Equity & Justice

Jun 9, 2020

I’ve always been aware that animal welfare and especially farm sanctuaries is a predominately white female movement. “Why?”

I recently discovered a personal example about the “why.” This would be a very small “why” if it involved just me, but it also involves Dr. Jane Goodall.

I’ve shared many times that as a young child the book Dr. Dolittle inspired me to work with animals when I was older. And here I am 50 years later the founder of a farm sanctuary.

In the 1960s, Norgate Elementary didn’t have a library but a book mobile came round the school once a month for us to borrow books. I still remember borrowing the Story of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting that first time and the thrill of reading about an adult who could talk to the animals. It took me days to read it (I was very young) with rarely a break even to eat.

Jane Goodall says, “The first book that really made an impression was The Story of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting.  An English country doctor who lived in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh who was taught how to speak to animals by his parrot, Polynesia….. Mum got it for me from the library – we could not afford new books. I read it at least twice before it had to go back. In fact I loved it so much that Danny (my grandmother, with whom Mum, my sister Judy and I went to live after war broke out and my father joined up in the army) gave it to me as a great treat for Christmas, 1944.”

Cover 1923 vs Cover 1988

I never had my own copy of the book, but some years later I bought one for my children. It happened to be a newly released 1988 edition.

There is an afterword in the 1988 copy explaining why it was felt the original Story of Dr. Dolittle needed to be rewritten due to some offensive content.

“After much soul-searching the consensus was that changes should be made. The deciding factor was the strong belief that the author himself would have immediately approved of making the alterations. Hugh Lofting would have been appalled at the suggestion that any part of his work could give offence and would have been the first to have made the changes himself….. The message that Hugh Lofting conveyed throughout his work was one of respect for life and the rights of all who share the common destiny of the world. ” Afterword by Christopher Lofting

For the life of me, I couldn’t recall any of the language that needed to be edited. That was until I recently bought the original version of The Story of Dr. Dolittle published in 1920.

OMG. Many of the original passages make me cringe!

Then it hit me this week – the same book that inspired myself and Jane Goodall (and probably many other white children) to work with animals would have been extremely hurtful to a child of colour!

This makes me weep.

Inequality: “The Story of Dr Dolittle” published in 1920
Image Credit: @lunchbreath Published by: @johnmaeda
Equality: “The Story of Dr Dolittle” is rewritten in 1988
Equity: Where do we find equity in the animal welfare movement?
Justice: How can we get to a place of justice?

I am now spending time listening to diversified voices and learning.