The animal welfare community just experienced a clear and sometimes rare example of success. In the Pennsylvania House a small group of suspect sponsors, with the enthusiastic support of that bastion of animal welfare support, the AKC, introduced House Resolution 89. It used groundless, completely unsupported and inflammatory language to call into question the effectiveness and desirability of full implementation of the 2008 Puppy Mill Law.
Normally, this may have slipped under the radar. Or, if it was noticed, animal welfare advocates would have reenacted that scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where all the different liberation groups decided who was the most right and attacked one another, while accomplishing nothing (profanity warning on this very funny link).
Not this time. HR 89 was quickly spotted, was promptly shared, animal welfare advocates across the spectrum swiftly reached agreement that we did not like what we saw, and we all went berserk at the same time in the same direction. A coalition of the willing unleashed canine shock and awe. Within days the sponsors were spinning in their boots, offering new excuses and new claims daily, before finally having their resolution stall in committee while facing an omnibus revision offered by their own leadership.
Now that is how you get something done. Just ask the NRA, the Tea Party, the AARP or any other highly effective lobbying group. Find your target, define your message, stay on message, and hack at it until it is dead. Then pour salt on it for good measure so the offenders think long and hard before trying that approach again.
All too often we are not effective at getting what we want or, just as importantly in politics, at stopping what we oppose, because we fight and bicker over who is allowed to speak for our side, who is most credible, or who knows best. Too often we will put more time into undermining those on our own side at the expense of the issue all of us on our side agree on. We treat degrees of difference as if they are orders of magnitude.
In the case of HR 89, there was definitely a difference of opinion over whether it represented a political stunt by local Reps to assuage their rural base or was a Trojan horse intended to gut the dog law. This time we all decided, why take the chance?
We all called on our friends to join together to place calls and emails to our own elected officials and to party leadership. Our people (mostly) did it respectfully and politely, making it far harder for politicians to blow us off as nuts from outside their districts who just post crazy comments in all caps on their Facebook pages. We did not let them slide when they started making ridiculous claims about what was clearly written in HR 89 and turned their own words back at them.
And we prevailed as a group. For once, we managed not to cut off our noses to spite our faces.
But we can’t let it go to our heads. HR 89 is stalled, not dead. There will be other revisions offered to the dog law, some will even be good, and they will crack the door ever so slightly for the addition of this little change here and that little change there. We must be vigilant. And when we see something we all think is a problem for animal welfare, we need to show Harrisburg that the highly effective response to HR 89 was not a one shot deal.
And don’t forget to go to Harrisburg for Lobby Day on April 12! Put a smiling, steely eyed face, nose and all, in front of your Representative and Senator!