Note: This blog is part of a series highlighting how we fight—and win—for animals. For this post, I join with Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, to tell the story about how we tackle institutionalized animal suffering by changing laws and government regulations.

“Why isn’t this illegal?”

It’s a question we hear often from people who, upon learning about some form of heartbreaking animal cruelty, are rightfully outraged. There should be laws, they say, to prevent such abuses.

Of course, they’re right, and we have staff who work tirelessly to make such laws a reality.

While the term “lobbying” may bring to mind images of slick-talking industry representatives and backroom deals on behalf of wealthy corporations, our lobbying on behalf of animals is a different breed altogether. On any given day, our policy staff are meeting with members of Congress, having conversations and building relationships in the halls of state capitols, testifying before legislative committees, garnering support for policies that will benefit animals and drumming up opposition for bills that will harm them.

Bailey the dog joins Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), left, and Sara Amundson, President of HSLF, right, at an event to promote the PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) Act outside of the U.S. Capitol Building in 2019.
Paul Morigi/AP for the HSUS

Because of them, elected officials learn about the suffering behind factory farming, trophy hunting, the fur trade, cosmetics testing, puppy mills and other cruelties. We remind them that most Americans abhor such abuses and describe the many ways that humane reforms serve the public interest.

Unfortunately, the industries that profit off cruelty are large and powerful and have their own lobbyists, all bent on fighting any change to the status quo. There are days when we feel like Sisyphus, the figure from Greek mythology who pushes a rock up a hill only to see it roll back down every time he nears the top. Or, perhaps an even more apt comparison given what we’re about to discuss, like a pup chasing his own just-out-of-reach tail. Take the issue of puppy mills. The U.S. is a nation of dog lovers, yet hundreds of thousands of puppies and their parents live in small, squalid cages in commercial breeding mills across the country. No reasonable person would consider these animals’ living conditions humane, but our attempts to pass a federal law to improve their quality of life have so far failed to come to fruition. As we write this, the Puppy Protection Act (H.R. 2840/S. 1385) gains bipartisan cosponsors but has not moved out of the House and Senate committees.

We won’t give up on a federal law, but we know that whether we’re fighting puppy mills or other entrenched cruelties, we can’t place all our bets on one strategy or one piece of legislation. Every year, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and our State Affairs department are lobbying for a panoply of federal, state and local measures, chipping away at animal suffering from every angle. At the same time, our colleagues with Humane Society International are pushing for similar reforms in countries around the world.

Our work doesn’t end with the passage of humane laws: We have to ensure our hard-won reforms are enforced. Every year as Congress prepares its annual budget, we’re lobbying for funding and directives that will get the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other key federal agencies to better implement and enforce animal welfare measures, and at the same time, we’re pressuring government agencies at all levels to improve their oversight of the industries they regulate.

It's a constant fight, and while every year brings disappointments, every year also brings victories that move us closer to our vision of a truly humane world.

For puppy mills, we’ve seen the payoff in higher care standards for commercial breeding facilities in several states and a raft of state and local laws making it harder for commercial breeders to profit from their cruelty. New York, home to 10% of the nation’s puppy-selling pet stores, passed a bill in June that will stop the sale of puppy mill puppies at retail. That bill is now headed to the governor’s desk. Orange County and Manatee County in Florida, as well as Dallas and Houston, recently joined the list of more than 400 local governments that have enacted similar bans, despite the considerable sums of money that Petland, the largest national retailer of puppy mill dogs, spent lobbying against these measures. Since 2000, we’ve been able to boost funding for enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act, from an original $9 million per year to $32 million per year currently. This means an increase in critical resources to oversee treatment of animals at puppy mills, roadside zoos, animal research laboratories and more. We also saw the USDA take steps to improve some of the standards of care for the commercial dog breeders they regulate, such as requiring an annual veterinary exam and 24-hour access to fresh, clean water, a preview of the upgrades that would be made under the Puppy Protection Act if it passes.

We all want puppy mills, cosmetics animal testing, trophy hunting and other cruelties ended today (preferably, yesterday). It takes perseverance and resilience to hammer away at these issues year after year. But with public opinion on our side, change will happen, and each of us can be part of it.

Even if your knowledge of how legislation works is limited, even if you eschew politics in every other realm of your life, we encourage you to get involved in our legislative work. You don’t have to delve into the minutiae to encourage your elected officials to support animal protection reforms.

HSLF’s tagline is “get political for animals,” and the more of us who do the faster we’ll see the end of insidious industries like puppy mills, and the faster our country’s laws will finally reflect our humane values.

You can get political for animals by signing up for our action alerts by entering your email at the bottom of our homepage or learning how to become a Humane Policy Volunteer Leader.

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Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.