I was excited and scared, pumped up and nervous, all at the same time. It was the first time I was going to speak directly to someone at the Ohio Statehouse, and I didn’t want to look like an idiot. More importantly, I didn’t want to mess up anything for the animals. It was my first ever Humane Lobby Day.
Humane Lobby Day is hosted by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) across the country every year to provide an opportunity for everyone to increase their animal advocacy outreach and engage in the legislative process. Attendees gather as a group to learn about current animal legislation in their state, to speak with state legislators about current legislation, and to network and learn from each other. It’s a day for animal advocates to be the voice for animals to our state lawmakers.
The day got off to a great start. We heard directly from leaders like HSUS Ohio State Director Corey Roscoe, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) State Legislative Director Vicki Deisner, as well as lobbyists, experts, and leaders in the field as they prepared more than 80 advocates to be successful citizen lobbyists.
The first session was titled, “Lobbying 101: How to be an Effective Citizen Lobbyist.” It included everything we needed to know about speaking to the legislator. In addition to logistics and basic etiquette, the tips helped us prepare for what we might encounter, including:
- It’s okay if you’re meeting with a staff member. These staff members are the gatekeepers of the traffic to the office. By building a good relationship with them, your voice will be heard by the legislator.
- It’s okay to say you don’t know. If asked a question, don’t feel bad if you don’t know the answer, and don’t make one up. Be sure to follow up and begin to build a relationship with your lawmakers’ office.
Ultimately, legislators want our votes. They see hundreds of items each day, so they want to know what concerns their constituents. It’s very unlikely that they are experts in your topic, and they’re interested in learning about the issue because it matters to you.
Once we had reviewed these tips and techniques, we moved into the issues we would be discussing during our meetings, including:
- Animal Fighting, Remove Ohio’s “Welcome” Mat for Illegal Animal Fighting | HB215
- Companion Animal Torture, “Goddard’s Law” First-time egregious abuse | HB60
- Protect Animals, Make Bestiality a Crime | SB195
We were provided handouts with specifics about each of these issues, including copies to leave behind with our legislators. Armed with tips for talking about these bills and an understanding of the legislation, we were on our way to head to our meetings.
Coordinating with other attendees from my legislative districts, we visited together in a small group with legislative staff members from both the House and the Senate. The experience was very positive. The legislative aides were interested in what we had to say and committed to discussing these issues with our legislators. It was a great feeling knowing that we represented the voices of animals and served as ambassadors for others in our area who were unable to attend.
As people were in and out of our home-base at the Ohio Theatre, volunteer leaders were offering tips and insights into how to further help animals. Some of these presentations included:
- Giving presentations and talks about Meatless Mondays
- Volunteering the part of an animal rescue team
- How to make a phone call to your legislator
- Writing effective letters to the editor
- Ways to use Kind News
- The HSUS Volunteer District Leader program
Attending Humane Lobby Day produced benefits for advocates and animals. The coordination and scheduling were outstanding, and the presentations and materials made sure everyone was well informed and successful in their meetings with legislators. Animal advocates gained confidence and experience to be effective citizen lobbyists and voices for animals. Not everything we talked about with legislators has passed, but we have seen some successes. At the time of this writing we’ve seen:
- HB60, Goddard’s Law, is now in effect
- SB215, Granting civil immunity for helping kids/pets in hot cars is now in effect
Since attending Humane Lobby Day in Ohio, I attended Humane Lobby Day in Washington D.C. This experience was very similar to my experience in Ohio and increased my confidence, experience, and passion even more.
If you’re interested in becoming an active voice for animals, Humane Lobby Day is a great way to meet other animals advocates and to gain confidence and experience. If you have experience lobbying for animals, Humane Lobby Day is a fantastic opportunity to network, meet with legislators, and show them how many animal advocates there are in Ohio. The more people we have speaking up, the more legislators will listen.
The next Humane Lobby Day in Ohio will most likely be in the Spring in Ohio. To make sure you are aware, keep an eye on our Events page, and follow The Humane Society of the United States – Ohio Facebook page. —Chris Niehoff
Chris is a Central Ohio animal lover who wants to see the lives of non-human animals, and human animals, improve individually and collectively. He believes this will happen only when human animals recognize the interconnection of all life and begin to act accordingly. He knows he has a lot to learn and hopes to connect with others on a similar journey.
Photo Courtesy of Chris Niehoff