If a simple conversation could help spare the lives of thousands of animals, would you start it? That’s what Julie Knopp asks new animal advocates who want to change their communities. The answer, she says, is almost always an emphatic yes. Two years ago, Knopp said yes to her own opportunity—and persuaded elementary schools in her district to implement Meatless Mondays, saving thousands of animals each year.

Knopp is one of countless people around the country using her voice to help animals. In these profiles, you’ll read about four advocates making change in their own backyards. While some of their projects required more than a single conversation, all four advocates had a powerful ally as they spoke at city council meetings and met with food service directors: The Humane Society of the United States. Read on to learn how HSUS staff and resources gave these advocates the tools they needed to make a difference—and how you can get started in your own hometown. We can’t wait to hear what you’re up to.

Julie Knopp holding a turkey

Julie Knopp

Accomplishment: Persuaded elementary schools in Richfield, Minnesota, to adopt Meatless Mondays

HSUS tools used: Resources for food service providers (recipes, guides, marketing materials, culinary workshops); expert advice

Strategy: While volunteering with a local animal welfare group, Knopp learned about the concept of institutional change—adjusting large-scale systems to be more animal-friendly rather than persuading individuals to change their habits. “I was really energized just by the sheer number of animals I could impact just by influencing those decisionmakers,” she says. A kindergarten teacher, Knopp wanted to introduce plant-based meals into her school district—but she didn’t know where to start. “It felt very daunting,” she says. Enter the HSUS. After connecting with Farm Animal Protection staff, Knopp met with her district’s food service director and made her case, citing benefits to kids’ health, the environment and animals. The director was on board, especially when Knopp shared HSUS recipes and arranged for free culinary workshops from HSUS chefs. The next school year, elementary schools in her district implemented Meatless Mondays.

How HSUS resources helped: “One of the most useful things for me were the recipes that the HSUS had put together,” says Knopp. “They were all compliant with the national school lunch program. And they also had been kid-tested, which was amazing.”

Words of wisdom: “The HSUS and other large national animal advocacy groups are really here to help all of us toward this shared goal of animal protection,” says Knopp. Along with tangible resources, the Humane Society of the United States gave Knopp something more abstract: confidence. At first, she says, “I was just like, who am I to go in there and make this ask?” But with the HSUS at her back, the uncertainty faded. “I really felt empowered,” she says. “My voice was important and I had the knowledge and the information to present the suggestion.”

I was really energized just by the sheer number of animals I could impact just by influencing those decisionmakers.
Julie Knopp
Andrea Kozil

Andrea Kozil

Accomplishment: Helped pass an ordinance banning traveling circuses in Multnomah County, Oregon

HSUS tools used: Protecting Wild Animals from Circus Abuse toolkit; expert advice

Strategy: After researching her county commissioner’s background, Kozil visited her office and managed to get 30 seconds of face time to present the case against traveling animal acts. The commissioner asked her chief of staff to work with Kozil and the county’s director of animal services. “They were 100 percent in, which was amazing,” says Kozil. Debbie Leahy and Lisa Wathne, both HSUS captive wildlife managers, provided a draft ordinance, which the county used as a starting point. Kozil kept in frequent contact with the commissioner’s office. “Every single week they were getting something from me.” It all came down to a hearing, during which the measure passed with little opposition.

How HSUS resources helped: Kozil gave legislators a binder filled with information from the toolkit, while HSUS experts offered strategy suggestions, anticipated questions and provided support. Wathne, Leahy and Nicole Paquette, HSUS chief program and policy officer, have years of expertise between them, says Kozil. “And so I used them.”

Words of wisdom: “If you love animals, then you want to be one of the voices talking to your legislators,” says Kozil, a seasoned animal advocate. “The one person that owns the animal exploitation business is using their voice,” she says. “We can counter that. But if we don’t speak up, it goes unchallenged.

If you love animals, then you want to be one of the voices talking to your legislators.
Andrea Kozil
Peggy McCarthey

Peggy McCarthey

Accomplishment: Helped pass an anti-tethering ordinance in Roswell, Georgia

HSUS tools used: Passing a Tethering Ordinance in Your Community toolkit; letter from Humane Society Veterinary Medicine Association (an HSUS affiliate) stating its anti-tethering position; expert advice

Strategy: While volunteering at a shelter in rural Georgia, McCarthey fell in love with a shy hound mix who’d likely been tethered for much of her life. Though staff told McCarthey the dog was too terrified for walks, McCarthey coaxed her out. The dog (now named Denver) came home with McCarthey, and the experience inspired her to push for an anti-tethering ordinance. An advocate in nearby Forsyth County was already working on one, so McCarthey helped out. After it passed, she advocated for a similar ordinance in her hometown of Roswell with the support of HSUS Georgia state director Debra Berger. McCarthey floated the idea in an email to her city council, then gave a five-minute speech at an open forum. The city council and the mayor responded positively. “They let me have a work session with the city manager, the city attorney and the councilmember who was going to sponsor it.” The process rolled on, with McCarthey making the case against tethering on many fronts, such as public safety and animal welfare. After four months, the ordinance passed with little opposition.

How HSUS resources helped: HSUS staff armed McCarthey with facts for her draft ordinance, and Berger helped McCarthey decide when to introduce it.

Words of wisdom: McCarthey recommends starting with a city- or county-wide ordinance. “A state law could take—under optimal conditions—like two years,” she says, while city or county ones often take a matter of months and face less opposition. Plus, they can spur neighboring locales to pass similar legislation.

Mikii Opahle

Mikii Opahle

Goal: Stop wildlife killing contests in Wisconsin

HSUS tools used: Wildlife Killing Contests toolkit; expert advice

Strategy: Thanks to growing up with a biology teacher dad, Mikii Opahle has always appreciated wildlife. So when she read an All Animals story (“Better off alive,” Sept/Oct 2018) about wildlife killing contests—tournaments where hunters compete to kill wild animals such as coyotes for cash or prizes—Opahle was disturbed. Following senior writer Karen E. Lange’s suggestion in the story, Opahle requested an HSUS toolkit that helps advocates oppose the contests. Then she discovered there was a coyote killing tournament scheduled in her own county. “This is my town,” she remembers thinking, “and this is not something we want here.” Fired up, Opahle began Stop the Madness, a grassroots group that fights killing contests by educating Wisconsinites and asking for a ban. Change is on the horizon: In February, state lawmakers introduced a bill banning the contests.

How HSUS resources helped: The toolkit gave Opahle a blueprint for taking action, including specific tasks to complete, such as writing a letter to the editor and contacting her legislators. “They’re very easy, straightforward, simple and quick things to do that may not see results immediately, but they are helping get the ball rolling for larger change down the road,” she says.

Words of wisdom: “It takes kind of a leap of faith to speak out,” Opahle says, “and you don’t know if you’re going to get an answer.” But she thinks working toward a broader mission is something many people crave. “They don’t know that’s what’s really missing in their lives until they do something like that.”


Tools for change

You’ve got the will—but what else do you need for a successful advocacy effort?

The facts

Naysayers often accuse animal advocates of basing their arguments on emotion rather than reason, says Kozil. So when she presented her case to ban exotic animal acts, she kept it factual. “I put together a very detailed, professional-looking binder,” she says. It explained “why banning circuses not only is a progressive and ethical choice, it’s also a choice that doesn’t directly financially impact the community.” The approach paid off: Not only did the circus ban pass unanimously, but the county commissioner praised Kozil’s professionalism.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers; HSUS experts can help find them. “Try to let go of that fear. You just have to be the one who’s willing to be present and on the ground,” says Kozil.

A strategy

While it’s tempting to fire off an email to your elected officials demanding change today, developing a strategy is crucial. “Attempt to understand the scope of the problem in your community,” says McCarthey. Identify weaknesses in existing legislation and present your case in terms lawmakers care about: things like public safety, taxpayer money and links to crime, says McCarthey. She made the case for an anti-tethering ordinance on those terms—not just the cruelty inherent in keeping dogs chained, unattended, for hours. And HSUS law enforcement outreach director Ashley Mauceri helped McCarthey think through potential roadblocks so she could address them.

It also pays to research the opposition. Kozil knew a local business that exploited tigers would fight the circus ordinance, so she went on the offensive. “I took the air out of their balloon from the very beginning,” she says. “I provided my commissioner with all of the facts about the citations they have that are outrageous and horrible, and the fallacies in their claim that they’re a sanctuary.”

Perseverance

A few years ago, Opahle contacted Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to protest the state’s decision to allow a gray wolf hunting, trapping and hounding season. She never got a response. “I kind of felt like my voice didn’t matter,” she says. This time, with the HSUS providing guidance, she had the confidence to keep fighting.

“You have to be willing to knock and then knock again and knock again,” says Kozil. And sometimes, you need to open the door yourself. Kozil took action by visiting her county commissioner’s office. “I had 30 seconds with her,” she says, but it was enough. Kozil connected with the commissioner by mentioning their shared interest in Guatemala, where the commissioner had volunteered and where Kozil’s daughter, Quila, was born. After the brief encounter, Kozil was granted a longer meeting.

Good timing

A while back, Kozil approached her city to enact an exotic animal ban but couldn’t make headway. “If the timing isn’t right, the door is closed,” she says. In 2018, with a new county commissioner and recent circus protests in Portland, the timing was right, and the ban passed.

Sometimes cultural trends set the scene for change. The popularity of plant-based eating meant that when Knopp approached her school district’s food service director in 2017, she barely had to explain what plant-based meals were. “It seemed like the food service director had kind of already been primed for this conversation,” she says. “If I had said this a year before, she might have said ‘No, what’s that?’ ”

While you can’t control broader cultural shifts, you can time your efforts strategically. McCarthey approached city council members while they were up for re-election. “A lawmaker is most attentive to you before an election,” she says. She calls attending candidate meet-and-greets her “secret weapon,” and it worked: When she presented the re-elected officials with her anti-tethering proposal, they were familiar with the concept and had already indicated that they’d be on board.

Moral support

If there’s something you want to change in your community, it’s likely your neighbors feel the same way—or will when they learn more. Opahle gathered support against killing contests by hosting letter-writing events, and—inspired by her kids’ interest in her activism—partnered with a librarian to host storytime that introduces kids to coyotes and wolves.

You can even use public opinion as a strategy. Plenty of advocates had protested circuses in Multnomah County, so when the ordinance process lagged, Kozil mentioned the advocates anxiously waiting for a ban to pass. “It was just a way to use a little bit of pressure. And it worked.”

All four advocates stress that they’re not alone in their fights. “I’m one person of many, many, many people who have tugged on this rope,” says Kozil. “I’m just the one who tugged on it at the end and got it to come down.” Even if you’re one of the first to tug in your own community, your efforts will set the stage for future change—and we’re here to help.

Inspired to fight for animals in your community? Email us and we’ll connect you with an expert who can provide guidance.

Photos by Joshua Truong; courtesy of Andrea Kozil; Eric McCarthey; courtesy of Mikii Opahle

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