Your ability to vote (and mobilize other voters) is your superpower in the lawmaking arena
The primary motivation of your legislators is getting reelected. The number and strength of the animal-friendly laws we’re able to pass is directly proportionate to the strength of the voting bloc for animals.
Make sure that you are registered to vote and show up for all elections: federal, state and local. Please urge your family and friends to register as well!
Voter turnout numbers are often abysmally low. In some jurisdictions, less than 10% of registered voters show up to vote in off-year elections, so those who do vote have a huge impact in those elections!
How one votes is private, but whether one votes is publicly available information and you can be sure that your elected officials know whether you vote or not—it’s a matter of their political survival. If you neither vote nor are perceived to influence other voters, legislators will not care nearly as much about what you think.
Set up, prepare for and actively participate in meetings with your legislators
1. Find your legislators
Look up your federal and state representatives. Completing this Legislative Reference Guide is a helpful way to consolidate the information for quick and easy access.
2. Do your research
You don't need to be an expert on the issues you're lobbying on, but you should know the basics. If you’re lobbying at the federal level, review our Priority Federal Legislation Talking Points [PDF] so you’re familiar with our priority federal animal protection bills. Then go to www.congress.gov to determine which of our priority bills your U.S. Representative and/or U.S. Senators have cosponsored. Simply type the bill number into the search box and you’ll be able to click on cosponsors to see if they are a cosponsor of that bill. During the legislative session, regularly check the status of the bills and see when Congress is in session.
Review the talking points and fact sheets for the bills they haven’t cosponsored yet and print the fact sheets for those bills that are linked in our Talking Points [PDF]. Bring the fact sheets with you to your meeting, plus any relevant published letters to the editor, news stories and local ordinances and resolutions that support your position, as well as any articles that highlight your legislators’ positions in relation to the issues, if they’re available; politicians are keenly interested in the public’s perception of them.
If you’re lobbying at the state or local levels, email your state director for the most up-to-date information on state and local policy priorities. They will provide guidance on the priority issues and bills so you can most effectively encourage your state legislators and local elected officials (such as your city council or county board of supervisors) to take the animal protection positions on them.
3. Build strategic coalitions with "likely voters"
Strive to form a partnership with people who exert the most influence on your elected official: "Likely voters" (constituents who vote regularly) and those in a position to influence likely voters. Join forces with community members and groups who may have the same positions as you even if for different reasons (e.g. teachers, church members, members of your local chamber of commerce, local universities, specific industries, etc.)—all while encouraging these coalition partners to vote. Note that it’s quality over quantity: An organized minority of likely voters is usually all it takes to swing elections, thus mobilizing them is the most efficient strategy for influencing an elected official.
4. Schedule your meeting
Go to your elected official’s website and find the district office closest to you. Call the number and ask to set up a meeting with the staff member who works on animal protection issues. State your name and let the staff member know that you’re a voting constituent from your city and that the purpose of the meeting is to review the HSUS's priority animal protection legislation. These meetings usually last 15 to 30 minutes. Invite your friends, members of your network and/or coalition to attend with you if they live in your congressional or state legislative district. Be sure to let the office know if you’ll be bringing additional people—there’s power in numbers! Note that you will likely meet with a staff member; the staff members are the eyes and ears of the lawmakers and they can have tremendous influence over issues and policy decisions. Establishing a positive relationship with staff members is vital!
5. Know before you go
See how your federal and state legislators voted on recent animal issues and check their overall score by reviewing the Humane Society Legislative Fund scorecard. It’s also helpful to know some background about your legislators. Visit their official websites to gain insight about their background, interests, positions and even their pets, which could come in handy during your meeting! Look for common ground and cultivate mutual areas of interest to help build effective, long-term relationships. Getting to know your local elected officials now can help even more animals in the future—today's city council member could be tomorrow's governor!
6. Be polite, professional and on time
State your views firmly but be friendly and courteous, even if the legislator disagrees with you. Avoid party politics—animals have friends on both sides of the aisle. Dress professionally; legislative offices are more likely to be persuaded by folks in business attire. The animals are counting on you to speak on their behalf in the most effective way possible. Make sure to arrive on time!
7. Introduce yourself as a CONSTITUENT who VOTES
Only lobby your own legislators; it’s a waste of time to contact a legislator who doesn’t represent you and sends a red flag that the animal protection movement isn’t politically savvy.
- Introduce yourself and everyone in your group, including representatives from any associated organizations.
- Use your own judgement about whether to highlight your affiliation with the HSUS or to just represent yourself as a constituent. If you know that your legislator dislikes the HSUS, then just note that you’re a voting constituent. Otherwise, your affiliation with the HSUS can be a great strength and shows the breadth of the organization.
- Make eye contact, smile and convey a positive attitude.
- Begin with a compliment—state how good their voting record is on animal protection issues. If they don’t have a good record on animals, try to find another area that you agree on, such as education or transportation. If you can’t do that, simply begin by thanking the legislator or staff member for taking the time to meet with you.
- Thank your Representative or Senators’ staff members for the bills they have cosponsored and ask them to do what they can to rally support for those bills among their colleagues.
8. Make your “ask”
Provide both the bill number, name and description of the bill. Legislators and staff deal with hundreds of bills and should not be expected to remember bill numbers. Be clear, polite and concise about what you’re asking for. Common “asks” include support or opposition on a bill or to co-sponsor legislation. Use our Priority Federal Legislation Talking Points [PDF] as a guide if you’re asking your U.S. Representative or U.S. Senators to co-sponsor the animal protection legislation that they haven’t yet; use any talking points that your state director provides you with if you are meeting with your state legislators.
At the beginning of the meeting, provide your legislators or their staff members with the fact sheets for the bills that you will be discussing, as well as any other materials including relevant published letters to the editor. Keep the information you leave them with minimal and strictly related to the topics you discuss.
- Articulate. Explain why you are concerned about the issue. Share relevant personal stories that are specific to your community and the bill(s) you’re advocating for (i.e. if you adopted an animal from a shelter in the district, any pressing issues in your district related to wildlife, if you volunteer at a horse rescue, etc.). The more personal you can make it to yourself, and the more grounded in the district, the better.
- Consider non-animal welfare arguments. If you can make an economic argument, do it! For example, halting painful experiments on lab animals often involves a reduction in federal taxpayer dollars and anti-tethering ordinances often improve property values in neighborhoods that had been afflicted by barking chained dogs. Public safety and consumer protection arguments are also incredibly important.
- Highlight community connections. In addition to your animal advocacy affiliation, mention your community involvement and relationships with groups. Explain why you are concerned about an issue and how it affects you, your family and your community. Wear not only your animal advocate hat—identify yourself as a parent, businessperson, teacher, church member, etc. to signal that you can influence other constituents of theirs who are likely to vote. Highlight your professional relationships with community members who have an impact on animal policies such as animal control officers, veterinarians, state wildlife board members, etc.
- Stick to the facts. Be truthful and honest. The truth about the misery animals endure is harsh enough; you don’t need to embellish. Likewise, you don't need to be an expert on the issue; your influence lies not just in the merits of the issues, but in your ability to vote and influence others in your legislator’s district. If you don’t know the answer to a question, simply let them know you will find out and get back to them. After your meeting, contact your state director to find the answer for you. Circling back with your legislator’s office presents a valuable opportunity to continue building a relationship and trust.
- Listen. After presenting your message, let the legislator or staff member respond to the issues you raise. Their comments and questions will give you cues on how to frame your arguments and what additional information might be useful. Listening, and showing that you’re listening by summarizing what they say back to them and responding to their questions, is one key to building an effective, long-term relationship.
- Keep meetings short. Between 10 and 20 minutes. While legislators and their staff members want to meet with constituents from their districts, they’re very busy and appreciate short meetings.
- Be flexible. Sometimes compromise is a must. The HSUS will always strive for the best possible outcome for the animals, including supporting reasonable legislative compromises that save bills which may otherwise not pass.
- Say thank you and follow up on questions. Thank your legislators and/or staff members who took the time to meet with you by sending handwritten thank you cards. Don’t forget to follow up with any additional information that was requested. Take a photo with your legislator and the staff member at the end of your meeting; post the photo and tag your legislator with a public message of appreciation on social media.
- Keep in touch after the meeting. If a legislator takes the action you requested, be sure to thank them both privately and publicly for taking that action. Legislators often hear from constituents who are upset but they rarely receive thanks—you can make animal protection issues stand out by expressing your gratitude. For bills they haven’t yet co-sponsored, politely and briefly reiterate the animal protection positions and ask them to consider becoming a co-sponsor. Even if your legislator doesn’t agree with you on a specific issue, you may find common ground on another issue (i.e. a legislator who doesn't agree with you on wildlife issues may be great on companion animal issues and vice versa). Offer to be a resource for them on animal issues and keep in touch!
What about …
Other forms of communication: After in-person meetings, phone calls are the next most impactful, followed by emails. When you communicate through email, you can increase your efficacy by following up with a phone call or personal visit.
Single issue voters: Single issue voters have more influence because they remove sources of leverage that the elected official can use. For example, if you fight for multiple causes, and thus make multiple asks of your legislator, you can expect their focus to shift to working on the politically easier bills only. Your elected official may figure they'll have your vote anyway, so they won't expend political capital on the more controversial issues.
- The lawmaking process: Understanding the lawmaking process is helpful, but again, there’s no need to be an expert. If you’d like a refresher on the three branches of government and how a bill becomes a law, you can check out our How the Federal Government Works guide.
- Appointed positions: When communicating with those in appointed positions such as heads of agencies and judges at the federal and state levels or police chiefs and directors of animal control at the local levels, always copy your elected officials because you have no direct influence over those in appointed positions.
- Petitions: Useful only if specific to constituents who are likely to vote. Although appropriate for consumer education, petitions rarely influence elected officials because they are generally too vague and often have signatures from folks outside the legislator’s district. Remember that they must be strategically planned out in order to be effective.
- Electoral campaigns: (as a private citizen only*) Electing candidates who care about animals to public office is one of the most effective actions you can take to protect animals. It’s far easier to advance animal protection legislation when our legislators understand our issues. Candidates you actively support will get to know you and your work, so donate, host a fundraising party, put a campaign sign in your yard, phone bank, canvass, greet voters at the polls, support GOTV (Get out the Vote) activities and otherwise help elect candidates who care about animals. Consider running for office yourself!
Don’t forget to take action! Make every effort to respond to action alerts sent by the HSUS. When these alerts are sent, legislation may be in a precarious position, and your action helps more than you know.
Lobbying is an easy and effective way to help animals; thank you for your efforts!
*HSUS volunteers and staff are strictly prohibited from electioneering activities (e.g. working on a political campaign as described directly above) in their HSUS capacities. However, they can work on campaigns as private citizens or as volunteers with the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF). Campaign work should not be counted as HSUS volunteer time. Never wear any HSUS-branded apparel to a campaign event (hats, T-shirts, buttons).