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From 6 November 2005 Issue

Stop, Think, Don't Sign That Petition
By Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

As an animal activist, I am inundated, as I am sure every reader of Animal Writes is too, with action alerts, requests to sign petitions, appeals to take part in surveys, demands that the e-mail be spread "far and wide" so as to "get the word out" about this animal or that situation. As I was complaining during a phone conversation with our publisher, Susan "EnglandGal" Roghair,  about these e-mails that clog up my inbox and take up my precious time, (as I am sure it does yours), she did what any good publisher does, she suggested (ok, assigned) I do a little research, as us journalists are wont to do, and get to the bottom of all these pleas for action.  

First off, let me just say that I am not opposed to local e-mails that go around among local animal advocates in a small community that alert the "group" that there is a dog at Animal Control with only three hours left to live or that there is some commissioner who is scheming behind our backs to remove gopher tortoises from a proposed land developers' work site.  Those e-mails are necessary, important, and most of all, traceable. Most of the folks on those forwarded lists know one another. The people who are saving the manatees know the folks who are saving the Bassett Hounds and the people who are looking out for alligators know the people who were all at last week's fund-raiser in Palm Beach to fete the local feral cat lady.  All their names appear on the e-mail list, and the situation is local and handled locally. It would not make much sense for me, a Jupiterite, to send an e mail about a puppy found wandering dangerously close to an alligator hang-out and now needs a home to Karen Dawn www.dawnwatch.com , a California girl.  I mean, unless I am going to send said puppy to California, what would be the point? 

What I am addressing here are other forms of activism, however noble and feel-good at the time, that are basically useless and have no effect whatsoever except, possibly, the unintended result of getting your name on a spammer's list and or an undeserved sense of accomplishment that substitutes for real work, to wit: I don't have to attend that demonstration against racing greyhounds next Saturday because I signed an online petition! 

So, here, for your edification, elucidation and education, is the real deal straight from the horses' mouths. 

Those letters asking you to write a congressman or senator out of state:
I hesitate to address these because so many of them come from well-respected organizations such as HSUS and Peta, but the truth is, if you are not a constituent of the congressman or senator being lobbied, they don't care a wit about what you have to say. In an interview I wrote for Animal Writes published in 1998, Congressman Mark Foley stated that his feelings reflect that of other lawmakers who do not want to hear from those outside his constituency, he only answers to those he represents. So asking someone from Florida to write to the Governor of Ohio or a Congressman from Alaska is pretty much an exercise in futility.  However, since we do not want to ignore those pleas from the HSUS and others, there are some things we CAN do that may help the effort:  1-Contact your own representative and ask them to co-sponsor the legislation and/or let that out-of-state lawmaker know that people in your state are watching; this way, if that out-of-state lawmaker has designs on a higher calling, say, a run at the presidency, they will know that others have watched their ascent-remember Mitt Romney?  2-Write a letter to the editor of the paper where the issue is taking place. Hometown newspapers love to hear from people in other states, it puts their paper "on the map" and implies that they are such good newspaper makers, that even when people move to other states they keep in touch.  3-If you have friends or friends of friends or family in that state, lobby THEM to lobby their lawmakers. 4 -Of course, if an issue is taking place in YOUR state, make a big, fat deal about it and write, call, fax or whatever it takes to get your reps attention. 

Those e-mails asking you to sign online petitions:
According to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Cyber Security, "an Internet petition has no validity at all as no signature can be checked or validated. The other problem with this petition is that this is the latest way for Internet spammers to get huge lists of valid e-mail addresses." There, you have it straight from the horse's mouth, or in this case, the Chief Information Officer of the U.S. Office of Cyber Security. So when someone asks you to sign an online petition, don't. I know it's hard not to, especially when the plea includes an "it will only take a minute of your time" but it's irrelevant and could do more harm in the way of giving out your information to spammers.  

This does not apply to online surveys which do not ask for your name, only that you check a box, and the media does occasionally cite these surveys as in "A survey of internet users shows that 87% oppose seal hunts as opposed to 13% who are in favor of seal hunts".  You may visit the site of the Office of Cyber Security at http://ciac.org.  

Forwarded e-mails that warn of deadly consequences if not read and adhered to:
There is nothing wrong with sharing a funny joke or cute poem or pictures with a few friends, but some e-mails take on a life of their own and I am constantly surprised at the number of educated people who insist on perpetuating myths that have long since been busted. 

Take the "Swiffer Wet Jet" for example.  That hoax has been making the rounds for years. I found its dire warning yet again in my mailbox, telling me to avoid using Swiffer Wet Jet because it contains ingredients similar to antifreeze and will kill my household pets. When I informed the sender that this was an old hoax, she replied "Oh, well, it's made by Procter and Gamble and we shouldn't buy those products anyway." Well, true enough, but those of us who have been in the animal rights movement for thirty years or more know that the truth is always on our side 100%. One of our strongest points is that we never have to lie or embellish the truth. The footage of dolphins being ripped from the ocean for amusement parks is bad enough, we don't have to add anything. Ditto the slaughter houses, puppy mills and greyhound race tracks.  So when we perpetuate a rumor about our enemy that is not true, and then defend it by saying we hate them anyway, it takes away from our credibility. 

These e-mails contain everything from A-Z with the animal-related hoaxes being about 20% of them. Every hoax from the Bonsai kitten (which I still get outraged e-mails about) to the KFC hoax, the lethal rat urine hoax, Littermaid killed my cat hoax, rabies in the air hoax and the kid-with-just-a-head-hoax (ok, that's not animal related but it's really, really stupid). Please, before you pass on one of those e-mails check out www.http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/

As animal activists our job is to educate the community and hopefully through that education we can effect change. Misinformation is the demise of any good social movement and ours is no exception. If you like this article, please go to www.itsnottrueandthereisnosuchthing.org  and sign our online petition, or put your name and address on the back of a $26 bill and mail it to Animal Writes, POB 000X, Tampa, FL. Thanks for your support.  

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Notice to AW readers: Is there some animal question that has been nagging at you? For example, did you know that a mother cat can have a single litter of kittens and all the kittens be from different dads? How is that possible? Or that snakes can bite after they are dead? How can that be?  If you have questions such as these, send them to me at MichelleRivera1@aol.com for an upcoming publication on these and other such questions and help us to educate the general public so that they may have a deeper understanding and appreciation of animals. Thanks!
 

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