Do black people like dogs?
As someone from Britain’s Afro-Caribbean community, I’m aware there’s a perception or even stereotype that dog ownership isn’t something that’s particularly popular among Britain’s black communities.
I was recently listening to the podcast, A Dog’s Best Friend, in which the host Oli Juste was interviewing the singer and actress Beverly Knight. She was telling the story of how she went from being scared of dogs to becoming a fully-fledged dog lover.
Beverly’s parents are Jamaican and informed her early attitudes to dogs. I could relate to much of what she had to say. Dogs aren’t considered family pets in the Caribbean. They live outside in the yard and are there for security - they certainly don’t enter the family home.
This might explain why we both grew up in households where our parents weren’t interested in pet dogs.
I’m beginning to sense that a change in attitude is taking place. Those of us born and raised in the UK are learning to think differently about dogs from our parents and grandparents.
As part of Black History Month, I thought it would be worth speaking to my friend Andre to explore common experiences with pets among diasporas. He owns a four-year-old Shai Pei called Jupiter and lives in South London with his two children.
Rodney: As a child I didn’t really grow up around dogs and was quite fearful of them, but my feelings have started to change working for ManyPets. What were your childhood experience of dogs?
Andre: I grew up in a classic West Indian house, with a mum who was scared and nervous around dogs.
Living on a council estate, dogs were everywhere and my mum always had a story about how she was attacked as child and this left a traumatic experience of her and dogs.
She would always tell me "dogs don't have plastic teeth so I don't trust them".
Subconsciously maybe this had some kind of impact on me and made me obsessed with wanting a dog.
As soon as I was old enough I was working at the local RSPCA as a volunteer on the weekends, walking the dogs and cleaning out the kennels. I loved it.
With this enthusiasm I really wanted a dog, but my mum refused. So I settled for hanging out with my mates and their dogs at weekends and helping out at the RSPCA.
Rodney: My mom’s family is from Saint Kitts and she recently told me that as a small girl she remembered my grandparents having a dog.
It was never allowed inside the house and my mom didn’t even remember the dog’s name. It doesn’t sound like it was a much-loved member of the family.
You have family in Barbados, what are people’s perceptions of dogs from your experience of the island?
Andre: The Bajan and English mindset of owning a dog is completely different, like chalk and cheese.
My family in Barbados think it's strange how we treat animals in this country, allowing them into the house. Over there a doghouse in the back yard is normal and the dogs don't enter the house.
Rodney: Why do you think some people within black communities are reluctant to become dog owners?
Andre: I'm not really sure. Perhaps it's fear or just the unknown. In the 1980s and 90s most dog owners where I grew up had status dogs, aggressive breeds. Perhaps this put them off or maybe they weren't being exposed to dogs.
I also think a lot of the generation coming over from the West Indies in the 1950s and 60s might have passed their own fear of owning a dog onto their children.
I can only talk from experience with my mum, but I’ve lost count of the stories she had from Barbados and England of being bitten or chased by "wild dogs!"
Rodney: Do you know any other black dog owners?
Andre: Hardly. I know one other black dog owner and they don't even live in London. I think most of my black friends have had some kind of incident with a dog growing up, which has put them off. It’s the classic 'I got chased by a Great Dane', which turned out to be a Yorkshire Terrier!
Rodney: I know exactly what you mean. When I was five years old, my family lived in some flats. I was outside one day playing and there was a dog looking at me. I say dog, it might as well have been a lion.
I turned around and ran back inside screaming and straight up the stairs! I look back on that now and imagine the dog probably didn’t even do anything!
Rodney: Can you tell us a bit more about your dog Jupiter?
Andre: I rescued her from Spain as a puppy from an animal charity. She's a Shar Pei cross and she’s a classic Shar Pei personality, laid back and stubborn.
I really wanted a dog for my children but couldn’t get a good match for our family through UK rescues after trying for nearly a year.
Jupiter came over to the UK and I registered my interest in her straight away. There was a waiting list to adopt her, that's how popular she was.
The centre did a home visit and said there was something about my personality that made them like me and that I could meet Jupiter. The kids fell in love with her and four years later she's part of the family.
Rodney: Were there any other reasons why you wanted to have a dog?
Andre: I always wanted my children to grow up around animals. I've always been a pet person and I think it taught me to care and look after an animal.
I wanted my children to experience that and take responsibility for owning a dog. We also like exploring and going out to new parks and a dog fits into our active lifestyle.
Rodney: And finally, what’s the best thing about being a dog owner?
Andre: Understanding their personality and getting to know them.
Certain breeds are similar, but dogs definitely have individual personalities. Jupiter is literally a dog version of my kids, which I find fascinating.
Meeting people on our daily dog walks. It's amazing how many people I talk to when I take her out and when she meets other dogs and she interacts with them. Also, all the exploring and daily steps I do.
She helps me keep fit, no matter the weather she needs a walk so she keeps me active.
Anyone thinking of becoming a dog owner should go for it. It's the best decision I've made!