September 13, 2010
Kids With A Cause: Theresa Edwards and Audrey Long
Young advocates channel their love of animals into making a difference
by Arna Cohen
Theresa Edwards, 14 and Audrey Long, 15
Stopping puppy mills
Why We Love Them:
Age is no object to Theresa and Audrey, whose mantra is encapsulated on their website, projectpuppymills.kk5.org: “We’re two kids just like you with a passion for animals. Youth are a powerful force in creating change!”
Theresa Edwards and Audrey Long went all the way to their state capital to express their outrage about puppy mills, testifying before Washington state lawmakers in Olympia.
They had to take days off to do it—not from work, but from middle school.
Friends since the first grade, the Seattle teens became aware of puppy mills in the third grade and have spent endless hours on the HSUS website, keeping up with rescue missions and tracking bills all over the country. A fifth-grade class trip to the state capital in 2007 made the girls realize that the average citizen could play a role in shaping laws.
“We got really excited when we visited Olympia ... ” says Audrey. “We decided to work on puppy mills.” She and Theresa wrote letters to their state representatives and senator, asking them to introduce a bill that would set higher care standards for large breeding facilities.
To their surprise, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles responded with interest, though she said it was too late to take action that year. True to her word, in February 2008, Kohl-Welles introduced a “lemon law” bill designed to protect consumers who unknowingly purchased a sick puppy from a pet dealer; she notified Theresa and Audrey that a hearing was being held the following day.
The girls dropped everything to attend. They’d planned to simply observe, but after learning that any interested party could sign up to testify, they added their names to the sign-up sheet.
The friends were nervous about their moment in the limelight, Theresa recalls. “We didn’t have anything prepared at all because we’d just found out. ... It was scary, but looking back on it, it was such a good experience.”
The bill died in committee, but the friends’ campaign had just begun. Determined to make change, the girls met throughout the spring and summer to map out a plan of action, complete with a flow chart. Additional research showed them that the bill they’d testified for was far from ideal; it addressed buyers’ rights rather than dogs’ welfare and contained no provisions for raising the standards of care at puppy mills. They wrote a second letter to the legislature detailing essentials such as cage space, food and water, and medical attention.
The girls were thrilled when Kohl-Welles introduced a new bill in January 2009 that contained all the requirements detailed in their letter. Audrey and Theresa kicked into high gear, forgoing schoolwork to testify before the state House and Senate rules committees, send out mass mailings, and call every member of both committees. The bill passed, and the pair proudly watched as Gov. Christine Gregoire signed it into law in April 2009. The law took effect early this year.
Being “just kids” proved to be no deterrent to the confident teens. Lawmakers sat up and took notice when the girls spoke, “especially the time we testified with notes!” says Audrey.
In February, Theresa experienced political life firsthand when she spent a week in Olympia serving as a page for Kohl-Welles. The girls give presentations in the community and recently launched a Facebook page, using the powerful social media site as a tool to end the cruelty of puppy mills.