People, Pets, and Purpose

Kassidi Jones Adopted a Dog and Became an Anti-Racism Influencer

June 21, 2023 Human Animal Support Services
People, Pets, and Purpose
Kassidi Jones Adopted a Dog and Became an Anti-Racism Influencer
Show Notes Transcript

For a decade, Kassidi Jones has been studying race relations. As a Black woman, adopting a dog who most people identify as a pit bull opened her eyes to patterns of racism she hadn’t noticed before. 

Now, Kassidi, a Yale Ph.D. student, shares her observations—plus a lot of really cute dog pics—on her wildly popular Instagram account, @gingers_naps, named for her dog.

Check out this episode of People, Pets, and Purpose to hear Kassidi speak with host Diaz Dixon about racism in animal welfare, and so much more.


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Diaz Dixon:

Welcome to another episode of People, Pets, and Purpose, our interview series about the human animal bond and what really, really matters. I'm Diaz Dixon, the Maddie's Advisor for External Affairs and Partnerships for the Human Animal Support Services project. I'm speaking today with a super cool guest. I mean, this is really, really cool. I'm speaking with Kassidi Jones, the person behind the excellent Instagram account, @ginger_naps, where she shares amazingly cute content about her dog, Ginger, and also really powerful posts about anti racism in animal welfare. Kassidi is also a poet. And she's working towards her PhD in English and African American Studies at Yale. So no, she is no slouch. Thank you so much for joining us.

Kassidi Jones:

I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Diaz Dixon:

Well, it's really, really cool. I mean, you have really touched so many different areas, you know, anyone who does a Google search on your Google stalks you can find some amazing content with the direction that you're headed, as well as how you've been able to articulate and highlight your own experiences. So really, really powerful. So it's, we're super glad to have you.

Kassidi Jones:

Yeah, so be a great conversation.

Diaz Dixon:

Yeah, yeah. Well, let me let me jump on in and ask you. When you adopted a Ginger, did you anticipate that you would become I hope this isn't to overstate it, but a public intellectual on the topic of dogs?

Kassidi Jones:

Woof. Wow. Okay. Thank you, that is an aspiration of mine. So I'm going to claim it, I'm going to receive it. No, I had no intentions of making social media for my dog before I got her. Ginger is my first dog. So I mostly play not just taking it all in spending a lot of time with her. But once it happens so quickly, that your camera roll gets overtaken by pictures of your pets. I wasn't expecting that. But I was taking dozens of pictures of her every hour. And so I needed to put them somewhere and ended up starting the Instagram. Like a couple months into it. But I wasn't trying to be an influencer. It was just supposed to be something for family and friends. I wasn't expecting this many eyes ever.

Diaz Dixon:

Wow. So it was just very organic in the way just kind of flowed into it.

Kassidi Jones:

Absolutely.

Diaz Dixon:

Ginger's your first dog?

Kassidi Jones:

She's my first dog. I've wanted a dog for my whole life. But no one had ever given me one. And now that I have to pay for her for by myself. I understand why.

Diaz Dixon:

Very expensive. Was it so you never had a dog growing up? But you weren't. You were not allowed to have one in your household?

Kassidi Jones:

Nope, I had fish. I had a bunny temporarily. But then we moved and she was gone. I didn't it wasn't my choice. She just wasn't there one day. So that was really sad. I hope you're out there thriving Sasha even though that was like 20 years ago. And then I had my longest pet was a bearded dragon, who was named was crawler Sonic Junior. She was a girl. And also there was no senior. I don't know where that name came from. I was trying to impress my friends at camp. But yeah.

Diaz Dixon:

the wonderful imaginations that we have as kids. A great name and a great concept. Well, let me ask you a little bit about Ginger. I mean, I know we have a lot to cover. I'll start with Ginger herself. Tell us about her and how she came into your life.

Kassidi Jones:

Big Ging. My whole world revolves around her and I'm pretty sure she knows that. She is very well behaved when we're in public, which I appreciate. But once we're back home in private, she is my boss again. But I would rather that than the opposite. And so I let her rock. I got her in September of 2020. I was living with someone at the time, we had talked about getting a dog for a long time, it just decided to pull the blind she was kind of a reward to myself for getting through my comprehensive exams, part of this PhD journey. I guess I needed another project. So I wrapped up the exams and immediately started giving all my attention to this dog. I did a lot of research beforehand. I had like a chart going of what shelters were in the area that I could get to, how much the Uber would cause I didn't have a car, what their adoption requirements were, what dogs they had on their websites that interests me, when I could get an appointment. I really thought this out. But Ginger was not on my list. The appointment that I went to was just to look around, I was not expecting to bring home a dog that day, but I met her couldn't leave without her.

Diaz Dixon:

It was connection immediately.

Kassidi Jones:

Immediately.

Diaz Dixon:

Well, how has having Ginger changed the way you think like even the way you think about pet ownership, because you've never had one, a dog before, so she was changed ownership, about society, about yourself, how was she changed you?

Kassidi Jones:

I'll start with the biggest change is that she has a great impact on my mental health, not just having a companion, but having things that I'm responsible for, when I don't feel like taking care of myself, I am obligated to care for her, no matter what my mood is, we need to get outside, I need to make sure she has a meal would usually make sure that I have a meal. If I can get up and fix their plate, I can get up and make myself a plate. So I really appreciate our presence for that. In terms of how I look at society, I've been studying race relations for coming up on 10 years now. And even when you study it, I feel like there's so many things that you miss about how racism shows up in our society. So I think having her just opened another door, it opened another window opened my eyes to see how else this is playing out every day, in ways that so many people are able to gloss over. What else about society? Oh, the internet, the internet became more fun, just because I met so many people who could tell that I didn't know what I was doing. And I have appreciated that there are so many small decisions that come with having a dog that I didn't even consider like having a harness versus having a collar. What kind of leash is best for what context those kinds of things, they those never crossed my mind before I got a dog. But I like thinking about the best ways I can take care of her. And I like getting insights from people all over the world about that.

Diaz Dixon:

That's awesome. That's awesome. You know, I certainly believe we all have the capacity to learn, grow and change, we should probably be doing it on a daily basis. And even in pet ownership. I love the fact that you touched on racism in America too, because it's abundantly clear. You and I were talking earlier right before we started the show that we share in common that we own pit bulls. So you know, there are times where I'm walking down the street with my dogs, and someone walks to the other side of the street. And what goes through our mind is are you walking to the other side of the street because of who I am, or you walk in questions at the side of street because of who my dogs represent in your mind. And you've actually written about being a black woman with a dog who identifies as a pit bull. What's that part been like for you as a young black woman?

Kassidi Jones:

Yeah, people identify her as a pit bull. For me, she's never been tested for anything. The vet that I not the vet the shelter that I got her from doesn't do breed labels. So there's nothing to confirm that she's a pet other than just people's perception of her. And I think that speaks to an issue with Pitbull hate, in that. It's not very scientific. Just people's visual impressions, and then the negative associations with those visual impressions that seem to be really unfounded. *talks to Ginger* uhh, somebody must be walking by. Um, in terms of Oh, go ahead.

Diaz Dixon:

Oh, no, no, I'm just saying you're, you're talking about things that are unfounded. You know, it's interesting, when you think about some of those correlations forever. People have said, and people still believe like, when I first got Pita, I had a friend that said, oh, yeah, they have locking jobs. You know, as you know, in this friend that said, this is a physical therapist, and I said, No, so someone who understands anatomy.

Kassidi Jones:

Right?

Diaz Dixon:

No, they don't have locking jobs. And for a long time, you know, there were all kinds of preconceived notions that people had about, about African Americans that were physically different. So it's, it's interesting how you make that correlation. I totally cut you off, though. You were gonna You had another point. You

Kassidi Jones:

No, I think that's a great point. The way racist science tried to justify our oppression using made up biology does definitely connect to the way these biological myths about pitbulls pop up to justify discrimination against them. That's a really good point. That should be a post. Let's work on that.

Diaz Dixon:

We can definitely work on that. My Oh, go ahead. No, I was just gonna say that. It's a clear connection.

Kassidi Jones:

People don't think about race science, and even though it's definitely still happening all the time. Yeah. In terms of being a black woman with ginger, I always go back to an article, which is now part of a book by Harlan. Harlan Weaver. The book is called Bad dog. But the chapter is called Becoming unkind. And it talks about how my identity and Ginger's identity kind of inform each other in terms of how we're perceived. So when you had that example of someone crossing the street and not knowing whether it's because of you, or it's because of the dog, Harlan we would say that it's both it's how y'all are being perceived together, how someone may not cross the street, if it were you and a Golden Retriever, or a white woman in your dog. Both of those things, both of our identities change how the other is perceived. So in terms of being a black woman with Ginger, I think I have a little bit easier than being a black man with Ginger. And that I guess I'm perceived as slightly less threatening than a black man already is considered. But still definitely a threat and that people will ask me if she's a killer, or if she's dangerous, and it always feels like they're asking that about both of us.

Diaz Dixon:

That is, that's pretty powerful. And now you just say that I think about before I had Pita and Nala. My two previous dogs were golden retrievers. And there is a difference when they take Dante or Coda for a walk versus Pita and Nala.

Kassidi Jones:

That's really interesting.

Diaz Dixon:

And yeah, it is, it is definitely worth me putting a pen to paper to talk a little bit more about it. Yeah. Well, and I know that you have written quite a bit extensively about the racism and anti racism in the animal world from sheltering to just perceptions. What has what is probably what's been the most difficult piece in addressing that?

Kassidi Jones:

Hmm, that's a good question. I think the most difficult piece is kind of breakthrough folks' defensiveness, which is the initial reaction. When you talk about racism. People are really afraid of being identified as a racist, but they're more afraid of the label than of doing racism, unfortunately. So when I tried to bring up these conversations, the first impulse is to protect themselves instead of to listen and think about how their behavior could change how their thought processes could change. So the difficult part for me is balancing, being informative, and assertive, and authoritative without making people feel like I'm attacking them, but also without coddling them, because nobody wants to coddle somebody. Right. So it's a very delicate game.

Diaz Dixon:

It's a totally delicate game, and you want to leave the conversation, giving them something to continue to think about and improve upon. And you want them to be able to lean into it rather than run from it makes excuses or run all the way to white savior ism. Right. So it's a it's, it's a really interesting topic, all in itself. You know, I was thinking about something else I saw that you'd written about, really directly with the pit bull and how it's related to racism. And the pit bull used to be America's nanny dog, you know, and anyone who's seen little rascals, Petey was a pit bull in the pit bull was loved. And then when brown and black families in the 60s and 70s started having more pitbulls to vote like dogs, they there was a shift. And it's it's interesting how it really parallels with a lot of history in our in our country.

Kassidi Jones:

Agreed. When I made the connection between the Civil Rights Act that ended housing discrimination and the explosion of BSL that really blew my mind. As soon as folks are no longer allowed to overtly discriminate against black folks, residentially, then you see this influx of anti pit rhetoric and anti pet legislation. I will say that I worry about the nanny dog thing. Just because that also isn't really the nanny dog race specifically, is something that pit bull lovers came up with much later in history. It's not like how do I explain? Okay? It's not like folks are leaving their kids home with dogs of any breed regularly. I worry about fighting myths with myths is the thing, I think, and I know you just kind of used it as an offhand. But I see a lot in comments. I see it a lot in people's comments. And I worry about the spread of misconception, even if we think we're doing it to help pits, I just worry about not seeing dogs as individuals, which is always my goal in trying to classify them as angels when folks need to be aware of the reality of the dog in front of them.

Diaz Dixon:

Exactly. Because any dog can be dangerous, and so as to pay close attention. You know, that people in equine in horse industry do a much better job at really recognizing horses as individuals and how dangerous, they can be in getting hurt if you're not paying close attention to what the horse is telling you. Right. And I think that there's a lot to be learned in animal welfare or looking at dogs we were doing in the same manner. So that's an excellent point. I'm glad you brought that up. Let me shift I'm going to ask you another question. Because you've written very movingly about your mental health challenges and how Ginger has helped. And, and particularly at a time you got her, COVID. COVID has such a heavy impact all of our mental health. So thank you, first and foremost, for being open with this, I think it you know, it makes all of us feel less alone to hear your story, and how you worked your way through, how are you able to be so open with the story, your story and Ginger?

Kassidi Jones:

Therapy saved my life. So, I love to talk about it. Just in case, somebody else who needs therapy hears it, I think it's very normal. You've been a counselor, you know, the magic that counseling can do for somebody's life. And I, I don't want people to miss out on it because of this misconception, like we were talking about that therapy is for white people, or that it's shameful to need help. Or that mental health issues are something to overcome on your own through grit and determination. And that with being gentle and honest with yourself, honoring your feelings, that kind of thing. So I'm not ashamed at all, any of my mental health struggles, and I will talk to them, I'll talk about them to anybody, anytime. It's one of my favorite subjects, just because it's such a blessing to be able to feel the joy I feel, the contentment I feel now. And I want everybody to feel good about their lives.

Diaz Dixon:

I love that. Because when you talk about your joy, I can actually feel it coming through the screen. So listening, you just heard Kassidi, therapy is good. Therapy. It's a great place to be able to put things in historically, a lot of black people haven't been diving into therapy, because, well, if we go there's a long history to it, where there weren't resources in slavery. And so everything was leaned upon the spiritual that help guide you through, you know, talking to God and praying about things. But I think it's really important for people to be able to hear someone who's doing great work like yourself, Kassidi and recognize that I know, my therapist is amazing. So I always make a recommendation for anyone, and particularly if you're consider yourself to be highly intelligent, get a therapist that will challenge you and push that you can't just kind of walk your way through. And then your dog or your pet gets to be the other part of that therapy.

Kassidi Jones:

Yes, therapy is not just what happened in that hour session that you have with the professional but it's about what you're practicing throughout the week between sessions throughout the month. I don't know, I go to therapy every week. So for me, it's throughout the week. And Ginger is a big part of my self care routine, even though it's taking care of her. Like I said she really changed the game in terms of finding the energy and motivation to get up and take care of myself.

Diaz Dixon:

I love it. I love it. Well tell me a little bit about how you bring all of this together with this academic rigor all on top of it because you're studying and you're getting your PhD at Yale. Doing all the things.

Kassidi Jones:

I am. It really Feels like I'm doing the Instagram are the reverse? Yeah, it was my main thing. And then Instagram was happening on this side. That's how I have to think about it right now or I won't finish this. So yeah, I am working through this PhD, this is my fifth year, hopefully I have a year left. If I, if I if it ends up taking longer than a year, I'm gonna need you to take this episode down cut this part. But no, if I do what I need to do, I have a year last, I write about 19th century African American eco poetics. All Black major poems, my chapters are on water, soil, plants and animals. And so the research that I do for the animal chapter is where I get a lot of the historical evidence or what shows up on my Instagram.

Diaz Dixon:

Wow, that's pretty amazing. That is where can listeners find or people who are watching, find some of your work?

Kassidi Jones:

Ask my advisor. I'm planning on publishing a few academic things. But I have more public facing writing available on the internet, it should be linked. On my website, there's a link in my bio, which is just kassidijones.com/instagram, where you can find some things that I've been up to. If you Google Kassidi Jones,@ginger_naps, some things pop up that had been written about me, there's a highlight on my Instagram account, showing the places we've been featured, as well as some reading lists that I put together because I love telling people to do to read it.

Diaz Dixon:

Yeah. You got those reading lists of those on that reading list. What are the top things, the top pieces that have really influenced you?

Kassidi Jones:

So "Bad Dog" by Harlan Weaver, again. There's a book out that's more recent called Anti Racist Animal Advocacy that I haven't promoted as much. I've mentioned it once or twice, but I think it speaks more to the shelter side, the rescue side, more perspectives from people who work in that industry. What else what's on my shelf? There's an anthology of poems called Black nature, which is four centuries of black nature poetry, which isn't as like, scientific, it's not usually what people are looking for when they asked me for sources, but it is something I returned to when thinking through the relationships between black folks and their environments.

Diaz Dixon:

I had heard of that one. I'm gonna have to look that one up.

Kassidi Jones:

Neal Dungy

Diaz Dixon:

okay, I absolutely will. Because there's a lot of good stuff, there's more and more stuff that's coming out. Which is really, really nice to see. Let's talk a little bit about anti racism and animal advocacy. Because it's really powerful to have your perspective as a pet owner, as a poet, as an academic, when you first started noticing it in the animal world, what's been the evolution of your thinking? On this particular topic? Can we get it together?

Kassidi Jones:

Um, I think I was thinking of the animal industry, more separately from, I guess, human human rights issues, social justice issues in the human world, where more and more I see all of these issues as interrelated and therefore think the solution to our problems are going to come from working together across species specific efforts and movements. I think I forgot the beginning of the question. Sorry.

Diaz Dixon:

You're going right down. Are you talking about your own evolution? You're thinking? This is perfect. I know for me, you know, I grew up in the projects. So when I was young, we would go to the tennis courts, because like kids weren't playing tennis. The tennis course was set up every weekend for dogfights.

Kassidi Jones:

Oh wow.

Diaz Dixon:

Yeah. So thinking god face, this is gonna be fun to go and watch that was part of what was becoming the norm. And it wasn't till much later, when I went to work. My first job was working in an animal hospital. And then if I fast forward late, and I didn't know I'd come back to the animal industry when I was the CEO of Nevada Humane and I watched how we were hiding animals from certain people that were coming in because they weren't good enough to adopt animals. And that's when it really dawned upon me that Whoa, we've got racism in all Types of implicit bias that is heavily infused in this in this culture. And that get up and I go to my first large conference, and I look around and see that everyone's white. And so you know, you hear you are taking another route. And you're probably you're seeing this even at a younger age. And I saw that and you're at Yale, and you go grab a dog and not even thinking about all these other pieces that are going to come together. But of course, you're very articulate and, and powerful in your language that people you're going to have more people gravitate towards you listen, listen to you. So I'm sure you're constantly thinking and putting things together.

Kassidi Jones:

Oh, yeah, I like that someone told me when I was an undergrad that our work in Black Studies is to identify patterns. And there were a lot of patterns popping up in this animal world that I had not noticed until I adopted Ginger. Like you said, the things that happen behind closed doors in terms of who gets to adopt and who doesn't. There's the history of dogfighting in the black community, even though it's white history. First and foremost, I think, like I was talking about thinking of all of our social social issues as separate as holding us back because classism plays into who we consider an ideal adopter, and who isn't. Racism plays in to who we consider all of these, all of these social ills are working together. But when you don't think of them as social ills, it's easy to blame these individuals and just not give them dogs rather than attacking the real problem, which is inequity.

Diaz Dixon:

Yeah, yeah, I guess and that's where the solution lies is taking a look at social justice and equity. I mean and that goes with neighborhoods where people are living to resources, what they have is that it's really valuable to have conversations about all of these things to connect the dots. I don't think a lot of people connect the dots on them all. And that's exactly what you do you connect dots. In in the, in your storytelling, it's, it's actually pretty amazing. For someone who doesn't have a history in the animal in the animal welfare industry.

Kassidi Jones:

I do not, I'm used to connecting dots, connecting dots, from black history to black present to black features. But once I saw how the animal world is lining up, how animals have always been a part of that history. I could not shut up about it.

Diaz Dixon:

Well, tell me this Kassidi, how can people be good allies in this, in this battle?

Kassidi Jones:

I think first and foremost, it's listening and platforming people who care about these issues, which y'all are already doing. Passing the mic, we mentioned white saviorism, and sometimes white savior, white saviorism looks like taking a speaking opportunity that you know needs to be given to somebody whos not you. And then the other thing is, taking the burden of education onto yourself. I love being a resource that people to go to but I'm not the final word on these issues, which is why I list my sources for all of the posts that you're talking about. I want people to go on and learn more on their own, even if that's just to tell me I'm wrong. Yeah, I'm totally okay with that. As long as it's backed up with something, I've shown you why I said what I said, I need you to show me why you said what you said. And it can't be just a Facebook post that you saw.

Diaz Dixon:

Exactly. It making it very clear that, you know, I say all the time I do diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging classes across the country. And I always say I'm not the end all be all for what is the black experience. But we're all a product of our experiences in our environment, we need to take a look at where we're gathering our information from be able to back it up. Don't say just because you heard something or saw something on one particular news outlet, that that is just factual. We're not we don't live in that world where you know, just the information that's been just because it's out there. That it might be true.

Kassidi Jones:

unfortunately. Yeah, misinformation spreads like wildfire. And it's easier than ever to get access to misinformation.

Diaz Dixon:

It does. It does. There's confirmation information bias all the time looking for information to justify what they're trying to prove? Well, I'll wrap up by asking you just one last question here cuz I appreciate this time that you've taken. This has been really inspiring to sit here and chat with you. Does Ginger know that she's gone viral? And has it gone to her head?

Kassidi Jones:

No, she was a diva before we had Instagram. No, she doesn't know that we're viral, which also means that she does not know the work I'm putting in to fund her lifestyle. Somebody has to pay for her dermatologist. She does not care. No, she's she's a regular doubter. She's still Gingy from the block. You know?

Diaz Dixon:

You get the phone just playing in my head, though. So if she has allergies,?

Kassidi Jones:

she does have a lot of allergies still working through those every day.

Diaz Dixon:

Okay, my youngest, Nala has over 150 allergies. We did the allergy test. Yeah. And so she is She basically didn't have her food and water. It took a lot to get to get her food to find the right. Just open it. We can hang on to just this white fish. Because a couple of companies what used to be in Canada they they stopped making the food we had to find a new Yes, she's a she's a...

Kassidi Jones:

That poor baby. You gotta put that baby in a bubble.

Diaz Dixon:

Yeah, that's what I need. I need a big dog bubble. Go into the park and everything that we do so but they bring joy. You know, and I always say she's great for my mental health. This is your time. And it's important for us to have that self care. It's it's critical. Was there anything else that any parting words that you wanted to give before we we close out

Kassidi Jones:

Parting words that I want to give? Be nice on the internet. That's, that's the parting word that I want to give I think. I don't know just assuming the worst of people these bad faith interpretations of folks words, terrible if there's something you disagree with on the internet, and you have to say something, do it. Like leave with curiosity? I love when people ask me questions, because they don't like what I said or they don't understand they've never heard it before. And they want to know more. I do not like when people get on the internet and be like, No, you're wrong. This is stupid, blah, blah, blah. You don't know anything. This is very different energy and it's going to be met with a very different energy.

Diaz Dixon:

I could see what's the net goal and that is good. So everyone, you heard it from Kassidi Jones. Be nice on the Internet. In a world that needs more kindness, we need to make sure that we are being a part of spreading that kindness. Kassidi, where can we find you?

Kassidi Jones:

You can find me on Instagram at @ginger_naps like ginger snaps but my dog's name is Ginger. She sleeps a lot,Ginger. We also have a Twitter. I don't have a TikTok because again, I need to finish this degree. But check us out next summer. We might be on TikTok. And yeah, that's it.

Diaz Dixon:

Fantastic, fantastic. And I want to thank you guys for listening and joining in today. As we have Kassidi Jones here walk us through some really, really critical and important pieces to making this world a better place. In the meantime, be well and we will see you next time on people pets in purpose when we're ready to talk about things that help us move forward in positive light, particularly in the world with our companion animals.