Monthly Archives: April 2013

DEMOCRACY, ADVOCACYAND 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.