The ASPCA frequently receives messages from concerned individuals asking if there are any laws protecting animals from specific inhumane circumstancesfor example, dogs in hot cars or long-term tetheringand, if not, inquiring how they can help get such laws passed. It’s important to understand that animal advocacy is not a one-size-fits-all propositionwith so many variables at play, every issue cannot and should not be approached in the same way.
Whether through legislation, citizen initiatives, or the power of consumer activism, the ASPCA seeks to establish laws and change public policy to achieve stronger protections for animals. Read on to learn a little bit about some of the methods we use.
The Legislative Route
Before taking action, our staff lobbyists look at whether any laws exist or are pending (either on the state, federal or local level) that address the particular problem or need. Not every problem can be resolved through new legislation. Sometimes it is a matter of better enforcement of laws already on the booksso our staff first looks into what already exists on the issue and the extent to which it is being carried out.
While many legislators are responsive to pro-animal welfare initiatives in theory, their agendas must mesh with public concerns to form the basis of legislation. If a legislator does decide to take legislative action on the issue, he or she will introduce a measure into the political process, becoming its “sponsor.” Go to How a Bill Becomes a Law to find out what happens next.
Once the bill is in motion, ASPCA Government Relations liaisons will help the sponsoring legislator seek co-sponsorship and work to build public support for the measure.
Citizen Ballot Initiatives
Through a public ballot initiative, an issue is voted on directly by the citizens of the state. In recent years, several ballot initiatives have been launched in states where legislation has repeatedly failed to ban activities like cockfighting or dog racing.
Ballot initiatives have succeeded in banning:
Cockfighting in Oklahoma, Arizona and Missouri
Trapping in California, Arizona and Massachusetts
Hound hunting in Oregon and Washington
Greyhound racing in Massachusetts
Gestation crates for sows in Florida, Arizona and California
While citizen action such as a ballot initiative can really make a difference, the process itself can draw out strong opposition groupsand some state legislatures have the power to overturn ballot decisions. Still, ballot initiatives are often the most appropriate way to make change relatively quickly on issues that have strong public backing.
See which states allow citizen ballot inititatives.
Consumer Advocacy & Education Campaigns
Successful consumer campaigns have led many companies, and even governments, to stop objectionable practices. For example, in the late 1980s, worldwide public outrage over the deaths of dolphins in mile-long tuna nets resulted in a consumer movement against dolphin-unsafe tuna. After sales plummeted, many tuna companies, as well as the governments of the United States and Mexico, discontinued their dolphin-deadly fishing methods, which is why we now see “dolphin-safe” labels on canned tuna. Consumer buying pressure has also motivated certain companies to stop testing their products on animals.
A great way to get an educational message to a large number of people is by writing a “letter to the editor.” The ASPCA uses this tactic, and you can, too. Try submitting letters to local newspapers and magazineskeep them factual, short in length and unemotional. Also, keep in mind that the letter should be relative to something the publication has recently covered (or it’s unlikely to be printed). If they do print your letter, you’ll not only inform members of the public, you might just catch the attention of legislators, too.
Learn more about issues pending in your state and in Congress.