Blog by Humane PA President – Elissa Katz
When we think about animal protection, welfare and rights, and the best way to help animals, our minds often immediately focus on rescue, foster, spay/neuter, humane education and other direct actions that have a sense of urgency and can yield tangible results. Such activities are so critical. The sheer numbers of animals in need can be overwhelming and exhausting. It feels good to look at the faces of the ones who have been saved and spared a tragic fate. And, there are few better feelings than matching the perfect adopter with an animal in need.
When we think about helping animals, rarely do many of us think in political terms. Yet, to be a well rounded, effective movement and to help as many animals as possible, those of us who care about animals must be players in the political field. We must be a strong political force, insisting upon the passage of laws that will protect animals and prohibit cruelty. Without anti-cruelty laws, we will always be struggling against the tide. Those who oppose reform and protection of animals understand this, and they have worked for years and years to establish a unified front and strong political presence in Harrisburg. They know and are known by the legislators and political parties. Until fairly recently, the “animal” voice in the political arena has been the missing link in our arsenal of anti-cruelty tools, and it is time for us to catch up.
There is no doubt that the political process is fraught with frustration. Promises are made – and broken. Legislation is introduced, and sits, and sometimes dies in committee. Bills that could be so helpful to reducing cruelty to animals are not given the votes they deserve. It can take a long time, sometimes a seemingly ridiculously long time, for even a popular bill to make its way through the process and to be enacted into law. But these frustrations cannot serve as a basis for us to be outsiders to the process and ignore the good that can arise from political strength. The reality is that we need better and more laws to protect animals and that if we don’t jump right into the thick of it and become a stronger political force, we won’t get what the animals need. The animals we seek to help can’t participate in the process, but we can, and must, on their behalf.
While Humane PA is relatively young in the life of politics, if we take a step back, we can see that progress has been made. In our 6 years of existence, we have grown from a handful of voting constituents to over 24,000. In the last election cycle, numerous candidates contacted us, completing our questionnaire and seeking our endorsement. We were able to support candidates who support humane legislation. And while not every candidate we supported was elected to office, many were. Humane PA activists were out in the trenches, distributing campaign literature, door knocking, working polls, contributing, and otherwise supporting humane candidates. Humane PA representatives and coordinators are attending town halls, political events and meeting with their legislators, and are making a difference for animals.
The opening months of the 2013-2014 legislative session has seen the introduction of a record number of bills to protect and improve animal welfare including, but not limited to, anti-tethering, banning the use of live animals for target shooting competitions, prohibiting the possession of animal fighting paraphernalia, increasing penalties for violations of animal cruelty laws, addressing the cost of care of seized animals, and banning the sale of shark fins. And, while it is exciting to note the wide range of animal related bills introduced so far, we need to pull out all the stops to make sure that these bills move, receive votes, pass, and are enacted into law. We need to be a strong and ever-present voice in Harrisburg reminding our elected officials that we expect them to support and work for the passage of these and other bills concerning the humane treatment of animals, and that our vote is contingent on such.
At Humane PA, we believe that a strong political presence can no longer be the “missing link” in the arsenal of tools we employ to battle cruelty and to achieve the humane treatment of animals. We must collectively insist upon more and better laws, continually chipping away at cruelty. Political commitment and involvement must be elevated to equal ground with all of our other anti-cruelty activities so that we can effectuate broad based positive change for animals. Given our progress to date, there is good reason to hope for better for animals – it is clear that while change may not be as fast as we might like, it is coming. Please join us at Humane PA to make it happen.
Elissa B. Katz is the President of Humane PA and a partner in the law firm of Meranze, Katz, Gaudioso & Newlin, P.C. in Philadelphia. She is a regular volunteer with the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), assisting with cat care and adoption applications at an adoption site. She is also a board member of The Humane League.