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, honorable, 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 of 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 various 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 legislation 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 of 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.