1. What was your first experience with animals that had an impact on you?
I grew up surrounded by animals and when I was about 7 or 8 years old I brought home a stray cat named Tramp. But the first significant impact was when I was a college sophomore at Michigan State and adopted a cat named Tabitha from a local shelter with my then-boyfriend. I was horrified at the living conditions and how many pets were at the shelter. That made a lasting impression on me that continues to this day. Helping shelter animals has since been one of my main missions. All of my cats have been adopted from Michigan animal control shelters. I currently have Oscar and Lucy who I adopted from Ingham County Animal Control in 1998 and 1999.
2. When, how, and why did you first get involved with the animal welfare/rights movement?
When I was an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Ingham County, I began volunteering for Ingham County Animal Control in January 2000. At that time, our volunteer group was not welcomed. Within a few months, I learned that the shelter was selling the cats and dogs to a Class B dealer who then resold them for research. I had never heard of pound seizure and was horrified to learn that this practice was legal in Michigan and being practiced (at that time) in about 20 shelters. That is the moment that I became an animal advocate. I was a co-founder and board member of Friends of Ingham County Animal Shelter and we mobilized to end the practice. We spent about 3 years lobbying the County Commissioners and educating the community to end the practice. Eventually we were successful in June 2003 when the Board of Commissioner passed a resolution stopping the Class B Dealer from taking the shelter pets. From there, I provided legal guidance and advice to advocates in Jackson (banned pound seizure in 2006), Eaton (banned pound seizure in 2008), Montcalm (banned pound seizure in 2010) and currently in Gratiot and Mecosta counties (pound seizure will end 6-30-12). It also helped me to write and have published How Shelter Pets are Brokered for Experimentation: Understanding Pound Seizure in August 2010. It is the first and only book dedicated to exposing the barbaric and outdated practice of pound seizure.
3. What are your favorite types of animal advocacy activities? Why? (i.e. lobbying, letter-writing, petitions, volunteering, protests, etc.)
For me, my power is through my words. I am an excellent writer and public speaker (from being a trial prosecutor and national trainer since 1995). So my work involves lobbying (which I did professionally for 3-1/2 years at the federal and state level), letter writing, petitions, mobilizing grassroots advocacy, volunteering, and educating others. This is why I co-created Michiganders for Shelter Pets with Holly Thoms (Voiceless-MI) and invited three other passionate Michigan advocates to join our group to help mobilize Michiganders to help pass laws to protect shelter pets.
4. What animal issues are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about ending pound seizure, gas chambers in shelters, animal cruelty and neglect, and also human-animal bond issues (keeping people together with their pets, even in times of crisis). All of my paid and volunteer work involves animals in one regard. I even have a small business that provides energy healing for animals and trains people on how to provide energy healing. This can be especially beneficial for shelter pets and animals who have been abused.
5. What current animal-related issue or campaign has caught your attention, and why?
Through Michiganders for Shelter Pets, we have worked to have two bills filed to end gas chambers in Michigan shelters. I wrote and worked on these bills in 2009 when I was Vice President of Public Policy for American Humane Association. Gassing animals is completely unnecessary, outdated, inhumane and more costly to shelters than injection. And while no one wants to think about shelter pets being euthanized, one thing we should all agree on is that gassing is not appropriate.
6. How do you address animal issues within your career?
I’m a “jack of all trades” when it comes to animal protection in my work. I handled animal cruelty cases when I was a prosecutor. When I joined the National District Attorneys Association in 2003, I nationally trained prosecutors and other criminal justice professionals on the linkages between violence to animals and people. When I joined American Humane Association in 2007, I was Vice President of Public Policy and worked on federal and state legislation to protect animals. In 2011, I returned to the National District Attorneys Association where I launched and am the director of the National Center for Prosecution of Animal Abuse. We are training prosecutors and those that work with them on the proper investigation and prosecution of animal abuse cases. We host free one-hour monthly webinars and have a free online newsletter (please sign up for these). You can learn more at http://www.ndaa.org/animal_abuse_home.html.
7. What advice do you have for someone looking to become a more active animal advocate?
Please forgive the shameless plug, but buy my book called Defending the Defenseless: A Guide to Protecting and Advocating for Pets released July 2011. The entire book is filled with chapters to educate on the multitude of ways to help companion animals. The “You Can Do More” tips at the end of each chapter describe how to get involved, from the simplest task to more involved advocacy and employment endeavors. It has been described as the “Bible for animal advocacy” and will inspire you to get involved.
The other piece of advice that I have is this … if you love animals, you have to be a voice for them. We are at a tipping point in getting more protection for all animals and this can only happen if we all work together. Even taking the small step towards only purchasing cruelty-free cosmetics and household cleaners would lessen the number of animals victimized in animal research each year.
8. What book, quote, photo, video, story, etc. have you found most inspiring/has inspired you?
There are far too many to list. I am inspired everyday by the little acts that people take to help animals. Right now, I am most inspired by the people and organizations helping the animals at the Gratiot and Mecosta County animal shelters to avoid pound seizure and gas chambers. I have been a volunteer in the trenches like that and know the daily toll it takes on your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. I am grateful everyday for the work that they do, and for the work that other Michigan rescue groups do to take those shelter pets into their care.