Anyone Can Be a Change Agent for Animals

November 22, 2016

pitbull puppy at HAL

By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA CEO

The ultimate goals of animal welfare—protecting animals in need and elevating their status in our laws and culture—require a bigger and broader commitment than advocates and rescue groups can do alone. But people from every corner of our society can and do make a difference, and they are as diverse in age, environment, and background as the very animals we strive to serve. 

That diversity has never been better illustrated—at least in one place and time—as it was last week at our 2016 ASPCA Humane Awards ceremony. Recognizing remarkable acts of heroism from both animals and humans, the event demonstrated how children and former convicts can be heroes for pets and pet owners, how leaders and whistleblowers can change public policy, and how animals themselves can save lives, restore hope, and shatter harmful stereotypes.

This year’s honorees include:

U.S. Senator Bob Dole, who dedicated much of his 35 years in politics to protecting animals.

Rob Rosa and New Leash on Life USA, which brings together prison convicts and homeless pets to enhance the lives of each. Rob himself was a former convict who became passionate about animal welfare while serving his sentence.

Ruthie, a five-year-old Golden Retriever who provides emotional support to victims of physical and emotional trauma at sites of tragedy including the Newtown school shooting, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Kiah, an injured and abandoned pit bull who became the first-of-her-breed police dog in the state of New York.

Dr. Jim Keen, who exposed vicious farm animal cruelty at a federal research facility.

Willow Phelps, a fourth grader with a fierce dedication to helping animals in need.

Blake, a cat who—on a daily basis—saves his owner from deadly seizures.

Sutter, a Palomino stallion who represents the tragedies and suffering that so often befalls U.S. horses.

Each of these individuals and animals brings a unique voice and situation to the important national dialogue on animal welfare, but—combined—they also show that everyone has an opportunity to make a difference, and that our size and diversity can indeed match the nature of the challenge before us.

The next step may be yours—adopting or fostering a shelter dog or cat, using social media to call attention to critical animal welfare issues and legislation, volunteering and contributing supplies to a local shelter or rescue, turning your next birthday or family gathering into a fundraiser, or stepping up in a way no one has even yet imagined.

However you choose to be a voice for animals in need, it makes a difference. And considering the value animals add to our lives, it’s the least we can do in return.