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Column: Just two phone calls

Posted: March 12, 2018 2:26 p.m.
Updated: March 13, 2018 1:00 a.m.

I am not a politician. In fact, my only personal experience in the political realm occurred in high school when I was elected class secretary. Knowledge of the workings of government was, for me at least, primarily confined to my social studies textbook; it certainly had no relevance to my daily life. Only recently has my attitude changed. “Representative democracy,” I finally see, is not just an answer to a test question; it’s also a vital reminder that legislators work for us and that they can only do so effectively if we inform them of our views.

Many of us have strong opinions about a gamut of issues, and you may already be in the habit of contacting your legislators regularly about them. If so, I’d like to ask you to add animal welfare to your list. If not, I’d like to explain how easy it is to let your legislators know what matters to you, and I’m hoping that safeguarding animals will be one of your priorities.

This is a particularly critical time for animals in both our state and our nation, and letting our legislators hear from us can make a world of difference to creatures that have no voice.

In our state, the House of Representatives is considering S.841, a bill that would offer common sense protections for animals in South Carolina. Did you know that current state law does not prevent dogs from suffering at the ends of chains? That there are no standards for animal shelters in our state? That local agencies in South Carolina often have to shoulder the financial burden of the cost of animal care for people accused of animal cruelty? S.841 would fill these gaps and others in our current laws. Basic tethering restrictions are crucial. The Centers for Disease Control found that chained dogs become more anxious and aggressive and are 5.4 times more likely to bite children under the age of 12 than those that are not chained. In addition, chained dogs often suffer from neglect, being fed only sporadically and having insufficient shelter from the elements. This bill would also offer basic guidelines for shelter animals -- appropriate housing, food and water, and disease prevention. In addition, S.841 would establish a process requiring people convicted of animal cruelty to pay for their animals’ care. Do you see why I called these protections “common sense”? This bill has already passed the South Carolina Senate, due in large part to the efforts of Kershaw County’s own Senator Vincent Sheheen, and now it awaits action by the House.

In our nation, Representative Steve King of Iowa has proposed some legislation that would prove disastrous for animals by undoing anti-cruelty statutes across the country. The Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA) aims to block states from setting basic standards for the production and manufacture of agricultural products that are sold within their borders, including how animals are raised. H.R. 4879/H.R. 3599 takes a lowest-common-denominator approach -- if any one state permits the production or sale of a particular agricultural product, no matter how hazardous the product or unacceptable the production process, every other state could have to do so as well. Therefore, this legislation would threaten hundreds of laws already enacted by state legislatures and citizen ballot measures on a wide range of concerns including puppy mills, the sale of horse meat, dog and cat meat, eggs from battery-caged hens, and shark finning. In addition to animal welfare laws, the King bills could subvert hundreds of state and local measures addressing food safety, food labeling, environmental requirements, child labor, and more.

The government often seems to take place in a distant world faraway; its consequences, however, threaten to touch us very close to home. In order to ensure that our laws reflect our values, we need to take at least a small part in the political process and not leave it solely to those who represent us.

To locate the names and phone numbers of your legislators, just navigate online to the South Carolina Legislature website and look for a box toward the bottom of the page that says “Find Your Legislators.” Once you type your address, the names of your legislators will appear. Locating their phone numbers is as easy as clicking on the names.

Phone Call 1: Please call your legislator in the South Carolina House of Representatives. (For many, but not all, Kershaw County residents, that will be Laurie Slade Funderburk, but be sure to double check on the S.C. Legislature website if you’re not sure.) Provide your name and be sure to mention where you live and that you’re a voting constituent. Then clearly and concisely state your request, i.e., that your representative vote for S.841 so that we can keep South Carolina’s animals safe. Remember, this bill has already passed the South Carolina Senate, so you need only contact the House.

Phone Call 2: Please call your legislator in the United States House of Representatives to voice your opposition to the King bills (H.R. 4879 / H.R.3599), which threaten to undo decades of advances in animal protections. If you’re a Kershaw County resident, your Representative is Ralph Norman. You can call his Washington, D.C., office at (202) 225-5501.

I’ve made calls like this several times in the past few months, and I can tell you that the process is quick and painless. You will almost always speak with an aide who will simply record your position. Though each call will only take a minute of your time, you’ll be doing what’s right for the animals of our state and nation. These calls matter. If enough of us contact our legislators in support of S.841 and in opposition to H.R. 4879/H.R. 3599, we can reclaim our representative democracy and do some good for animals at the same time.


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