The backbone of Humane PA is volunteerism, none of us are paid. We love our volunteers because they give so much of themselves to further our mission of helping to elect humane legislators, who will support anti-cruelty legislation.
Please meet Melissa Hall, one of our star Coordinators who has been with Humane PA since 2011. When Melissa is not volunteering her time for Humane PA, she works at Achieva, a non-profit organization, where she advocates for people who have disabilities. Melissa has a pet sitting business, Animal Nurture Pet Care; and organizes events for Animal Nature Pet Supply. Melissa lives with her cats Sam and Rocky (adopted from local shelters), and her rescued dogs Charlotte, Alice (Chihuahuas), and LadyBug (a 17 year old Papillon). She also fosters bunnies.
How did you learn about Humane PA and what made you decide to get politically involved? Melissa: I learned about Humane PA from Charlotte Grimme, originally a Facebook friend I connected with through animal advocacy- but now she is a real life friend too!
Shortly after getting involved you took quite a step by volunteering for Sarah Speed’s campaign, our first truly humane candidate, can you tell us about that? What did you do, what did you learn, etc.?
Melissa: As the Volunteer Coordinator for Sarah Speed’s campaign, I recruited, organized, and helped to motivate volunteers. I also worked with the campaign leadership team, assisted with issue specific research, edited campaign documents, assisted with social media, managed phone banks, liaised with news reporters, organized fundraisers, assisted with endorsement applications, and managed volunteer GOTV on election day. This was an internship I did as part of my degree from Point Park University. I certainly learned a lot about political campaigns, and was surprised by how much work goes on behind the scenes every single day of the campaign. There is constantly a long list of things that must be done. I was also surprised by how much time Sarah actually spent door knocking. On Election Day, I worked the polls, and the majority of people I talked with said that they had met Sarah in person when she knocked on their door.
How has working on a political campaign helped you to help animals? (i.e. you understand the process of how important it is to get the right people elected into office to help get animal bills passed, etc.)
Melissa: The election process helped me to understand the scope of effort necessary for real change; the numbers of people involved, and the amount of time it may take. It also helped me better appreciate the incremental changes, and appreciate that every small step is still a step in the right direction.
How long have you been advocating for animals and how long have you been politically active for animals?
Melissa: I am a lifelong animal lover, and began advocating for the humane treatment of animals in my neighborhood when I was quite young. As a kid I tried to protect crayfish in a stream in my neighborhood, and also rescued injured wildlife. I became a vegetarian when I was 15, and became politically active around that same time. I read a book about the Animal Liberation Front from my school library, and became a member of PETA. Along the way I learned more about how laws can protect animals. Three years ago I adopted a dog who was seized in a cruelty investigation from a puppy mill, and I started becoming more involved with that specific issue. I was an avid letter writer for many years, and as I became involved with Humane PA I learned more about developing an in-person relationship with legislators. I am lucky to have a representative who is excellent on animal issues (Dom Costa).
Why did you decide to get involved in the political process?
Melissa: I realized that changes in legislation can effect many animals across the state, or even nationally. Helping individual animals is important, such as in rescue work, but legislative changes have such a broad impact that they need to be center stage.
What do you think is the biggest challenge advocates face when trying to advocate for animals in the political realm?
Melissa: The legislative process is intimidating and can be confusing or seem impenetrable. It is often difficult for an outsider or new person to find the right people to talk with, the right connections. And once these connections are found, it can be hard to get an ear. Strategies for change can span months or years, and when a bill isn’t passed it can feel personally devastating. All that effort, all that time… But change is happening. In the last legislative session, a bill protecting service dogs from attack by other animals became law, as well as a bill ending the use of gas chambers. Already in this session, HB 82 has made real progress (The Cost of Care Act), and an animal fighting paraphernalia bill has been introduced as well. Cosponsors are needed for a bill that will finally end live pigeon shoots in PA. Progress is real.
What advice would you offer to someone who cares deeply about animals, but doesn’t feel they are politically savvy enough to get involved? Do they have to be ‘political’ to advocate for animals?
Melissa: I meet many people who do a lot for animals, but don’t want to get involved on a political level. Politics frame our lives, even if we ignore them. You can help shape that framework, and in the process make PA a more humane state– but you have to speak up. Communicating with your legislator is easier than you think. They are regular people, and they want to keep your vote. You don’t need to study a political textbook to talk to your legislator about an animal bill. You just need to know a little about the bill and why it is important. Humane PA is here to help make that process easier for you. Start by following Humane PA on Facebook, and soon you will be a regular volunteer lobbyist.
So, what is the best advice you have for people who care about animals and want to help give animals a voice in Harrisburg?
Melissa: Be present in the mail, email, and phone messages of your representatives. Speak up, let your elected officials know how you feel. Find out about the legislation important to you and ask your representative where he or she stands. If you don’t agree, ask for an explanation of his or her stance, and then come back with reasons you think this stance is wrong. Engage is dialogue, in conversation. There is nothing wrong with a respectful exchange, and there is never anything wrong with asking for an explanation from your representative on why he or she has a certain take on a situation. Be respectful, be polite, but be heard. And keep being heard until animals have their voice!
Thank you, Melissa, for all that you do for the animals. You rock!