How to Become Involved in Legislative Efforts and Lobbying on Behalf of Animals

Rebecca Frazier

From raising money for your favorite animal advocacy organization to volunteering your time at a local rescue shelter, there are many ways to use your time and strengths to advocate for animals. However, advancing the rights of animals within the legal system may be one of the most profound and, often, effective ways to promote the wellbeing of animals. 

For many decades, there have been laws on the local, state, and federal levels that protect animals. A common example of a federal law that protects animals is the Animal Welfare Act, which helps to protect animals that are commercially sold as well as those found in zoos and laboratories. Another law is the Endangered Species Act, which works to ensure the survival of animals facing extinction. While these laws are not comprehensive, and are sometimes poorly enforced, they still have the ability to prevent animal suffering. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, it is at the state level, however, that most laws protecting animals are enacted and enforced. Laws on the state level often address mistreatment of companion animals. For example, “hot car laws” which strive to minimize instances of dogs being left to overheat in cars, are becoming more common at the state level. Finally, local laws often work to fill in the gaps where state and federal laws are not present, or to address issues that are unique to a specific community. Common local laws include city ordinances that prevent animals from being tethered outdoors for excessive amounts of time or left outside during extreme weather conditions without proper shelter. Whether you seek to become involved on the local, state, or federal level, advocating for the legal rights of animals is a great way to forge a path towards preventing animal cruelty. 

If you are new to lobbying, beginning legislative initiatives on your own may be overwhelming. It is here that animal advocacy organizations focusing on legislative issues are especially helpful. Following organizations such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society Legislative Fund is a great place to start. There are also likely organizations in your state which focus specifically on state laws affecting animals. These organizations will keep you informed of current legal issues affecting animals, offer volunteer opportunities, and can provide answers to questions you may have. Furthermore, these organizations may be able to support you if you wish to take individual action. 

One of the best ways to challenge or support a legal issue affecting animals is to speak to your representatives. This approach may seem trite but it is, nevertheless, true. For example, perhaps as you drive to work each morning, you often notice dogs riding in the back of pickup trucks without safety restraints. You know this could easily cause injury to the dog or human passengers if the dog were to jump or be thrown from the vehicle. While some states and local laws prohibit or limit this practice, it is predominantly unchallenged. To address this issue, you can contact your state or local representatives, urging them to implement a new law or enforce an existing one that ensures the safe transportation of dogs. To contact your representatives, you have a number of options. In addition to writing, calling, or visiting the offices of your representatives, you can also attend a Humane Lobby Day at your state’s capitol. Humane Lobby Days are special events hosted by the Humane Society of the United States which allow you to visit your capitol building, meet with your representatives and other advocates, and promote animal-friendly legislation. Even if you are new to lobbying for animals, these events offer you a unique opportunity to engage with your legislators and learn from seasoned advocates. 

However, simply contacting your representatives may not bring about the change you would like to see. If you wish to take more direct action, it may be a good opportunity to pursue the passage of a city ordinance or similar law. While passing a city ordinance may be daunting, with preparation and support it can be an achievable step towards protecting animals. For the example of dogs riding unrestrained in pickup truck beds, you could propose a city ordinance that requires dogs to be safely restrained when being transported in this way. The process of proposing an ordinance will vary depending on your location, but it generally consists of drafting the ordinance and appearing before your city council to propose the changes you would like to see. It is often helpful to research similar laws in other areas to guide you when writing the ordinance, gain community support through publicity efforts, and prepare responses to common concerns with your proposal. When speaking before a city council, it is often beneficial to get animal control officers or other city employees who are supportive of the ordinance to speak with you. Similarly, demonstrating that you are sympathetic to the opposition’s objections may help you to negotiate more effectively. It is important to be open to compromise. Usually some progress for animals is better than none. 

Whether you want to start by writing a single letter to your representative, or jump straight into drafting legislation for your city, any legal step you take has the power to impact the lives of countless animals. You do not have to be an animal advocacy attorney or active politically to promote a legal change for animals. In the end, your concern for just one animal, like the dog riding in the back of the pickup truck, has the potential to protect thousands more. That is the power of legal actions on behalf of animals. 

Sources: The Animal Legal Defense Fund, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center