In honor of National Animal Advocacy Day on April 30, we’re running a special series on the blog this week to honor those individuals who dedicate their energies to standing up for animals. Meet our third profiled citizen lobbyist, Michelle Lombas of McComb, Mississippi.
Growing up as an only child in rural Mississippi, Michelle Lombas befriended animals early on.
“I had no neighborhood kids to play with, so animals were my family,” she says. “I even learned to swim by watching my Chihuahua dog-paddle.”
While she works full-time as a program coordinator for the City of McComb’s Department of Recreation, Michelle spends just as much time lobbying for animals. “I may be on my lunch hour trying to catch a stray dog,” says the 39-year-old, who has served as a responder for the ASPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) after Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy, and was deployed to Florida and Kentucky to care for animals seized by the ASPCA in cruelty cases. She also handles special projects for the St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in nearby Tylertown.
Most recently, Michelle organized a rally in Jackson and created a supporting Facebook page. “We had about 100 people show up in the freezing temperatures and sleet,” she recalls. “What I loved about the rally is it inspired people throughout the state. And we accomplished our goals: to increase public awareness; show law enforcement that we appreciate their enforcing anti-cruelty laws; and tell legislators we need tougher laws.
“In our state, animal protection laws aren’t where we’d like them to be, and law enforcement doesn’t always have resources to enforce those laws,” adds Michelle.
“Local and vocal advocates like Michelle are the sustaining force and life-blood of the animal welfare movement,” says Sherry Rout, the ASPCA’s State Legislative Director of the Southern Region. “They know their communities better than anyone else, and we’re honored to work with these unsung heroes.”
Michelle acknowledges it’s not always necessary to be attached to an organization to make a difference. “People should feel empowered to organize things themselves. So many times we sit back and think someone else is going to do it, but it needs to be all of us to create change.”
On a daily basis, she does just that. During this year’s extreme winter weather, she delivered dog houses to people in her community. “It doesn’t take a whole lot,” she says. “And the reward is knowing an animal is more comfortable or not suffering.”
“Many times it’s not about cruelty,” she adds. “When I deliver hay or blankets, I see that people are suffering, too.”
At home, Michelle and her husband Louis’ four Weimaraners are their children, along with two permanent fosters, a pit bull and black Lab. Their home is also a haven for 43 ducks—mallard, Muscovy, Indian runner and Peking, among others—and the occasional flock of Canada geese.
Michelle began her animal welfare efforts in earnest after Hurricane Katrina, when she saw how people risked or lost their lives because they refused to evacuate without their pets.
“Katrina prompted me to go from ‘somebody needs to,’ to ‘somebody’s going to,’” she states. “That’s when I took action. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a phone call, or buying a bale of hay to distribute.”
Other times, it’s calling legislators who don’t always like to hear from animal advocates. “I’m a vote,” she says. “There are many more animal lovers than there are Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals. The ASPCA has given me the tools to know what to say and how to say it. Speaking for those who can’t is my opportunity to make a positive difference.”
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