ava cats toronto

Toronto family claims they were turned down for pet adoption over race and income

A prospective pet owner in Toronto is crying foul, claiming that they were turned down by a local cat adoption agency after an interview that included questions about race and income.

AVA Cats (Action Volunteer for Animals) of Toronto denies the allegations, claiming that, while they would not permit an adoption as alleged, race and income had nothing to do with their decision.

Alice Guo, a low-income single parent, claims that on Sept 11, she contacted AVA to inquire about adopting a kitten for her daughter.

"My daughter saw the kitten from AVA in a pet store, and she loved it so much, so I decided to apply for it through AVA."

"Somebody interviewed me on the phone and asked all kinds of horrible questions regarding my race and even my neighbour's income because I live in a subsidized building," Guo tells blogTO.

Guo claims that during the 30-minute-long phone conversation, she was grilled and humiliated by the adoption agency with a series of personal questions about her place of residence in a subsidized housing building and her Chinese background.

She alleges that the woman on the phone asked insensitive questions including, "You Chinese like cats and dogs?" or "Why don't you make more money?," and claims that "only one or two questions were about [the] cat," adding that "all other questions are about my race and my neighbourhood."

Guo — who says she has been working with another cat rescue group for one year without any problem — claims that her adoption application was ultimately rejected.

Her daughter — who had fallen in love with the kitten in the ad — was heartbroken to learn the alleged reasons behind the rejection, with Guo saying that "It's very traumatic for my daughter to know as a low-income single-parent family we have to face those biases everywhere."

"I don't understand what the connection is between my neighbours' jobs and our qualifications to adopt a cat."

"Of course, it's more traumatic for us as a Chinese Canadian family to face the stereotype that the Chinese are cat and dog eaters because the fact is many Chinese are Buddhists and vegetarians. Few Chinese have ever eaten any cat or dog," says Guo.

"I take care of all kinds of animals, and we don't even eat lobsters!"

Guo acknowledges that the kitten has likely already been adopted, but says she hopes that "AVA can change their policy and give their interviewers better training in the future."

Denise Harkins, President of Action Volunteers for Animals, denies Guo's claims, saying that "I do know our screener well, and I can guarantee she did not make comments such as 'your neighbours are too poor' etc. and 'why don’t you make more money.'"

"Having a vet, and having dogs, cats spayed or neutered, receiving good vet care when needed, and having an ongoing relationship with a vet clinic are all part of our adoption process."

Harkins says that "no volunteer screener should be asking very specific income questions. However, ability to pay for vet care and sometimes extraordinary required vet care is very important to us. We always do a vet reference check for applicants who have current or previous pets."

She stresses that "none of our volunteer screeners should be asking people about their nationality."

Though Harkins claims that specific questions about income are not part of the adoption protocol, she admits that AVA did not approve Guo to adopt the kitten.

"Our rescue also would allow this person to foster, but likely not adopt," says Harkins. "When you foster, you are not responsible for vet bills."

"She does have a cat but has no vet reference of her own. The cat apparently was vetted by the rescue she fosters for but was not adopted from that rescue."

She explains that new applications are vetted with questions regarding time commitments, the means to cover vet costs, allergies, and other factors such as relocation and separation from partners, and that AVA does not direct volunteers to ask specific questions about income or race.

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