Phyllis Brust, PhD
Advocate for Animals: Getting Started
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
We fostered Billy, an eight year-old beagle (photo). Billy has rotting teeth, his face is frosty with age, he limps and sometimes loses his balance, he makes grandpa noises when he sits and he is missing big clumps of fur from his tail and back because of flea bites. He has black button eyes, loves belly rubs and never stops wagging his tail. We think his owners dumped him. They went unpunished.
Billy was lucky. He was saved by the SouthEast Beagle Rescue and was adopted. Other animals aren't so lucky.
It is estimated that in the US:
920,000 of the 6.3 million companion animals that enter shelters annually will be euthanized.**
1 million animals are harmed or killed each year as a result of domestic violence.
Animals need you! Join campaigns to lower the euthanasia rate for healthy dogs and cats living in shelters. Help make sure that animal abusers are punished. Work to outlaw puppy mills, encourage adoptions, stop dog fighting, end trophy hunting and more. Fight drug companies and laboratories that perform research on animals--convince politicians that there are alternatives to animal testing. Animals cannot defend themselves.
This post points you to the resources you need to advocate for animal-friendly laws, policies and regulations--whether you have five minutes to spare or 50 hours. If you have little free time, sign petitions and call legislators. If you have more time, create your own petitions, meet with legislators and spread the word on social media. (This post is focused more on domestic policy, but you can apply the tools to international issues.)
You may be more familiar with other ways to volunteer such as fostering homeless pets (as we did with Billy) or providing care at a shelter, also very important. But, you can also volunteer in ways that affect the well-being of thousands of animals.
"As a member of your community, you have more power to create positive change than you might realize. While every animal is an individual and worthy of lifesaving help, we need to think beyond just saving one animal to long-term change that ensures the safety of hundreds of thousands. To do that, we need to make sure our communities and elected officials support animal-friendly programs and policies.” (Best Friends)
You say you love animals but don’t like politics. This isn't about politics--it's about justice. By signing even one petition you can make a difference. Here are examples of what happened when people got involved.
Perhaps you heard about the 4000 beagles cruelly bred for research by the company Envigo RMS. Dogs were found dead, dehydrated, maimed and starving. Their suffering ended on July 15, 2022 when an agreement was reached with the US Department of Justice for the company to relinquish the bea. Just one year earlier (July 2021), the USDA inspected the facility and found animals in great distress but did not hand out fines or penalties. The beagles would never have been rescued without pressure from a PETA undercover investigation and from everyday people like you and me who signed petitions and contacted officials.
As a result of a successful petition on Change.org, Tyson Foods stopped using inhumane, tiny crates that pigs were forced to live in for their entire lives. They couldn't even turn around.
Beginning in 2022, Maine judges must consider the best interests of any pet in determining custody in divorce and separation. Prior to that, pets were considered property and could be given to an abuser if that person could prove ownership.The bill was introduced by State Senator Ben Chipman and supported by advocates, individuals and organizations.
I took the next step when I realized that adding an angry emoji 😡to Facebook posts about mistreated animals does nothing to help animals. I've signed petitions that ranged from ending the Envigo labs to imploring a roadside zoo to move Happy, its only elephant (41 years old) to a sanctuary where she could be with other elephants (a judge later ruled against Happy). I post on social media about pending legislation to inform others (see ROAR under aldf.org). I've read my local county's ordinance about pets so I know what is legal and call legislators to support pet-friendly legislation. (I keep their numbers on my phone.) I'm starting to research whether criminal penalties for abusers are adequate. It's not enough.
Join the fight. I’ll show you the quickest way to make a difference by highlighting two of my favorite organizations: The Animal Legal Defense Fund (aldf.org) and Best Friends (bestfriends.org). From them, you’ll get timely alerts about issues, actions to take, a free intro on animal policy, a primer on writing petitions and lobbying--and the confidence to start. I’ll include other groups at the end, including, for example, the Beagle Freedom Project (stop animal testing--another favorite group), and Mercy for Animals, (stop cruel farm practices). You’ll find even more groups when you do your own research.
There is no cost to access these websites. They are nonprofit organizations, and like all non-profits, will ask for money. You are not obligated to donate. Charity Navigator and other sites can help you assess the effectiveness of organizations you may be considering giving money to.
Websites change over time. Do key word searches if the links are broken.
I can't cover all helpful sites or the resources each site offers, but go back and explore. It will be worth it.
ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND (aldf.org)
(In Canada: https://aldf.org/article/animal-protection-laws-of-canada/)
You do not need a law degree to work with the ALDF. The ALDF “files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm, provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors in their fight against animal cruelty, supports animal protection legislation, and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the field of animal
Got 5 Minutes?
Receive alerts about animal-related lawsuits, legislation and regulations. ALDF
will direct you to sign petitions and contact officials. You will also learn about free seminars and webinars. I attended the free webinar, “Lobbying for Animals: State and Federal Legislation.” (It was great.)
Click on TAKE ACTION (aldf.org top menu; also in footer ) to learn what else you can do NOW.
How Does Your State Rate in Animal Protection?
Click on your state (scroll down the home page). As of this writing, Florida ranks 7th, Oregon ranks 3rd and Alabama ranks 47th.
Scroll the home page to get an overview of their work. Animals Used in Research, Captive Companion Animals, Farmed Animals and Wildlife are all worthwhile stopping points. Also from the home page, sign the Animal Bill of Rights (a link is on the home page) and subscribe to the free newsletter (different from action alerts).
Want To Be More Involved?
·Join ROAR!, ALDFs social media grassroots advertising campaign. ALDF will send you content to share with your networks about legislation, victories and other topics of interest. We can educate so many more people by doing this.
Learn to Advocate for Animals
How to lobby: This remarkable page will teach you step-by-step. You may have known little about lobbying before reading this, but you’ll have a clear idea after.
Learn about applicable federal law and the history of animal law in the US.
Complete this form if you are interested in local legislation, for example a retail pet sales ban, fur sales ban, prohibiting circuses and more--and even creating your own campaign.
Read their article about how non-lawyers can help (summarizes much of what is written here).
If you are a law student, check out the webinars, internships and student chapters.
You'll be up to speed in no time.
BEST FRIENDS (bestfriends.org)
(In Spanish, https://support.bestfriends.org/site/SPageNavigator/es_us/inicio.html)
Best Friends wants every shelter to be no-kill by 2025 and they want you to help them. “You are a voice for homeless pets and all at-risk animals. Make sure it's heard."(Best Friends) They advocate for animals, encourage adoptions, build coalitions, and train shelters about best practices.
Got 1 Minute?
Immediate actions that you can take to support the passing of animal-friendly legislation.
Got 5 Minutes?
On the home page, scroll to Actions You Can Take Right Now and click on whatever you feel most attracted to. Critical areas listed are:
Eliminate puppy mills, Protect community cats, End breed restrictions, Promote pet-inclusive housing
How Does Your State Rate?
Check the dashboard to see how your state stands in regard to saving homeless pets.
Want To Be More Involved? Join the 2025 Action Team. You will be invited to monthly team call and a private Facebook group. You will be encouraged to join or start local action in your community, such as stopping the sale of cats and dogs from puppy mills.
Learn to Advocate for Animals
Read the grassroots advocacy toolkit, which includes chapters such as, “Public relations and working with the media,” and “Tabling and canvassing in your community.”
Write an effective petition step-by-step.
LEARN YOUR OWN LOCAL ORDINANCES
To affect change in your community, know what is going on in your community.
Read your county's ordinances. Noise restrictions (barking), tethering, limits on the number of pets in a house and more. Do you think the regulations need to be changed?
Learn about federal and state legislation--track a bill's progress and set alerts. You can use, for example, "animals" and "pets" as key words.
Animal lovers are a voting block. Share your opinions with your elected representatives. Tell them you are watching and you vote.
Make a commitment to help even if it is 5 minutes a week. In that time, you can sign petitions that ALDF and Best Friends send your way and contact elected representatives on issues you care about. Reach out to ALDF and/or Best Friends if you have an idea you would like help with. (Both respond to emails.)
Do something for the beautiful creatures who can’t do this for themselves.
*ASPCA estimate (2019 statistics, based on https://www.shelteranimalscount.org/about/ and other data).
** The source is an older (2015) Tufts Now article citing the The Humane Society of the United States.
CareerMutt, my website, is about animal-related careers. For a career in animal advocacy, the subject of this post, consider these career paths: law; policy analysis; journalism; public relations; non-profit management; community activism (social work could be included); diplomacy; shelter management and grant writing/fundraising. Examples of employers would include those mentioned in the blog, US, Canadian and other national, state and local government agencies (including the State Department, Department of Agriculture and FDA), NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund and United Nations, philanthropies such as the PetSmart Foundation, Maddie's Fund, law firms and local rescues. You can also volunteer, too, and they will all have internships.
Read my other blogs about networking, advice for getting into vet school, animal artists and more.
Examples of other groups involved in animal advocacy follow. Some, like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States may be considered controversial. Do you own due diligence and decide for yourself.
For information about Canada: https://humanecanada.ca/our-work/focus-areas/animals-and-the-law/
Beagle Freedom Project (another favorite)
Maddie’s Fund Geared more for shelters, but informative
National Humane Education Society
PETA (home page is https://www.peta.org/action/activism-guide/passing-legislation/ is very helpful about meeting with legislators)
About the Author
Phyllis Brust, PhD is an award-winning career counselor and writer who has worked at Yale University, the University of Chicago, and Muhlenberg College. She has written about careers in: sports, public policy, international development, allied health and business. Phyllis has helped organizations including Fortune 500 companies, leading non-profits, NGOs and the US government to find candidates. But her heart is with animals. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (all three degrees). She can be reached at https://www.careermutt.com/contact.