Can you imagine a government with a Senator Stallwood,
Congressman Pacelle or President Bauston? Wow! How about Attorney
General Ingrid Newkirk or Surgeon General Neal Barnard????? Holy Cats!
What a wonderful country this would be then!
The animal rights movement is bound for new hiking
trail. Recognizing that our movement must become more political if we
are to succeed, more and more of our leaders are advocating the birth of
political action committees. During the animal-rights convention, one
speaker spoke of the failed efforts to pass legislation to ban
cockfighting. In the minds of most Americans, cockfighting is a brutal,
bloody activity. It seems that a ban on this activity, with it’s
attendant activities such as raising, transporting and equipping the
birds, would be an issue that wouldn’t take a whole lot of action on our
part. But who would have believed that the cock fighters have their very
own lobby! They have organized, formed a political action committee,
hired a lobbyist, and they beat us down. They won. This from a group of
people whose idea of sports clashes with that of most Americans. This,
from a group of people who engage in gambling, which is illegal in most
states. They won.
By educating ourselves on how our bills become laws, we
can swing the momentum in a new direction. And, we can start in our own
community. We can even turn a tragedy into action.
Two years ago, while working as a cruelty investigator
for my local rescue organization, I received a call from a local
veterinarian. An elderly couple had brought a dog to her clinic. This
dog, a Pomeranian, had been skinned alive. She was immediately
euthanized. It was the most humane thing that could have been done. The
vet estimated that she had been in this condition for hours, although
how long she had been on the side of the road where she was found was
The resulting investigation involved the canvassing of
the neighborhoods close to where she had been found. A family came
forward to say that they thought this may be their Pomeranian, Sadie,
who they had let out to go potty but who didn’t come home. The community
went wild thinking that some sick monster was taking family pets and
skinning them alive. Our shelter set up a reward fund and invested the
first $1,000. Sadies Fund rose to $3,000 as soon as the story aired on
the local news.
About a week later, a man turned himself in to the
Jupiter Police Department. He told them that he was responsible for
skinning the Pomeranian. His name was Douglas Rasmussan, a teacher at a
local Jupiter grade school. The reason he was turning himself in, he
explained, was that he wanted to put an end to the hysteria that had
taken over our little town. There was no sicko lose in the community,
and family pets were not in danger. He had merely run over the dog with
his car. The drive shaft had grabbed the dogs coat at the nape of her
neck, and she was completely degloved (the medical term for complete
removal of the coat and skin). He did stop for a minute, got out of his
car, saw that the dog would probably die, and kept going. He had two
kids in the car, he explained, he didn’t want to upset them.
He hit Sadie at 7:35 AM. She was found at 4:40 PM. She
stayed on the side of the road, alive, in the South Florida heat, with
insects and dirt all over her, for the entire day and only one driver
had stopped to help her.
Rasmussan was charged with cruelty to animals, but the
judge dismissed the case saying that there was no law in Florida that
bestows upon drivers the obligation to stop and render aid to an animal
hit with a motor vehicle.
Sadies’ Fund was immediately converted to a fund to pay
for animals who have been injured in car accidents. The existence of
this fund would assure motorists who hit an animal, or who see an animal
who has been hit, that they would not be stuck with a big vet bill.
Sadie’s Fund would pay for animals hurt in these circumstances.
Feeling that Rasmussan got away with abandonment,
cruelty, irresponsibility and just plain stupidity that caused the
tortuous death of a little dog, I decided to see if a law could be
passed in Florida that required drivers to stop and render aid. These
are the very simple steps that I took, and I hope that by my sharing
them with readers, they can use this knowledge to help animals in their
I first contacted the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)
and asked if any states had such laws. There were eleven. The attorneys
there compiled a package of state statutes that spoke to this issue.
They also drafted a bill that I could present to my state
Representative. They stayed in constant touch with me by phone, mail,
faxes and e-mail. They were my closest ally and they were absolutely
priceless in their support and friendship.
Next, I involved my local animal rights group, the
Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) and asked for their support.
If I got the bill as far as the committee, I wanted them to send out
action alerts to their members asking that they write in support of this
proposed bill. ARFF agreed.
In order to get a bill in front of congress, you must
have a member of congress to introduce the bill, so, I made an
appointment with my state representative, Sharon Merchant. I took all
the materials sent to me by the ALDF. I told her the story of Sadie, and
she read over all the other state laws that I had brought her. She spent
about an hour going over all the points of the proposed “Sadies Bill”. I
asked her to sponsor the bill.
She was somewhat in favor of doing so, but didn’t commit
right away. She wanted input from the State Attorney’s office, and so
Sadies Bill was sent to the State Attorney to get their ideas.
I am sorry to say that Sadies’ Bill is not going well. I
have had a meeting with several prosecutors who tell me that they would
not be comfortable prosecuting “render aid” requirement because people
hit animals all the time. What about hitting birds, squirrels, mice?
Will these motorists be required to stop? And what of the inherent
danger in stopping to help an injured animal, people could get bitten.
Rep. Merchant’s feeling is, that if the prosecutors won’t put their
heart into prosecuting those who ignore this law, there is no reason to
have the law. The state attorney’s must be in our corner for this to
Their concerns are valid, and we are still in the
process of discussing the details. Perhaps people don’t have to stop,
maybe they can just be required to report the injury so someone could
come help. In any event, the process is in motion and hopefully, we will
be able to win one for the animals.
So the steps are simple. Draft the proposed bill, get
ALDF involved, find an organization with members who can help you to
support it, and make an appointment with your congressperson. The hard
part is getting a congressperson to sponsor the bill. Your local
animal-rights and rescue groups probably know who the animal-friendly
politicians are and can steer you in the right direction. Its good to
start with your own representative from your own district, but if that
person isn’t willing to help, you can go outside your district.
Any person can propose a bill, but only a member of
congress can introduce it. The Speaker of the House then sends the bill
to a committee. The committee then reviews the bill and votes on it.
Sometimes there is a sub-committee to help with research and polling to
see how popular an idea the bill may be.
The committee, by it’s vote, will either kill the bill
or pass it on to the Senate. If the bill is killed in committee, its
dead. It cannot be resurrected unless brought up again with a different
name and drastically different structure. If the committee doesn’t kill
the bill, it gets passed to the Senate Rules committee. The Rules
committee then passes it on to the senate, and the senate agriculture
committee will debate the bill and make any changes it deems necessary.
It is during this most critical of times that letters and phone calls to
your representatives can make the bill a reality.
A conference committee is made of senate and house
members. This committee irons out the bill, and sends it back to the
house and senate to be voted on again. If it survives, it is sent to the
President to be signed into law.
There are several other things that impact the bill.
Special interest groups are very prominent in creating bills. These
interest groups contribute financially to the campaign funds of the
politicians. If we are to pass animal-related legislation, we must have
our own interest groups, and we must be ready to put money into
campaigns to elect political officials who can get these laws passed.
The National Rifle Association is one of the biggest
political action committees there is. They are cohesive and organized,
and they pay big money into the funds of political candidates. We can
and must follow the lead of other movements who are successful in their
endeavors to advance their agenda.
The animal-rights movement is a movement that speaks up
for those who cannot contribute to campaign coffers, cannot vote, cannot
riot in the streets. If we are to succeed in our quest to speak up for
those who can’t, be must move beyond letter-writing and boycotts, we
must elect those politicians who think the way we do. We must help them
advance their careers so that they can turn around and help us advance
our agenda. This means we must contribute to their campaigns, and expect
favors in return, we must volunteer at their campaign headquarters by
answering phones and stuffing envelopes. We must get involved. If the
animals could do these things, they most surely would.
We must become more political in our thinking. The
future success of our movement depends upon it.
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