Animal power: The rise of online advocacy

A couple of years ago, someone asked me how we did adoptions before the Internet. The question, apart from highlighting my age, exposed the fact that the old-fashioned way really didn’t serve the animals very well at all. But it wasn’t that long ago that shelter animals were at a huge disadvantage, because apart from the small circle of friends that a rescuer or shelter worker could reach by phone or fax, and the relatively few members of the public who actually visited a shelter to adopt a pet, shelter dogs and cats mostly survived their allotted time in an isolated void, invisible to the public.

The same is true for political action and advocacy. Does anyone remember letter-writing campaigns – with real letters sent via the post office? Phone calls were easier, but seriously, how many people were sufficiently informed or engaged about pending local, state or federal legislation to write a letter to or call the office of a representative, senator or even the president? Internet advocacy and petition sites have changed that world as dramatically as digital photography, email and pet adoption sites have changed the way we do rescue and adoptions.

Probably the most effective advocacy tool that the Internet has given us is the ability to distribute targeted legislative alerts, another miracle of modern technology that allows regular folks to easily and conveniently let their lawmakers know how they feel about pending legislation.

This tool is much more than a convenience, though; it has become an essential element for legislative advocacy. If lawmakers don’t hear from their constituents, the only voices they will hear are those of lobbyists representing business and financial interests, which is usually not great news for the animals.

For example, when the San Diego city council received 1,500 emails from residents in support of a proposed law banning the pet store sales of puppy mill or commercially bred pets, they got the message, as well as the level of concern of the local citizenry. When California governor Jerry Brown wanted to repeal the Hayden Law that guarantees shelter access to rescues, among other critical shelter care provisions, he was stopped in his tracks by the avalanche of emails that he received via legislative alert from supporters of Best Friends and other animal welfare organizations.

When Ohio legislators were considering House Bill 14, a measure to finally eliminate the last statewide pit bull ban, the Best Friends legislative alert in support of HB 14 had 7,546 "likes" on Facebook and resulted in 2,511 advocacy messages to key legislators. The alert galvanized 2,226 activists in Ohio.

This level of responsiveness and feedback to people in power has changed how legislative business is done, and it means that individual voices are heard and are more important than ever.

No matter what your particular animal interest may be, you can be a voice for animals in your community. It literally takes only moments to participate in the democratic process and to help facilitate important and meaningful change. Please join the Best Friends Legislative Action Center and make your voice heard today.

And when you receive an action alert from Best Friends or read a blog post with a call to action, please, please take that next step and make those few keyboard clicks that can mean the difference between the success or failure of an important piece of legislation.

As Ledy VanKavage, Best Friends lead legislative analyst, likes to say, “Politics is not a spectator sport.”

Francis Battista