HumaneLobbyDay2014I freely admit that my perception of lobbying has always been rather negative – after all, look who does it – the oil and tobacco industries, the NRA and people with questionable motives making shady deals in hallways.

Well, guess what. I became a lobbyist, at least for a day. I attended the California Humane Lobby Day on Wednesday, June 11 and learned a lot. Other team members were Marin Humane Society (MHS) staffers Captain Cindy Machado, Animal Services;Emily Robledo, Marketing and Communications Associate; and Animal Care Technician,Russell Walker.

Humane Lobby Day is a one-day event sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and co-sponsored by the Marin Humane Society where we unapologetically attempt to influence elected officials and their staff about animal protection issues in California. Appointments are scheduled with your state legislators so that we can meet with them (or their staff) face to face, share our position on legislation, and ask for animal-friendly votes.

HSUS does a great job on the prep work for the day. They schedule all the appointments, provide personalized handouts for each attendee and their respective officials by district – for us, Assembly District 10 and Senate District 2.; and provide background information and talking points on each of the bills and issues.

The day began at a conference center near the Capitol with registration, introductions and an overview of the activities. For background on AB 2657 which prohibits the use of toxic rodenticides and pesticide that contain anticoagulants in state and national parks, conservancies and wildlife habitat areas in California, we were fortunate to hear an informative (although disturbing) presentation on the impact of rodenticides. Presenters included a WildCare staff member, who has been working on a study of the percentage of rodenticides present in wildlife and domestic animals.

We then proceeded outside to the State Capitol south lawn (currently brown due to drought watering restrictions) for the Humane California Fair event which featured many of the HSUS initiatives active in California. MHS and other sponsors had tables where we were able to showcase some of our own programs. It was fun to talk with the many Lobby Day attendees who came from all over California to participate, as well as the members of the public who just happened by.

Our working lunch (vegan, of course!) involved preparation and review of the talking points for the 3 bills pending in the state legislature: AB 2075 which would make it a crime to import or sell endangered animals, specifically alligator and crocodile products; AB 2268 which would liberalize the killing of wild pigs without humane considerations; and AB 2657 – the aforementioned rodenticide bill.

In addition, there were two other initiatives we were to discuss with our respective assembly and senate representatives. The first was to ask them to pledge to participate in meatless Mondays in the state’s capital. Our other non-bill related pitch was to ask our legislators to sponsor an adoption drive – in coordination with their local shelter – in this case, MHS!

After designating spokespersons for each bill and initiative among our 10th District group, we proceeded to the Capitol for our first meeting. I volunteered to complete the legislative meeting report which asked for details on our conversation and identified any follow-up needed by HSUS to the legislator.

Our first meeting was with a member of Marc Levine’s staff (meeting with staff is common when lobbying). We were greeted courteously, he had good questions and he promised to convey our messages to Assemblymember Levine. It also turned out that he was already a vegetarian so Meatless Monday was an easy sell!

We left him with packets of information for all the bills and initiatives and a thank you card (also provided by the super organized HSUS) signed by all of us.

After strategizing for our next conversation and being joined by more attendees from Senate District 2, we headed to Senator Noreen Evans’ office. Once again, we met with a staff member. Although we were disappointed to learn before the meeting that Sen. Evans had already voted differently than we wanted on one bill, we politely asked for her consideration in reversing her vote. Her staff member signed the Meatless Monday pledge right away and also shared that the senator and most of her staff had rescue dogs which made us very happy!

For both of our meetings, we ended up standing in the hallways because the offices were too small to accommodate large numbers of people. It was a little disconcerting to be making our points while people constantly passed by, but it also made me feel like part of the political process.

While I know I will never be a real lobbyist, it was reinforcing to be with others with the same values. I was actually there, making a point about something I feel passionate about: animal welfare. The professional lobbyists from HSUS had emphasized that even though we were not necessarily going to have all the answers, legislators are most motivated when their constituents take the time to travel to the Capitol and meet face-to-face. We had done that.

And, best of all, just two days after Humane Lobby Day, AB2268 – the “bad” wild pig bill, was pulled by its author! It seems that the system, as imperfect as it may be, does work.