First Steps to Advocacy
I can only assume I have loved animals all of my life, since I have no memories otherwise. My earliest years I grew up with dogs, then rabbits, birds, fish, hamsters, and even a few mice. I have always wanted to do more, however; I have felt a compulsive need to help rescue animals almost as long as I have loved them.
When I was very young, I would scour the area where I walked for lost animals, and was able to reunite a few lost dogs with their owners. When I was in high school when I first conceived of an idea to help save dogs who were languishing in shelters- I would find a way to publish all of their pictures into a newsletter that could be shared amongst any number of people who were looking for their own dog, or for a new friend to adopt. Of course, I was just a little early in my thinking, and the internet and social media has created an incredible platform to help animals find new homes.
It was not until college that I came up with the idea of creating a horse rescue, and, indeed it may have stayed an idea, if I had not found myself on one of those internet pages, advertising an animal in need. In this case, it was a pretty terrible picture of an Arabian mare, shot from the back, with the horse turning back, looking at the photographer. I instantly fell in love, and although it was a ridiculous idea considering my finances at the time, I inquired about her, and discovered that she was going to be sent to slaughter at the end of the week. I named her Cleopatra, and although she had a number of issues, she was the love of my life. In hindsight, it was a pretty stupid thing to do, but I did it, nonetheless, and even ended up rescuing another horse a year later.
I quickly came to two realizations:
1. There was no way I was going to be able to financially rescue every horse who needed a home.
2. I needed to address the larger structural issues that created situations that led to horses being in danger or needing homes.
These are the two main issues that drive animal advocacy: how can a limited number of people, with limited finances, help the greatest number of animals and, how to change the system so we are not overwhelmed with such a great need.
Starting a Horse Rescue
I created in Hanaeleh in 2004, which is a non-profit horse rescue that operates in South Orange County, CA. We only have around 14-15 horses, but we work to network horses who need homes, and provide resources for owners as well. Having an organization allows individuals to rescue more than just we would be able to alone. For those interested in starting their own organization, I would suggest to work with another organization first; there is so much more to running a non-profit than just helping a few horses.
When I first started out, I actually naively believed that changing the system would be easier than starting a non-profit. After rescuing Cleopatra from the slaughterhouse, I read about the horrors of horses being sent to slaughter; horses being illegally packed on double-decker trucks, shipped for days without food or water; the actual horrors of being alive while vivisected. Once I realized what was occurring, I thought, I should tell everyone about this! They will be as outraged as I am, and we will get a law passed that will stop this!
That was in 2004. At that time, there were 11 equine slaughterhouses in existence. 15 years later, we still do not have a federal law banning horse slaughter, although currently all of the slaughterhouses are closed.
It is sometimes frustrating to see that societal change takes so long, but it is important to continue to fight for these changes, as they help to alleviate the number of animals who actually need help. For example, ensuring that dogs and cats are spayed and neutered COMPOUNDED with the rescue groups helping to place animals in good homes is the most effective way to help these animals.
When helping animals, think about my two conclusions:
1. What can you do to help the MOST animals with the funds/time you have available. This includes educating yourself and recognizing where there are issues with animal abuse. Educating your friends and family- if only by leading by example, can lead to greater civic animal advocacy.
2. What structural changes can stop animals from being in danger or needing new homes. This is legislative animal advocacy, and requires both pressure and support from the public.
My Final Thoughts
Everyone can do something and no one can do everything. Write down one example of civic animal advocacy issue you can attempt, and one legislative animal advocacy issue you can support, and focus on those. You don’t have to start a horse rescue to help horses- but you do have to start doing something.
Not sure where to get started? Visit Hanaeleh’s advocacy page!