From the desk of the Executive Director, Emily Stuart

Last week, Gateway Pet Guardians rescued a beautiful and loving stray, missing the tip of her nose, that had eluded outreach workers for a year. Her arrival at our shelter coincided with the Inauguration of the new Vice President of the United States, Ms. Kamala Harris, and she was named to reflect this momentous event. The story of her rescue was shared widely and she amassed a fandom from across the globe. 

But in our own community, our neighborhood, our corner of East St. Louis, we had pushed against a bruise of trauma that never heals. In all our good intentions, we had analogized the first Black woman to hold the position of Vice President to an animal. We reinforced the shameful legacy of dehumanizing and animalizing Black people, especially Black women, in this country. And we did it on an international stage. 

Saturday morning, we received an email from a woman who lives in East St. Louis, named Adrienne. She cares about the animals in our community. She works full time and volunteers at her church. On Tuesday, she watched with pride as Ms. Harris took office. She was planning a trip to our Pet Resource Center later that day to pick up treats for her dog, until she saw the news of our rescue. Her day of celebration and hope was marred with the ever-present reminder that even well-intentioned neighbors build fences with the tools of white supremacy. Adrienne’s request was small – change the dog’s name. But the strength it took to challenge an organization to do better, is immeasurable. The big-hearted, affectionate, mama dog that joined our family last week will now be known as “Courage.” And we are taking steps to ensure this harm is never repeated. 

But this statement is not about us, it is about Adrienne. It is about her experience as a Black woman in East St. Louis, in a country that only gave her the right to vote in the last 50 years, during a pandemic that is disproportionately fatal for people of color. It is about her experience watching organizations, like us, and people, like me, come into her community with good intentions cloaked in defensiveness. If we want to truly honor Ms. Harris, we won’t do it by naming a dog after her, we will do it through accountable, community-driven change in our organization and across the animal welfare industry. 

Emily Stuart | emily@gatewaypets.org