In a Divided Nation, One Issue Remains Firmly Non-Partisan: Animal Welfare
At a time when the country seems more divided than ever and politics is truly acrimonious, it’s often difficult to see how – on any issue – people of all backgrounds and beliefs can come together. But there’s one issue that has historically crossed party lines and brought out the best in so many people, appealing to our sense of mercy and compassion, and that is the cause of animals. Protecting animals from harm may be the strongest unifier our country has.
Both Republicans and Democrats have been trailblazers for animal welfare. Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) fought alongside Rep. George Brown (D-CA) to enhance protections for dogs and primates under the Animal Welfare Act through the 1985 Dole-Brown amendments. Dole also led efforts to end the experimentation of dogs in the military and strengthen enforcement for the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. His Democratic opponent for the 1996 presidential election, President Bill Clinton, is a strong advocate for protecting African wildlife, being so passionate that he called the killing of elephants “murder.”
In Congress, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is the lead sponsor of the Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, which establishes a federal anti-cruelty law. On the other side of the political spectrum, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) led the way on successfully including a provision that reduces, and in some cases eliminates, the use of animals in toxicity testing by updating the Toxic Substances Control Act. The provision was strongly supported by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-ID) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
The non-partisan nature of helping animals extends beyond elected officials to the electorate itself. In 2008 and 2016, farm animal protection ballot measures in two of the country’s bluest states, California and Massachusetts respectively, garnered more support than the Democratic presidential candidates, showing the crossover appeal of these issues. And in red state Oklahoma, a measure that would have protected corporate interests and foreign-owned big agribusiness at the expense of the state’s family farmers, land and animals, failed by a landslide.
The question is: how has the issue of animal protection transcended beyond political barriers when so many others have not? Perhaps it’s because of the innate instinct we have to being around animals, even starting shortly after our birth. No matter the political leanings of parents, most likely they’ll give children stuffed animals to play with and be comforted by. They’ll have dogs or cats who are treated like members of the family. And the grief felt by someone whose pet just passed knows no political affiliation.
Animals bring out the traits within us that are admired by people of all backgrounds. As Americans we are all proud when a police officer breaks up a cockfighting operation. We all applaud a child who created a lemonade stand to raise money for her local animal shelter whether he or she is wearing a Make America Great Again hat, an I’m With Her t-shirt or no politically related garb. In a harsh political climate, the hope is that acts of compassion are nearly universally revered.
It was Democrats who overlooked their angst about the pending election and reached across the aisle to thank former President George W. Bush for adopting a dog from a local SPCA and encouraging others to do the same. It was former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan who joined progressive commentators in praising the work of animal advocates in their efforts to eliminate the inhumane force-feeding of ducks used in foie gras production.
At The Humane Society of the United States, I partner with food companies like Walmart, Denny’s and Taco Bell on their animal welfare policies. These companies are filled with people who care; who want to do the right thing for animals; who’ve forged policies to improve the lives of millions of chickens, pigs and calves.
I’ve been doing this work for more than a decade and I still have no idea the political beliefs for most of my corporate counterparts. They likely don’t know mine, either, and it’s because when it comes to showing kindness to our world’s creatures – who we pull the lever down in the voting booth for – partisanship matters less than our actions toward the most vulnerable in our society. And that’s a quality that goes beyond followers of only one political party.