Ask An Animal Lawyer: How can I get active for animals and become an advocate in my own city?

Ask an Animal Lawyer

By Elizabeth Holtz, Animal Legal Defense Fund

I’m thrilled to answer your question, thank you for asking. While most of us deeply love our companion animals, millions of animals still suffer in the United States. From puppy mills to factory farms to egregious acts of cruelty against animals that go unpunished, we have so much work to do.  

A good first step is to connect with local groups in your area that are already working on animal issues. It’s as easy as going to Facebook and searching for “animal” plus your state. You’ll likely find either a state chapter of a national organization or local groups working on a wide variety of issues. Sign up to join their email lists, and you’ll be alerted when legislators are considering animal protection bills. You can also join the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s action alert list at aldf.org/signup.

When asked, take action! Send an email, or even better, call your city, state, and federal legislators and urge them to protect animals by supporting positive (or opposing negative) bills. Other ways you can get involved are by attending protests (outside of a pet store that sells puppies or a roadside zoo, for example), volunteering at animal shelter, or fostering.

Want to take your advocacy to the next step? Work with your city or county legislator to enact an ordinance to protect animals – many animal control issues are handled at the local level. While lobbying at the state and federal level is important, it can be daunting for a single person. That’s often not the case in your hometown! I’ve met many people who single-handedly worked with their city council or county commission to pass an ordinance (the term for local laws).  Legislators at this level are usually much easier to contact. Especially in smaller to medium sized cities, you can simply pick up the phone or send an email and schedule a meeting for as early as next week. All you need is determination and background knowledge of the issue.

This column is too short to discuss all the laws that you might champion, but retail pet sale bans and protections for animals in cold weather are a few ideas to get you started.  Retail pet sale bans prohibit pet stores from selling puppies, kittens, and sometimes other animals, that come from breeders. Virtually all puppies sold at pet stores come from puppy mills, large-scale breeding operations where profit is more important than the animals. A retail pet sale ban requires pet stores to only offer dogs and cats from rescue groups or animal shelters – animals in desperate need of homes. Retail pet sale bans have taken off in the last decade with hundreds of cities and counties enacting them. As a result, California and Maryland recently became the first two states to pass similar laws at the state level. This is a great example of how change starts locally. These state laws likely wouldn’t be possible if smaller communities hadn’t taken the first step.

Protecting animals in cold weather isn’t a matter of comfort, it can be life and death. Dogs and other companion animals aren’t equipped to survive in low temperatures. They can quickly get frostbite and even freeze to death. Ordinances that require people to bring companion animals indoors when the temperature drops below a certain level (or in weather emergencies) are critical. Every year we receive reports of dogs freezing to death. In some cases, neighbors had complained or reported that a dog was left outdoors in extreme temperatures, but animal control was either powerless to act (or declined to). Clear ordinances – animals must be brought in if it drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, for example – are easier to enforce and thus more effective.

I hope these ideas help you get started in your mission to get active for animals. There are so many other areas you can get involved in at the local level – anti-tethering ordinances, bans on circuses with wild animals, ordinances protecting pit bull terriers – these two suggestions are just a start. Good luck!

As Campaigns Manager for Animal Legal Defense Fund, Elizabeth Holtz is grateful that her work allows her to educate people and empower them to speak out on behalf of animals. She earned her undergraduate degree at Pomona College in 2007 and her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2011. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband Teddy, two rescue Chihuahuas (Alvin and the Colonel), and four rescue cats: Ripley, Prometheus, Jabba the Catt, and Pinguino.

As Campaigns Manager for Animal Legal Defense Fund, Elizabeth Holtz is grateful that her work allows her to educate people and empower them to speak out on behalf of animals. She earned her undergraduate degree at Pomona College in 2007 and her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 2011. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband Teddy, two rescue Chihuahuas (Alvin and the Colonel), and four rescue cats: Ripley, Prometheus, Jabba the Catt, and Pinguino.