We can make it happen

This year The Citizen will publish its 11th annual Pet Photo Contest, benefitting a local animal-related project. It is usually our biggest selling issue of the year, because if there is one thing most of us can agree on, it's that we love our pets.

The contest started innocently enough. It wasn't some strategic circulation or sales builder, it was just that I loved to see my pets in the newspaper, and figured other people would too. At the time, I had cats, and cats are woefully underrepresented in today's news reporting. Unlike my Great Dane Arthur, who was adopted about halfway through the contest's run, cats just don't get out and do fun stuff like visit classrooms or keep a photographer company at a police stand-off. My new Great Dane, Deacon, is still suffering from puppy insanity and is not yet fit to mix with much of polite society, but once he gains his senses, he may get his picture in the paper. That will probably be about three years from now.

But we love our pets, even when they won't sit still long enough to get a decent photo of them, and there are few things we won't do for them, or for animals in general. We donate, we adopt, we rescue, we foster, we volunteer. Sometimes our actions benefit us as much as the animals, but often, we help animals that we will never even see, let alone live with.

In April I had the opportunity to combine two of my passions: animals and politics. For the last couple of years, I have been a coordinator with the Humane PA PAC, an organization that mobilizes animal lovers in the state to help enact laws protecting animals. Each year, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) hosts "Humane Lobby Day" in Harrisburg. Advocates from across the Commonwealth travel to the state capital to meet with each other and their respective representatives in the state house and senate to bring attention to the need for specific laws to protect not only animals, but pet owners and other interested parties as well.

Those who have been lobbying for animals a lot longer than I have are amazed at the changes they have seen in our state government when it comes to humane legislation. An unprecedented number of bills are currently pending in Pennsylvania's senate and house. While our elected officials struggle with a variety of weighty issues facing the Commonwealth, they still make time to work for thousands of creatures who -- unlike Arthur and Deacon -- will never see the inside of a polling place.

Clearly, we have many animal lovers in the state legislature, but we also have some smart politicians who know that the people who love animals DO go into those polling places, and they vote with their hearts. We may disagree with a candidate's position on the budget or the privatization of liquor stores, but one surefire way to lose our votes is by supporting, for instance, live animal trap shoots.

This welcome state of affairs has come about by regular people, like me and you, taking a few minutes to call our representatives when specific legislation is pending. It comes from clicking on an e-mail link and sending them a short note about how we would like them to vote. It doesn't matter whether we are Democrats, Republicans, Independents or "Other," we can speak up for those who have no voice, and we can make a huge difference.

I hope everyone reading this will visit the Humane-PA.org Web site, and sign up for e-mail alerts that will tell you who to contact about what issues at which times. You can "like" the Humane PA Facebook page to get notifications about needed action.

And maybe, if you find these efforts as fulfilling as I do, next year you will make the trip to Harrisburg for Humane Lobby Day. You will walk through the incredible majesty of the capitol rotunda en route to the office of your representative or senator. You will hear from the leaders of our state government about how your efforts are changing the lives of animals every day. You will feel a part of something that is so much bigger -- and so much more noble -- than anything you have done before.

We are making a difference. We can make an even bigger difference. We can see how life should be for animals, and we can help create that life for them. We can make it happen.

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