Monthly Archives: April 2013

DEMOCRACY, ADVOCACY – AND YOU?

Warning:  I am about to use a word that often carries negative connotations.  A word that makes some people cringe.  Ready?  Here it is:  lobby.  Not as in the room where you wait, but as in the activity that you do.  As in lobby your legislators.  As in be a lobbyist.  These words can conjure up images of back rooms, money sacks, quiet handoffs, handshakes and secret deals – and evoke aversion, even derision.  But I would like you to know that I am a lobbyist.  I lobby.  And furthermore, I hope that you do too – or will.

Lobbying is part of our precious democratic process.  Lobbying can be wholly above board, Gathering en massehonorable, out in the open…“in the sunshine,” as we say here in Florida about our government and the way we’re supposed to run it.  It can be a personal phone call, letter or e-mail to your legislator; it can be a petition; it can be an appearance en masse with others on your Capitol steps or at your legislator’s door.  It can be on any issue that you care about – you won’t be surprised that I am going to address the issue of animal welfare.

Humane Lobby Days are conducted around the country under the auspices of the Humane Society Animals don't have a voiceof the United States. It’s a time for those who care about animals to converge on their statehouses and give voice to the voiceless.  The other animals don’t get a vote.  It’s up to us humans to find votes for them.

In Tallahassee, where I participated in Humane Lobby Day, there is a great chance that an animal cruelty bill will pass both chambers this year.  The bill would crack down in several ways on variousAnimal Cruelty Bill acts of animal cruelty and organized crime at staged animal fights. A measure that would require animal shelters to put their numbers out in the sunshine – how many animals taken in, how many adopted out, how many euthanized – is destined for the governor’s desk.  Humane lobbyists have several goals in my state:  ending greyhound racing, endorsing Trap Neuter Return, protecting both dogs and consumers from puppy mill sales. And we have reason to hope.  We are the people who collected enough signatures to put gestation crates for pregnant pigs to referendum – and abolished them. We showed that when you bring animal cruelty to light, a majority of the citizenry may choose to end it.

But you need not go out and gather signatures, travel to the seat of government, or even leave your seat to help animals.  Click here to learn about pending legislation in your state and here  for bills at the federal level, where many of the issues with the most impact on animals – along with consumers and taxpayers – are considered. And then there’s your own backyard, with issues like exotic animals as outdoor pets, dog tethering, free-roaming cats and TNR, backyard chickens:  many ordinances affecting animals and you are enacted at the local level, in municipal and county governments.

Wondering whether your voice matters?  It does. Lawmakers know that citizens who care enough to contact them are likely citizens who vote – so they listen. To learn who your representatives are, visit www.votesmart.org. You can also get on the e-mail lists of animal welfare groups who will alert you to Democracy is a privilegelegislation and ask you to contact your representatives. These alerts often make it easy with summaries of the issue at hand and suggested verbiage when you write your lawmaker.  Your chance to be an advocate is just a few clicks away! As a spokesperson for Grey2K USA – a greyhound advocacy group – reminded us in Tallahassee, “We have the power to do tremendous, amazing things.”  We just have to unleash that power.

Democracy is a privilege. Employing its processes is a choice. Using our system for the betterment billboardredo1of others is what the founding fathers intended.  Defining “others” as all sentient creatures means embracing a lifestyle of conscious compassion. That lifestyle has my vote.

KINDNESS WEARS MANY FACES

The students hurry toward us as soon as they spot Lucy.  “Did they catch the man who wanted to poison all the cats?”  “Did Lucy ever find her mother?”

Their questions spring from concern over events in the novel that Lucy Miracle – the cat – narrates.  Cathy Unruh at Academy Prep Center TampaThe events are fictional, but these students have reason to believe.  They are living an extraordinary story themselves. They are from low-income, frequently fractured families in an area where fewer than half the adults hold a high school diploma.  They qualify for free or reduced price school meals to ensure they are fed.

But these students’ bodies, minds and souls are being fed through the kindness of people many of them will never meet.  They attend Academy Prep Center of Tampa, on scholarships fully funded by donations at no cost to the kids or their families. In an area of the city where simple attendance is not expected of many school-age kids, let alone graduation, these middle school students are at the Academy six days a week, for up to eleven hours a day – and after eighth grade, they are going on to prestigious high schools and colleges, mentored all along the way.  They have no trouble relating to Lucy’s miracle story – and some of the verses they write about it reflect that:

Cathy Unruh Lucy Miracle Academy Prep Center Tampa“Hurray!  I’m saved by an angel from above.  My crystalled eyes shine with joyful tears.  I’m glad to know I can trust someone I love.  I felt like life was worth losing, but now, it’s reversed.  Now, I’m so happy it hurts.”

“Curious About Everything
Agreeing About What to Do
Tough And Hard Minded”

“Can I have a cat
Cats are really cool they rock
Now we all want cats.”

Earthly angels may not be too farfetched a term for some other people who think cats rock – and IMG_5295prove it with their actions. They give up their nights, their weekends, time with family and friends to advocate for spaying and neutering pets, trapping and neutering free-roaming cats, and adopting out everyone they can.Colony Cats and Dogs Ohio

Colony Cats (& dogs) of Columbus, Ohio, runs a bustling cat adoption center where the occasional dog also comes through to find a home – like the strong, handsome deaf one who was there the day I visited.  I’m told that his owner was about to put him to sleep – and then Colony Cats stepped in.  It’s an all-volunteer organization, 150 people strong.  Some come by regularly to scoop litter boxes and clean. Some spend time giving the cats attention and affection.  Some facilitate the adoptions.  Some foster animals waiting for homes.  Some staff the boutique at which sales of upscale secondhand goods help keep the money coming in.  Some organize and run the events that do the same.

As for the cats themselves – abandoned, stranded, strangers to each other until they are housedIMG_5290 together at the adoption center – they share food, bowls, litter boxes and sleeping spaces ungrudgingly. They offer affection to each other and to visiting humans.

Kindness wears many faces:  the abandoned animal still willing to trust and love; the volunteer willing to get dirty and tired to better Academy Prep Center Tampa Lucy Miracle Cathy Unruhthe lives of other species; the benefactors willing to fund educations of kids who otherwise might not be in school; the students who care about a cat they’ve only read about; the cat who’s willing to indulge their attentions – even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.

Colony Cats and Dogs volunteer

 

Extending ourselves in kindness can be uncomfortable – but if we’re willing to make the reach, we can also discover that it feels pretty darn cozy.