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How Can I Stand Up For the Welfare of Animals in America?

We in the Calvin & Susie community have noticed one thing that unites people from all political parties: animals.

No matter who you voted for, where you get your news from, or even if you abstain from politics altogether, the compassion you feel toward animals helps you find common ground with your fellow humans. At Calvin & Susie, we truly believe that animal welfare defies party lines.

Just look at all the presidents, Democrat or Republican, who have shared the White House with beloved dogs and/or cats? (Or birds or goats or badgers…true story.) Whether you agreed with his politics or not, I bet most of you would have to admit that Bo and Sunny Obama are pretty darn cute, and that sweet Barney and Miss Beazley Bush were pretty great. It seems odd imagining a White House without pets.

In its simplest terms, animal welfare refers to the human duty to ensure the humane and responsible protection of animals. This doesn’t mean that all animals should be treated like pets, and this does not mean that animals should have the same rights as humans. Animal welfare simply begs that animals should be allowed to thrive in life, and die a natural and/or humane death.

You might be asking yourself, how can I make a difference? Do animals in America really need my help? Can I really do anything? YES. Yes you can make a difference, YES animals REALLY NEED YOUR HELP, and YES you really can do something.

Sadly, animal protections are being challenged now, more than ever. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is in danger of being “rolled back” or “modified” as many in the Senate claim that “the federal effort to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs.” The modification of the ESA could be catastrophic for endangered species in America. With 99 percent of animals on the Endangered Species list having been brought back from the brink of extinction, changes to the Act that give favor to landowners and businesses could render populations of animals, like the formerly-endangered wolves of Wyoming, back to near, if not total, extinction.

In early February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suddenly removed information from their website in the name of “privacy of individuals with whom we come into contact.” The information that disappeared dealt primarily with groups, companies, labs, or breeders that violated the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. Essentially, the missing information identified animal abusers – including puppy mills.

With animal advocacy groups depending on the reporting of such details, the lack of disclosure impedes organizations like the Humane Society of the United States from furthering programs like their Stop Puppy Mill and Rural Outreach and Equine Protection campaigns. Though some of the removed documents were restored after public outcry (lawsuit is pending), the information specifically pertaining to “animal breeders, zoos, and horse trainers” is still conspicuously missing.

As of April 25, Politico reports, “Now, the Justice Department is insisting that the government has no legal obligation to place the data online in advance of formal Freedom of Information Act requests, even though Agriculture Department officials previously said they had a legal duty to do so.”

And these are just the “big issues” currently in question. The “evergreen” issues of dog fighting, factory farming abuses, Trap-Neuter-Release legislation, and puppy mills – to name a few – are still being duked out on state levels.

Admittedly, it can seem overwhelming. These are huge issues being fought over by senators and lawyers and animal legislation advocates. How can a person who “merely” loves animals make a difference?

It is possible.

As an American citizen, you have the power of your voice, your vote, and your wallet. These may seem like small things in the face of SENATE HEARINGS, but it is your right to influence federal legislation and local law. And really, if we don’t speak up for animals, who will?

So here are some ways that you can resist the injustices you see enacted upon animals. While it may seem daunting, sometimes just taking that first small step is all it takes to awaken your inner animal advocate.

Money Talks

Products

Have you ever stopped to think about how your spending impacts animals?

I’m not just talking about “free-range chickens” or “grass fed beef” (though such things do matter). I’m talking about the companies you support with your hard-earned dollars.

Where you can, choose to only spend money on food and products that are humanely produced. Maybe you cannot always buy poultry that has lived a blissful life and died a humane death (by the way, “free-range” is not synonymous with this), but perhaps you choose to only buy dolphin-safe tuna from now on; or local eggs from happy chickens on a small farm; or cruelty-free cosmetics.

Additionally, find out which companies support worthwhile animal causes. Is your favorite candy bar owned by a company that supports questionable practices in the pet food industry? Maybe your favorite clothing line donates to charities that work to stop animal cruelty? You may not be able to make immediate changes, but just knowing can help you make decisions in the future. With certain companies, for example Amazon, you can even choose how a percentage of your purchase is donated. By shopping through AmazonSmile or smile.amazon.com, .5% of your eligible purchases will go to a charity of your choice every time you buy  – and it doesn’t change your shopping experience one bit. If you shop on Amazon a lot, this can add up over time.

(FYI, Calvin & Susie donates all proceeds from the sale of its in-store label to a devoted charity that contributes financial support to small, local rescues and fosters. We’ve been donating our earnings since the very beginning, and have big plans to do even more in the future!)

It may seems like a small thing in the face of giant corporations pumping out products, but on the flip-side, by giving your dollars to a company trying to do the right thing in regard to animals, you are essentially saying, “I want this, not that.” Plus, that company, which might be smaller and not as well-funded, may live to produce another day thanks to your loyalty.

Donating and Volunteering

Donations matter.

It may seem like organizations like the Humane Society of the United States, Alley Cat Allies in Houston, or the Oahu SPCA are well-funded, but they exist on donations. By making a donation, or recurring donations to animal charities, you are insuring they can keep serving animals on a local, state, and/or federal level. Deciding which animal organizations to support, like choosing how to shop, requires that you ask yourself what is important to you. Not all animal charities do the same thing.

And remember, volunteering at animal charities in your area is no small thing. Very often it’s volunteers that make participating in adoption events or public education/spay & neuter clinics possible for animal organizations. Without them, getting out into the community would be difficult if not impossible. And more often than not, volunteers are the people who are connecting with, and helping rehabilitate rescued animals on a regular basis. Never underestimate the value of volunteering.

Generally speaking, these are the types of animal charities you might support:

  • Local charities that deal exclusively with the rescue, sheltering, care, and re-homing of animals within a community, city, or smaller region. These are the charities in your area that often need the most financial and volunteering help.
  • Regional charities that are based locally in a city or town, but serve a greater region within a state or several states. While they deal with the immediate needs of caring for and finding animals Forever Homes, they may also deal with state laws and advocacy.
  • There are animal charities that might have several hubs across the US that work to fight animal homelessness. Along with their work on a local level, they work on a national level to help other animal charities enact change in their area. Such changes may include TNR programs, ending dog fighting, or helping to end the cycle of puppy mills. Best Friends Animal Society is an example of such a charity. With locations in New York, Los Angeles, Utah, and Atlanta, they are one of the most respected animal charities in the country. Along with fighting breed discrimination (you may remember them from being one of the first groups to advocate for the Michael Vick dogs), they help smaller animal charities advocate against and work to end puppy mills in their area.
  • Then there are large, national animal charities whose primary work is to advocate for animals on a national, legislative level. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is such a charity. Though they share a name with your local Humane Society, those local shelters only see a small percentage of the HSUS’ money. The HSUS and primarily its lobbying arm, the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), work in the political arena and public service arena. From the HSLF website: “HSLF works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal levels, to educate the public about animal protection issues, and to support humane candidates for office.” (NOTE: “HSLF is a social welfare organization incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions or gifts to HSLF are not tax deductible. Your donation may be used for lobbying to pass laws to protect animals, as well as for political purposes, such as supporting or opposing candidates.”)

Charity Navigator is also a great place to start if you aren’t sure about an animal charity’s reputation. This site offers “objective ratings” on charities, as well offers resources so you might become a smarter giver.

ONLY SUPPORT HUMANE AND RESPONSIBLE PET BUSINESSES

This may be the most important way you can spend your money on a local level.

NEVER support pet stores, shops, or businesses that encourage or enable puppy mills. Adopt, buy from responsible breeders, foster – just do everything within your power to discourage the puppy mill industry.

It may be tempting to snatch up that adorable puppy in the window, but unless the store has been vetted and can offer proof and legitimate certification of responsible breeding, that puppy came from a puppy mill. (Very few, if any responsible breeders would allow their puppies to be sold in a pet store, FYI.) While it may seem like the right thing to “save” just that one puppy, you are contributing to a sinister cycle of cruelty and infringement of animal welfare. The only way to stop the puppy mill industry is to stop funding it.

Pet shops, puppy swaps, people selling puppies (or kittens) on the road side – these are all suspect. And though it may break your heart – it most certainly breaks ours – patronizing puppy mill supporters is only making it worse. (However, if you do find solid evidence of a puppy mill situation, DO report it to your local animal advocacy organization.)

Remember that, by purchasing that one puppy, you are condemning its mother to more years of “factory” breeding, and you are encouraging her abusers to continue the cycle – you become a link in the chain of abuse. Even buying food or supplies from a store that sells irresponsibly bred puppies or kittens continues the cycle. We cannot say this enough, when it comes to pet stores: every purchase matters.

Not sure where to shop? Check out the ASPCA’s resources for “Where not to shop” in your area; just type in your zip code and be aware.

The point of all this is to know where your money is going. Your dollars are your first line of defense against animal cruelty.

Speak Up

If your state government or the federal government is considering legislature that could endanger animal welfare, speak up!

These days it is easier than ever to make sure your representative knows your mind. Don’t know where to start? Many local animal charities can guide you on which state, animal welfare bills need your support or opposition. Once you identify those bills, you can choose actions to take. Perhaps it’s sending an email to your representative? Making a phone call voicing your support? Perhaps you can submit testimony for or against the bill?

For Hawai‘i locals, it’s worth it to get familiar with the Hawai‘i State Legislature website. On it, you can use key words to search for animal welfare issues, or issues specifically pertaining to dogs, cats, or really any issue you’re concerned about. On this site, you can learn about which bills are scheduled for hearing and then submit testimony via email.

You can even do something as simple as setting up a Google alert with key words like “Hawaii”, “animal welfare”, “endangered species act” to tell you via email every time something of interest to you is covered in the media.

On a federal level, check out sites like the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s “Take Action” page. Here, you can not only see the pending issues facing animals on a national level, but also quickly and efficiently send the appropriate representative an email expressing your support of opposition. The HSLF also lets you “View Current Bills” effecting animal welfare. In plain language, the site tells you whether the HSUS supports or opposes the bill, as well as what it wants to do. This can be very helpful in decoding the language of bills and help you to make a decision on whether to support or oppose.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is a highly regarded charity whose primary goal is to use the law to protect animals.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s mission is to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. ALDF accomplishes this mission by filing high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm, providing free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes, supporting tough animal protection legislation and fighting harmful animal protection legislation, and providing resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law.

They offer a robust website that shares information on current legislation concerning animals, as well as how people can get involved and become advocates – even if they aren’t lawyers. Additionally on their Resources page they give action steps anyone can take when they witness animal cruelty. Among other topics, they cover, “What to do when you find animals in substandard conditions at a pet store“.

On Congress.gov, much like the Hawai‘i State Legislature website, you can search with key words and request alerts every time a change occurs to a bill that is of interest to you. For example, I am having an alert sent to me every time action has been taken on H.R. 909 the Pet and Women Safety Act of 2017. If Congress.gov is a little confusing with all it’s “legislative jargon” (it was at first for me!), check out GovTrack.us. In plain language and with simple explanations, this site not only allows you to track legislation, but also gives you opportunities to donate, call Congress, or Tweet – all vital things when fighting for animal welfare!

From GovTrack.us

Lastly, of course, VOTE. Vote on a local level, vote in general elections, and know which representatives and public servants support animal welfare causes. Websites on both the state and federal level will tell you which legislators are championing which bills.

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Getting involved in animal activism or advocacy may be uncomfortable for you at first. It may be scary, it may feel awkward. But whether it’s choosing not to buy something that has a history of animal cruelty or writing to your legislator, you are taking a stand.

It takes all kinds to stand up for animals, and you are just the person to do it.

Fight the good fight!

~ Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger

Image via Flickr/Creative Commons by raneko, “noa, haru, neo”.