Guest Blog by Mary Kennedy Withrow
Two years ago, if you would have told me that in the coming years I would effectively influence policy anywhere but within my own household, I would have told you that was absurd. How could I, a volunteer at an animal shelter and gardener, ever accomplish such a thing? Fast forward and here I am-sweaty palms, butterflies, racing heart, and hearing my friend’s voice say, “a little anxiety is good, you’ll perform better”- sitting in the beautiful Pittsburgh City Council Chambers awaiting my turn to testify. I studied, I knew the facts, I knew the language, and most of all I was determined.
I had written my letters and done my part on the proposed statewide anti-tethering bill, SB 522, but, unfortunately, it did not receive a vote. I saw York, Harrisburg and more passing their own anti-tethering ordinances. Hmmm, why can’t I, an ordinary citizen, work to see Pittsburgh follow in their footsteps? I knew Councilwoman Darlene Harris had introduced many laws over the years to help the animals. I’ll try that angle. I had been following and paying close attention to the tips, advice and tools of effective lobbying on the Humane PA Facebook page, as well as their website. I made calls, I visited my legislators, I made trips to Harrisburg for “Humane Lobby Days.” I felt I had the knowledge and confidence to give this a shot.
I collected the language of the aforementioned cities that had enacted such ordinances. I spoke to the folks in those towns who had introduced their laws. What were the successes, the problems and what would they change? I gathered facts on tethered dogs from the CDC, AVMA, USDA, HSUS, ASPCA. All these groups had come out against 24/7 tethering of dogs. In my own work at my shelter, I had seen frozen dogs, severely hypothermic dogs, including a 10 month old dog who had hung himself on a fence while tethered and a dog with his collar that had become so deeply embedded that he had a quarter-inch thick cut in his neck. The “big dogs” (pun intended) had strong data and statistics to support anti-tethering language and I had the everlasting awful visions of what can happen to tethered dogs.
I decided to email Councilwoman Harris. Not two hours later I received a call from Ms. Harris’ legislative assistant telling me that she would like to speak with me about my legislation. My legislation? After many emails back and forth and conversations with her amazing assistant, we came up with language that we liked. It was introduced the following week. Then it was my turn to sit at the table with members of council-a TV camera in my face, a microphone in front of me and members prepared to ask questions. My heart was racing but in the back of my mind I remembered bitter cold nights, lying in my bed thinking “I know they’re out there” and THIS was my chance to help them.
After a long 30 minutes of testimony, it was time for the first vote. The chair asked “All in favor?” I held my breath and then I heard a resounding “aye.” “All opposed?” Total silence-it was unanimous. “Ms. Withrow, can you return next week for the final vote?” I had to control my desire to happy dance my way out of the room and answered calmly “sure.”
Stay tuned for the final results tomorrow…
Update on December 15th: The ordinance passed unanimously and is on its way to Mayor Peduto!
Mary Kennedy Withrow is a proud member of Humane PA PAC, an Animal Rescue Volunteer for The Humane Society of the United States and Community Outreach Coordinator for the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center in Pittsburgh.