New report: Helping people and animals together

Taking a trauma-informed, culturally safe approach towards assisting placed-at-risk people with addressing animal neglect

People from all backgrounds enjoy the companionship and mental health benefits of animals, but people who are placed-at-risk—those experiencing poverty or systemic discrimination, who are often at a higher risk of dealing with past traumas—can face barriers in caring for their pets. This new report discusses opportunities in the animal services sector to address these barriers, ensure equitable services for all people and animals, and prevent worker burnout and compassion fatigue.

The report, entitled Helping people and animals together: Taking a trauma-informed, culturally safe approach towards assisting placed-at-risk people with addressing animal neglect, is developed by and for animal service workers. It centers the stories of people who would be affected by recommendations: people who have experienced a surrender or seizure of their animal, animal service workers, and workers in other sectors who can offer partnerships and perspectives from their own trauma-informed work. Interviews with these three groups highlight current inequities in the sector and opportunities for change.

In reviewing the report, you will find actionable suggestions on updating program design, service delivery, and policy to improve outcomes for animals, their guardians, and animal service workers.

Together, we can create positive change and find long-term solutions to preventing animal neglect.

Continue reading below for a preview of the best practices checklist for employing a trauma-informed, culturally safe, and One Welfare focused approach, or read the full report here.

To implement facets of trauma-informed practices, organizations can:

  • Have an understanding of triggers
  • Utilize accessible, non-triggering language
  • Center transparency in processes
  • Focus on voice, choice, respect, and sensitivity
  • Unlearn assumptions and actively challenge biases
  • Practice non-judgment
  • Meet people where they are at in their lives
  • Practice cultural sensitivity, awareness, and safety, through a historical understanding of the communities we work with
  • Incorporate trauma-informed learnings into internal training policy

To update the practices and processes of addressing animal neglect to ensure cultural awareness, sensitivity, and safety, organizations can:

  • Have a cultural and historical understanding of the communities we work with
  • Have a community liaison for Indigenous communities
  • Build and maintain respectful and trusting relationships
  • Develop internal policy regarding cultural sensitivity training
  • Incorporate mandatory staff and leadership training on cultural safety, awareness, and sensitivity
  • Incorporate learnings about the history of the Indigenous communities the organization works with into training materials

To implement facets of outreach-first and prevention-based models, organizations can:

  • Engage in community engagement/collaboration
  • Formalize networks to provide more resources
  • Focus on relationship building with and in communities
  • Develop an internal policy about community engagement practices

To address compassion fatigue & burnout in staff, organizations can:

  • Understand the connection between compassion fatigue/burnout and re-traumatization, and learn the signs/signals of burnout and compassion fatigue in staff and self
  • Implement staff training for high-stress situations with tangible examples
  • Promote and normalize wellness policies and practices
  • Practice debriefing with coworkers
  • Have staff engage in optional counseling and mental wellness activities during work hours
  • Improve or develop internal mental health policy
  • Incorporate mandatory mental health training
  • Addition of wellness days
  • Make available or suggest sector-specific counselling

This report has been made possible by funding from the Government of British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture through their Canadian Agricultural Partnership initiative. We thank them for their support of this project. The views expressed in this report do not reflect the views of the funders.

We would also like to thank the Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada and the Vancouver Foundation for supporting this project as a whole, particularly in its next steps, which will be an online training course informed by the findings of this report.