Celebrating Black History Month: Pioneers in Animal Welfare, Diversity, and the Path Forward

February is not just a month to remember historical figures; it’s an opportunity to reflect on the trailblazers who shaped our present, especially in the field of animal welfare. Diversity in animal welfare is a critical factor for our industry’s success, bringing a spectrum of experiences and perspectives crucial for innovation, creative problem-solving, and life-saving. At the APA, we’re proud to celebrate Black History Month by recognizing and honoring black individuals who helped lay the foundation for what animal welfare is today.

Frederick Douglas Patterson, DVM: A Visionary in Veterinary Education

Dr. Frederick Douglas Patterson, DVM, founder of the Tuskegee School of Veterinary Medicine in 1944, paved the way for diversity in veterinary education. This was the same year he founded the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), a critical financial resource for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. His legacy endures, yet the current underrepresentation of African Americans in veterinary colleges – less than 2% of veterinary students – is a challenge. This shortage of veterinary professionals limits our industry’s diversity, affecting our ability to innovate and reflect the communities we serve.

Bands of Mercy: Advocates for Kindness Toward Animals

The inception of the modern American animal welfare movement coincided with the aftermath of emancipation. From its earliest days, leaders of this movement drew parallels between the history of slavery and the mistreatment of animals. At the forefront of impactful animal welfare initiatives was the Bands of Mercy program. This platform, featuring influential black reformers such as Rev. Richard Carroll, F. Rivers Barnwell, and William Key, laid a foundational bedrock for animal welfare advocacy and humane education. Their enduring contributions not only spotlighted the intelligence and compassion of animals but also vehemently condemned cruelty towards them. Centered on promoting kindness, particularly among children, their participants took lifelong pledges to extend compassion to animals and prevent harm to all living creatures. Today, their legacy echoes in the fabric of contemporary animal welfare initiatives and work we do at the APA.

C.A.R.E. and the Ongoing Pursuit of Diversity in Animal Welfare


In the contemporary landscape, James Evans and the BIPOC leaders at Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (C.A.R.E.) are champions and thought leaders for diversity in animal welfare. C.A.R.E. advocates for equity through education, policy development, research, and action and provides scholarships to people of color who aspire to become veterinarians. This proactive approach to diversity and addressing an ongoing challenge in animal welfare – the veterinary shortage – is impactful and necessary. 

The Impact of Diversity: Saving Lives, Fostering Innovation, and Community Connection 

1. Saving Lives: 

A diverse animal welfare workforce brings a range of perspectives and approaches to solving challenges. This diversity ensures that we can address the varied needs of animals in our care, ultimately saving more lives. 

2. Fostering Innovation: 

Innovation thrives in diverse environments. A mix of experiences and viewpoints encourages creative problem-solving, leading to new and improved strategies for animal care, adoption, and community engagement. 

3. Reflecting Communities: 

Diversity allows our industry to authentically represent and connect with the communities we serve. When our teams mirror the diversity of the people we engage with, we build trust and strengthen our impact on animal welfare. 

How You Can Make a Difference: 

This Black History Month, we invite you to join us in celebrating the contributions of these remarkable individuals and supporting the ongoing work of organizations like C.A.R.E. You can make a difference by donating to C.A.R.E. and contributing to the scholarship fund that opens doors for aspiring black veterinarians. To make a secure, online donation, please visit the C.A.R.E. website at https://careawo.org/donate/ .  

Let’s honor the legacy of these pioneers, acknowledge the challenges we still face, and collectively work towards a future where diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to the mission of animal welfare. Together, we can create a more compassionate and representative animal welfare community for generations to come.  

Resources: 

1. Tuskegee University – College of Veterinary Medicine Historical Legacy (https://www.tuskegee.edu/programs-courses/colleges-schools/cvm/cvm-college-of-veterinary-medicine-historical-legacy

2. Humane Society of the United States – Exploring the Rich, Overlooked History of Black Animal Activism (https://www.humanesociety.org/blog/exploring-rich-overlooked-history-black-animal-activism

3. Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (C.A.R.E.) (https://careawo.org/

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