Animal welfare

Strengthening the Animal Welfare Workforce • St Pete Catalyst

Welcome to the Catalyst Community Voices platform. We’ve organized community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to talk about issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

The field of animal welfare has a diversity problem, but the industry is looking for ways to solve it. According to a landmark 2021 national study by the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, 82% of employees are white and 81% are women. There is very limited representation of people with disabilities, those whose first language is not English, or those who identify with something other than heterosexuality.

Looking for ways to broaden the spectrum of people entering the profession, forward-looking nonprofits for animal welfare like the SPCA Tampa Bay want to do the right thing. But they’re also looking to address a range of business issues that are undermining their success, starting with chronic staff shortages.

From medical positions to personnel who support the human side of the animal/pet partnership, such as foster counselors for those giving up pets and adoption counselors for those bringing them home, jobs take an uncomfortably long time to fill. Competition is fierce from for-profit veterinary practices and other not-for-profit organizations and businesses that rely on people with strong customer service skills as well as operational abilities in finance, HR and communications.

“The key to keeping pace with the staffing needs of this growing field is to encourage new people who care about animals to learn more about the variety of jobs in the profession,” says Howard Qualls, director of resources human beings at the Tampa Bay SPCA. Since joining the organization in November 2021, he has made it his mission to form community partnerships that will help raise awareness of good jobs and accessible career paths in animal care among underrepresented groups. .

“We have formed a very active Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee made up of staff who are passionate about creating a more inclusive organization. We are working with schools, colleges, job fair organizers and community organizations such as Urban League and CareerSource, to help more people visualize themselves in the field,” Howard said. “We offer internships. We hire people based on their interests rather than just their experience and we train them for available jobs. We are working to attract more men and people of color to join our organization. Over time, we hope they will help attract others to animal care and veterinary work.

Jae Jamieson is a new veterinary assistant at the SPCA Tampa Bay Vet Center in St. Petersburg. After a professional training path that included criminology, special education and animal studies, Jae reconnected with her passion for animal rescue and rehabilitation, something encouraged early in her life by a grandmother who was an inveterate rescuer of wildlife and strays.

The on-the-job training Jae gets as a vet tech will help her prepare to apply to vet school once she graduates in biology.

“We need people from all walks of life in the field of animal health and welfare and in the field of veterinary medicine,” says Jae. “I have always loved animals and it is gratifying to rediscover this lifelong interest in my professional career.”

The benefits of a diverse workforce go beyond an expanded talent pool. When different types of people are represented in an organization’s workforce, the delivery of services and mission also improves.

In animal care, that translates to greater empathy and understanding of the bond between animals and humans, and what people need to support their pets, says SPCA CEO Tampa Bay, Martha Boden. She said the field is evolving to understand that supporting humans at the heart of the people/pet relationship ultimately best serves both sides of the equation.

“Many people face barriers to taking care of themselves – things like transportation, limited income, inadequate housing and a lack of preventative medical care, which in turn can make it difficult to prioritize their pets. When our staff can relate to these challenges, we become better at solving problems and meeting the needs of the community. Staff who understand a variety of life circumstances help reduce judgment and focus more about solutions,” she said.

“SPCA Tampa Bay is the only shelter for everyone in the area,” Qualls added. “That means we take care of all species. We also strive to be an employer for all, a place where anyone who cares about animals can consider working.

According to the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement’s DEI Cultural Audit, many survey respondents acknowledge that they serve diverse communities, but have not done enough to bring community perspectives to the table. They also see the need to increase awareness so that people who might use their programs and services know about them and find them accessible and welcoming.

Having staff and leaders that more closely reflect the demographics of the community is an important step, but culture change is also important. This means helping new staff understand how to make someone feel welcome when handing over a pet. A pet owner who feels welcome and safe will share much more information about their pet, giving the SPCA Tampa Bay crucial data to support that pet’s journey to a new home. Guiding pet adoptions by getting to know families through supportive conversations, rather than lengthy requests or assumptions based on appearance or behavior, is also essential in a shelter for everyone.

Like many other fields, the animal welfare profession is at the start of this DEI journey, according to Boden. Understanding that work is about animals AND people, demonstrating a commitment to diversity through programs and partnerships, and creating career paths that make it easier for people to grow in the profession – all of these steps will ultimately benefit everyone. our community.

What’s the key message for this moment, though? There are many good jobs, training opportunities, and career paths for those who want to work with animals. For more information, contact SPCA Tampa Bay.