Humane Community Development: Putting Humans At the Centre of Animal Welfare Program Design

SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 10:30AM-12:00PM 

SPEAKER: Kate Nattrass Atema, Director, Companion Animal Welfare Programme, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Even when dogs are predominantly free-roaming, domestic dogs almost always rely on humans for many aspects of their well-being, including food, water, basic veterinary care, social interaction and safety. It follows, therefore, that interventions to improve dog welfare should target human behaviours linked to the provision of these basic needs, rather than focusing solely on the dogs themselves. Interestingly, though, anecdotal reports from a number of traditional dog welfare interventions, including those focusing primarily on sterilization, vaccination and rescue/rehoming of dogs, show that human attitudes and behaviours toward dogs sometimes (but not always) appear to change in response to these interventions. Why do these tried-and-true interventions sometimes work, and why do they sometimes fail?

In a 2014 exploratory study, we interviewed 41 field experts in dog population management and related disciplines globally to better understand the social or human-based changes that may result from traditional dog population management interventions (Atema and Arluke, 2016). The study revealed a “Cycle of Intolerance”, which demonstrates how poor dog welfare, negative attitudes toward dogs, and divisive human behaviors are often interlinked, and result in a systematic social barrier to the provision of basic dog care by people.

Conversely, we can also discuss how the right type of intervention can impact this cycle, resulting in positive human attitude and behavior change. This presentation will share this research as well as how we can learn from it by putting the human experience at the center of program design. We will share a novel participatory approach we call “Humane Community Development” which is being adapted to help communities around the world put aside their interpersonal conflicts to design and sustain humane dog management programs.

Three Key Learnings:
1. Human behaviour change is essential to sustained animal welfare.
2. Poor animal welfare impacts people in many ways, some of which have little to do with the animals themselves.
3. Sustainable dog welfare interventions should address the source of human attitudes and conflict to unleash positive community interactions which can sustain animal welfare over time.

Kate Atema leads the global companion animal programme for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), overseeing dog and cat welfare projects in disadvantaged communities across 5 continents. Her work focuses primarily on community engagement and the development of humane, sustainable and locally tailored approaches to dog and cat welfare, which contribute to improvement in the lives of dogs, cats and people. Kate lives in the U.S., but she and her family sing ‘O Canada’ with their husky mix from northern Quebec regularly.