and they just come and want that dog and they don’t know a whole lot about it. And so it sounds like what you’re saying is get the people talking and find out, like, “What do you actually know? What do you want from this dog? And are you really jazzed about the dog as a dog or as a prop?” (laughter)
OJD: Right. Exactly. And I mean, and you know, emphasizing that human/human connection saying, you know, “Are you comfortable with coming to ask me questions? Are you comfortable taking recommendations from me?” Any person of any age or gender or color is going to look at an application that says, “Are you comfortable communicating with me?” and if it’s someone that shouldn’t have your puppy, they’re not going to finish the application. Because having that, being able to be a part of that, and being a part of the community is something that transcends any race, any, any gender. So yeah, I think that’s a really big thing, too.
One of the other things that another friend of mine asked on her application, which I thought was a really cool question, was, “How long have you been waiting for a dog?” And it was, I thought it was a really cool question, because it wasn’t like, “How long have you been on my waitlist?” Like, yes, you can see that, but just the genuine “Oh, you know, I lost my dog four months ago, and I just wanted another one,” or “I’ve literally never had a dog. I’m 35 and I have been dying for this to happen.” You’re going to get a really good sense of where that person is in their life. You’re going to be able to place your puppies a lot more easily when you understand who the person is and what their sort of aspirations and dreams, and even shortcomings are, as opposed to having to rely on like, what street they live on, or what their last name is, or, you know, grammatical/spelling errors.
Language barriers are another huge thing that come up a lot. I have a bachelor’s in English. And I misspell things all the time. (laughter) And so I can’t even imagine how it would be for someone for whom English, which is an absurd language anyway. Trying to communicate in that language and have someone say, “No, I don’t like it.” Well, they already know a language and a half, which is probably more than you. (laughter) So, you know, going based on the person as an individual, as opposed to, you know, the preconceptions that always come along with that sort of quiet, “But I’m not racist,” mentality.
JH: Yeah, we should have standardized on Spanish really. It’s a lot easier to learn than English. (laughter) That would have made a lot more sense. But no, we went with the hard one. Yeah, yeah. And if you see hurdles, talking to people about them, right? “So I really think that my dog deserves a fenced yard and this person looks great. But they don’t have a fenced yard.” So talk to them. Like, what? “Here’s why I think the dog needs a fenced yard. How would you deal with it?” And then talk through it with them.
OJD: Yeah, absolutely.
JH: Yeah. So what about those of us who are not breeders but who…. Well like, I do sports, right? So if I go to a nosework competition and I see one BIPOC who is the speck of pepper in the sea of salt, what can I do? I mean, should I do anything? Are there helpful things that I can do? How can I be an ally in a case like that?
OJD: Yeah, I remember this conversation has come up a couple times in the group. And it made me happy and a little sad, and how much the resounding answer was just to say hi. Because like, okay, that’s super easy, but also, how many people just were ignored completely? You know, it doesn’t take a lot to go over and say, “I’ve never seen you around before. Is this your first time at the show?” See someone struggling with all of their stuff and go, “Hey, do you need help with your crate? Do you want me to grab this for you?” It’s tiny, tiny little things, to just make yourself an approachable and welcoming person. If you see someone with a dog who’s being a brat, which happens to everybody. It is not a…
JH: No, my dogs are perfect. My dogs are never bad when we’re out in public. They’ve never jumped on anyone. (laughter)
OJD: But yeah, seeing that, and really sympathizing with them saying, “Oh, my god. I cannot believe… My dog did this exact same thing his second trial. I really wanted to strangle him. I totally don’t even understand how you’re still so calm. That’s amazing.” Having that level of camaraderie.
One of the other things that’s really big, even if you don’t go to the show, is to share all of the pictures that you have that have the two specks of pepper in the salt shaker. Because, again, that representation is huge. I, and of course, I’m blanking on her name, because dog people always remember the dog’s name and never the person’s name. I saw a picture of just a “confo” show, and there was one person and she was maybe 5’5”-5’6”, black woman with a Dalmatian. And I lost my mind. Like, “Oh, my God, I cannot believe there is a black person at a show. And she looks like me.”
Oh my God, I’ve been watching… Like, when I was a kid, I would literally watch Westminster and cover the bottom of the screen with my arm so I could memorize the dog. And so like, I’ve been watching dog shows my whole life and been to my first one, like three years ago.
So to see that, even if it’s as an aside. Even if you see, you know, someone, you know, a young handler who has worked really hard and their dog’s being awful, but they’re being super calm and composed. Say, “Hey, I, you’re doing amazing. I couldn’t do that now. And I’ve been showing for 20 years and I would put my dogs on Craigslist. So you’re doing great. Is it cool if I take a picture because I really just want to share how amazing you are.” Of course, always asking permission. Super important to ask permission of anything. I find generally dog people aren’t awful with that, but it’s usually because of the dog and not the person. But it’s ok.
So yeah. Things… Just those sort of, being a good person, being helpful, being supportive. If it’s someone where you see, if you’ve seen them at more than two shows or, you know, similar-ish… You see them at Fast CAT and then you see them at lure coursing and you say, “Are you going to be in more shows in this area? Because there’s another one on this date here. And I really hope I get to see you then.” So then now you’re establishing a friendship. Now the dogs are almost a secondary. And it really, really helps that that sort of, “Okay, well, I’m a total outlier in this and they just think that I’m just whatever, a dumb black girl who doesn’t know what they’re doing with her garbage dog.” It’s sort of like, “Oh, okay, cool. There’s, at least I know there’s two or three people who are going to help me out.” And other people seeing that will continue it.
And it’s not gonna obviously be an overnight, in a year, “Oh my god look at this amazing, like super, super ridiculously you know, United Colors of Benetton-ish ad at Westminster of handlers.” But it’s still that ripple effect that happens and if you can show it as much as possible, it really helps.
And then, you know, being present when people… Again, that being in that sort of weird, uncomfortable space, when the person that you have been super friendly with and you’ve been helping said, “Hey, that thing you said. That was pretty racist. It made me feel uncomfortable.” Yeah, you’re gonna feel uncomfortable when they say that, because you got called out. That’s okay. For, at least especially for me, if I am going to call someone out on being racist, it’s because I kind of care about them, at least a tiny bit. You know, and so it’s not just me saying, “Haha, wait till I stick it to you, Karen.” Like, I genuinely want to help them try to be a better person. So recognize that that person is putting themselves in kind of an awkward and uncomfortable space for them, for you to learn. And that makes all the difference really, eventually.
JH: So be nice to people. But ask their permission before taking pictures of them. (laughter) And if someone says something to you, where you might have messed up, don’t freak out about it.
JH: I mean, that seems pretty doable.
OJD: They’re really small steps. And you know, of course, I’m sure if I sat and contemplated on it, I could come up with a list of like 40 or 50 for you. But really, putting in effort is the most important thing. It’s not a “carrying around a pocket guide to not how to be racist.” It’s just. try.
JH: And just understanding that, you know, my point of view is maybe not the same as everybody else’s point of view. And so if someone says to me, “Hey, I have a different point of view about something you just said,” maybe I should listen to their point of view, too, and think about it.
OJD: Yeah, absolutely.
JH: And I think you were trying to put together a spreadsheet with a list of breeders who were interested in being supportive of BIPOC?
JH: Do you want to sort of let people know about that in case you reach some more people on the podcast than you did in the Facebook group?
OJD: Yeah, definitely. So I am in the “procrastinators last quarter” (laughter) of putting together a spreadsheet of breeders who are interested in either mentoring, especially mentoring BIPOC, especially offering co-ownership to first time BIPOC people who maybe have a breed and are very specifically involved in a sport. So if you breed German shepherds, and you also do Schutzhund, then that would be listed as, “Okay, this person is inclusive, and does these things. This is someone you can contact for mentorship.” So yeah, I got a bunch of people from the group, a handful of people just in talking about it, who sent me a message and said, “Hey, I’d like to be on the list, too.” So yeah. I optimistically would like to think it’ll be done in like a week. Realistically, it’ll be like, towards the middle of the month. (laughter)
JH: This podcast interview is not going to come out right away, because we’re, I’m sort of banking. So it’s very possible that that will be out by the time the interview comes out. And if it is, I’ll make sure to put a link in the show notes.
JH: And you and I should talk about if there’s a way I can help amplify that signal, right? Like you publish it where you want to publish it, but if I can make links to it or anything like that, or help in any way.
OJD: Yeah, absolutely.
JH: Hopefully, let me know.
OJD: Anyone is… You know, the group is, like I said, it’s a smidge over 2000. It was invite only. We opened it to invite and you can request, but there are questions that you have to answer. It’s not like a bajillion questions, don’t worry. Also, if you feel like you have a bad answer, it’s okay. One of my… There’s three questions. The first one is, “What does inclusivity mean to you?” And one of my favorite answers was, “I don’t have enough space in this text field to answer this.” So of course, I let them in. (laughter) I was like, “Yes. Accepted.”
JH: So if someone wanted to join that group, so you’re talking about the Inclusivity in Dog Training group right now. So if someone wanted to join that group, could they just go to Facebook, search for Inclusivity in Dog Training, and it would come up? It’s not currently secret, right?
OJD: Yes. Yeah. They can look for it. And that spreadsheet will be, the spreadsheet of the BIPOC-friendly trainers, will be there primarily.
OJD: I’ll be updating it the most regularly there. But I don’t also have a link to… What’s the Google spreadsheet? I think it’s just Google Sheets.
JH: Google Sheets.
OJD: For anyone else who’s interested to add, if they want to add themselves, if they want to shoot me a message on Facebook. I am the only Oluademi on Facebook. So don’t worry. If you see “Oluademi” and there’s a dog in the profile picture, I’m sure it’s me. Then we can get you on there. And even if it’s something where you’re thinking, “I would like to help, but I do not even remotely know where to start. I don’t have a litter coming up.” Or “I’m, you know, I used to breed, and I don’t anymore, but I still have a ton of connections. What can I do with those?” My inbox is always, always, always open. I’m always happy to chat with people and troubleshoot and figure stuff out.
JH: That is lovely. Thank you so much for making yourself available as a resource for helping people figure this stuff out. Because it’s, it’s hard. And it’s, you know, it’s hard to find someone who has the space and the passion like you do to really try to fix this stuff, rather than just being overwhelmed by it.
OJD: Yeah. And it’s, it’s been, it’s been huge for me. It’s definitely… I remember when it started. And of course, you know, the best laid plans of mice and men, we were like, “Yeah, we can totally admin this group.” And then I think we hit like, 600. And I was like, “I cannot do this.” But it’s been, it’s been amazing. And just so humbling to have people who, you know, someone who’s First Nation come up to me and say, “Hey, I literally never post in the group. But it makes me so happy to see people talking about things that I’ve been upset with my whole life.” Or, you know, we have a junior handler in the group who’s like, 17. And she’s such a precious baby. And she’s like, “These are things that I was always kind of upset about. But I didn’t think that anyone really noticed. Now I know people notice.”
So like, things like that. I’ll read the story and I’m there like, tearing up (laughter) while I’m reading these emails and stuff. So yeah, it’s been so amazing for me, and I’m really genuinely, super, mega, ultra excited about where it’s going, whichever direction it’s going. It’s sort of one of those like, “We’re gonna do good things. What are we gonna do? I don’t know, but it’s… Based on what we’ve done so far, I think we’re gonna be doing pretty good.”
JH: Yeah, well, I’m really glad that that group’s out there. So are there any other ways that people should contact you or any other sort of contact information that I didn’t ask about that you want to get out there?
OJD: Yeah. So people, those are the… I said Facebook. My Facebook. There’s the Inclusivity in Dog Training group. You can always email me at afro.pup.training@gmail. I think that’s it, really.
JH: Fabulous. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
OJD: Thank you for having me. It’s been so much fun.
Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out www.functionalbreeding.org. Enjoy your dogs.
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