Speaker Spotlight: Janice Hannah

Janice Hannah, Humane Indigenous Communities Lead, IFAWAs IFAW’s Humane Indigenous Communities lead, Janice Hannah works with Indigenous communities and NGOs in North America to build humane and sustainable programs that improve the health and welfare of both animals (particularly dogs) and their people. Jan’s focus on companion animal welfare merges her long-term interest of working with animals and communities in culturally applicable, empowering and creative ways. Community partnerships, along with tools such as education, capacity building and service provision, are cornerstones to IFAW’s work that prioritizes on-the-ground solutions that focus on each community’s unique set of challenges and opportunities. Janice holds an Honours BSc in Wildlife Biology from the University of Guelph and a Master's in Education and Teaching Certificate from Niagara University. She is presenting three thematically-linked sessions on dog management in indigenous communities as part of the 2018 Deep Dive Training Day. We reached Jan at her home in Caledon, Ontario.

Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS): Before we talk about your sessions at this year's National Animal Welfare Conference, can you tell me how you got into this work? What was your path into animal welfare and this specialization of working with indigenous communities on dog welfare?

Jan Hannah: I’ve always loved animals, and I always wanted to be a wildlife biologist. I intended to go to the University of Guelph, and I knew I was going to take wildlife biology - and I did! I got a contract working with the International Marine Mammal Association (IMMA) to do research for a paper on captivity of cetaceans – survivorship of whales and dolphins in captivity. I worked on marine mammal issues for the first 12 years of my career. Then IMMA was taken over by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is when I moved on to the Northern Dogs Project. I took it as a mat leave – actually, it was Barbara Cartwright’s mat leave!

CFHS: Really? Wow! Animal welfare is such a small world. Did you have a particular interest in dogs when you moved into that position? That’s a huge shift.

JH: Yeah, I did. I have always had a soft spot for marine mammals and wildlife, and I still do. But this position brought together two different interests for me, working with dogs and working with indigenous communities. It was serendipity.

CFHS: How did that overlap for you?

JH: I’ve always felt a deep draw and had much respect for Indigenous culture in Canada and feel strongly about autonomy and agency for First People. For dogs…I was never able to have a dog until I was an adult but always wanted one – I tell mother now that if they had just allowed me one dog, I wouldn’t have to have 6 now! And I love the North. I have always had a connection to Canada’s wilderness and landscape. I feel like we all have these moments in life that are a 90-degree turn – and this one was a really positive one for me.

CFHS: So you got into this position and started working with indigenous communities on dog management, and you’ve obviously gained some wisdom about how to best do this work along the way. Can you share some of that knowledge with us?

JH: We all come from where we come from – we really can get stuck in our own culture and norms. But you need to learn how to be open to do this work. It’s a lot of listening and watching and figuring out ways to be with people at the place where they are. Hearing what they’re saying, how they’re living and watching and figuring out the best ways to be helpful…for them, not for you. Know your biases, try to let them go, be nonjudgmental and be respectful.

CFHS: Did you learn all of that through trial and error?

JH: Oh, it was time. For sure. Dog management issues in other communities and cultures are not for us to fix. We can certainly help and have valid information and experience to add, but a lot of what is happening on the ground exists in a context that is different from the one we experience every day. Every community is unique. Again, our place is not to fix somebody else’s challenges but to add value and insight to the journey.

CFHS: So it’s key to try not to lead the process but rather take a back seat to what the community needs.

JH: I feel that’s paramount. When you set up an expectation that you’re going to come in and solve someone else’s problem, you’re not in true partnership with the community. Fixing something for someone else doesn’t include that person in the solution.

CFHS: It’s disempowering.

JH: It is. Yes. And it doesn’t give agency to the people who you’re working with. We all need agency. We need to feel empowered to make changes that are relevant and contextual for us.

CFHS: In some of your previous presentations at the National Animal Welfare Conference, you’ve talked about the importance of having a decolonizing approach to this work with indigenous communities. Is that something that you’re going to bring into the First Nations and Dogs training sessions you’re teaching as part of the Deep Dive Training Day on April 24th?

JH: I hope so. I expect so because it’s a central philosophy for me. The relationship that non-indigenous people have with indigenous people in Canada is complicated. So, for me, even if I don’t understand how each individual person is experiencing colonialism, I am always very aware of the fact that I could be construed as part of that. It’s paramount that the relationship is based on truth, shared responsibility, partnership, honesty and authenticity.

CFHS: You’re teaching three different sessions this year at the National Animal Welfare Conference as part of the training day. Can you tell us what you hope to pass along to participants?

JH: Well, the first session of the day is really fascinating to me because it's based on attitudinal research where we did interviews with community members – they weren’t necessarily dog lovers, they were different stakeholders in each of the communities. So the first session is looking back at what community members had to say about whatever dog management programming is happening in their community – using their words to assess how successful they feel dog programming is in their community.

CFHS: And that kind of process increases the effectiveness and integrity of program planning in a community?

JH: It’s the basis. Often, we forget to go in and find out what people know and think and perceive and live. And we build a program based on what we think needs to happen in a community. In reality, dog management is not about dog problems – it’s more about people problems. You need to understand what the people are thinking and doing and expecting in order to create a suitable program for that unique environment.

CFHS: So in that first session, you’re talking about creating a foundation, or basis of understanding, for a program. Then in the second session, you’re talking about community development and participatory methods. Does each session build on the last?

JH: They’re all different. The Humane Community Development session that you were just mentioning is based on a two-day workshop that IFAW runs in communities. It’s a facilitated workshop that brings different stakeholders together and has them look at the unique dog-related challenges their community faces. It forms the foundation from which they can start to think about what they would like to implement in their community to change how they’re living with dogs. The really great thing about this is that it brings together stakeholders who often don’t want to sit down and talk together because they may be from different ends of the spectrum. It brings them through different activities that help them to really understand what the dog issues are in their particular community and it puts everyone on the same path together.

CFHS: And you’ll be walking the training day participants through how you would run that kind of workshop in a community?

JH: Obviously I only have 90 minutes, and the process is a two-day workshop so I won’t be able to do all the activities. But certainly people will get a feel for how this brings people together and how they come out the other end of the process.

CFHS: Sounds great. Now in the third session, you’re going to talk about best practices for working on dog issues with indigenous communities. What are you going to dig into there?

JH: I’m really excited about that session, and I’m excited to do it with Alberta Spay and Neuter Task Force because of the wisdom-sharing. Oftentimes, we only talk about successes. This is a real opportunity to provide those insights that we’ve had as we’ve gone through our years of working in the communities. Let’s talk about those foundation principles of how to work well with First Nations and some of the things that we have learned through experience. It won’t be a top-down presentation. I’m hoping to resonate with the individuals who are there so that they feel that we’re mirroring their journey.

CFHS: Who might benefit from these sessions?

JH: They’re for anyone who is interested in working with – or is already working with – indigenous communities and for people who have had experiences where they may not be maximizing their effectiveness or are feeling burnt out. And I’m always happy when indigenous people come to be part of the workshops. I really want people to question the things that they do – when we listen and remain open-minded and optimistic, we can do what we do better.

To learn more about the Deep Dive Training Day and Janice Hannah’s training sessions as part of the First Nations and Dogs training track in Calgary on April 24, go here. To view the full conference program, go here.