After the Webinar: Community Engagement and De-Escalation for Animal Service Professionals. Q&A with Trevor Whipple

Webinar presenter Trevor Whipple answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Community Engagement and De-Escalation for Animal Services Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Do you have any additional or more ideas for helping engagement with the community for folks in this field? 

Trevor Whipple:  I think it’s very community specific. I know that I covered some bullet points. There’s the social media, positive media releases. We’ve had some success in some communities with hosting events or public service announcements, whether it be a community newspaper, local, television station, or even a community access television station to say, “Hey, do you have the opportunity to do a little promo to talk about what we do and the type of work we have available.” And certainly, any of these, if you had a low-cost or free vaccine clinic. I know that in the area I live, we have a non-profit organization that actually has a mobile veterinarian van where they will come around and provide vaccines and wellness checks on animals, and microchipping events. If you want to drop me an e-mail, I’d be happy to have a one-on-one dialog because a lot of it is, can be specific to what have you already done in the community you’re in, and just in the interest of time and I apologize, I’d keep that a little brief.


Audience Question: Are there other ways to assess our own unintended implicit bias?

Trevor Whipple:  That can be a challenge because we don’t know what we don’t know, right? And it’s hard to identify in ourselves. I think one thing I do is I like to ask myself, you know, “How am I engaging with this individual,” and “If it was somebody else, how would I engage with them?” For example, you know, when we first started seeing unhoused people in our community, my first impression was, and I’m guilty, I’ve always learned seem to be through the whole school of hard knocks. But, you know, I began with the attitude of, “Just, go get a job. Why are you panhandling at the end of the highway? McDonald’s is hiring. Go get a job.” That is clear, implicit bias. You know, over time, I learned and I self-reflected to say, “It’s not that easy Trevor.” Maybe this individual can’t get employment because they have a mental impairment and can’t work. They can’t be in a confined environment. Maybe they have a substance abuse disorder where you know they’re there under the influence of alcohol, so they can’t even do an interview for a job. So, really ask yourself, when you engage with someone, “Would I treat everybody that way? Would I treat my Mom that way?” I think that’s one of the earliest indicators that I had. And there are some self-assessment tools, even online, particularly when it comes to race-based bias that you can engage, you can Google and find an implicit bias assessment tool. But I think the short answer is to ask yourself, “Would I treat my mom this way?” That’s kind of been the easiest quick check for me. But, also, if you have colleagues you can trust, to have a good open dialog about, “Am I treating everybody fairly and equally?” or is this something maybe, I should know if you have to know if you’re not a member of a diverse community. And you work with people that come from the diverse community to have an open conversation with them and say, “Is there anything I should know?”


Audience Question: Do you have suggestions on how to handle controversial community questions like stray cats and a proposed trap neuter release program? 

Trevor Whipple:  I think that if you can find colleagues from elsewhere, T&Rs are fairly accepted. We have T&R programs going on all the time where I live here in Vermont, I know there have been challenges in some states with that. But sometimes if we can take data from other locales and say, “Hey, here’s what we’ve done in other communities.” You know, the last community I policed was extremely restrictive. You actually had the ordinance called for licensing and collars on cats even. We didn’t do much enforcement.   I think that if you’re having a stray cat population, to try to open a dialog, maybe even get a local reporter to do a story and find a locale that’s had some success with T&R and talk about what it looks like, why that’s the approach, and how over time it will reduce this colony in a humane way and a resource-responsible way.


Audience Question:  Do you have recommendations on how we might handle a situation where a citizen is recording our interaction with an aggressive dog? 

Trevor Whipple:  Difficult, but the best way, and frankly, this is a big thing I’m working on now, is the so-called First Amendment auditors, the public’s right to record government in the performance of government’s duties. So, the reality is, embrace it.

I think that’s the quickest, shortest answer, as difficult as it is unless they’re getting in your way. They probably have a First Amendment, legitimate, legal right to do it. We don’t like it. I understand it doesn’t feel comfortable, and frankly engaging with any sort of a use of force, whether it’s an animal welfare professional having to use force on an animal or a police officer having to use force on another human being, It does not look good to the general public. But do your job, the way you’re trained, the way you’re supposed to, and realize that frankly, we’re all being recorded probably all the time. So, you know, if you can narrate, explain, if you have time, why you’re doing what you have to do. But frankly, if you just have to react, because a dog is aggressive and somebody’s going to get hurt, if they’re recording you, so be it, I think that’s the best move, is to not resist, not argue. Realize that as long as they’re not in your way, they probably have a right to do it. And they’re going to do it one way or the other. So rather than fight or argue with them, just do your job. Do it as well as you can and be proud of the work we do.


Audience Question: Do you recommend that animal control officers use body-worn cameras? What is your experience from a law enforcement perspective? 

Trevor Whipple:  So, personally, not a lot of experience with animal control, wearing body cameras, a lot of experience with police officers wearing body cameras. I think that the body camera is extremely helpful from both perspectives. It’s helpful to build trust and transparency in the community. It’s helpful for officer accountability, but a couple of things to think about if you’re going to do a body-worn camera program. You really need to make sure that you have a good policy so that everybody knows what to expect. You really should have kind of a community engagement process so that people understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But at the end of the day, I think a good, solid policy, is extremely helpful because most complaints that I saw against police officers were officers doing really good work and either somebody had a grudge, or somebody didn’t understand what they were doing.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Community Engagement and De-Escalation for Animal Services Professionals. 

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