The Long Road to 
Animal Welfare

How Activism Works in Practice

An ownerless dog in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2005.  JESSICA RINALDI / REUTERS

On election night in November 1992, I waited anxiously with other animal welfare activists at the Radisson Hotel in Denver, Colorado, to learn the outcome of a statewide ballot measure to ban the baiting, hound hunting, and spring hunting of black bears. The initiative was a big deal both for me (it had been my idea) and for the animal welfare movement more generally. Colorado was a political redoubt for the National Rifle Association and other pro-hunting groups; if the ballot measure passed, it might inspire other reforms for animals, and if it failed, it might set the movement back years. Most of my fellow activists had been skeptical about the initiative, arguing that it was a fool’s errand because the hunting lobby was too strong to defeat. But the leaders of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—then as now, the largest animal protection organization in the country—had overruled their political staff and decided to support the effort, on principle. “It’s too important not to try,” John Hoyt, then the group’s president, told me. “If we lose, I want to be on the side of the losers.” In the end, we won big, getting 70 percent of the vote.

Colorado Democrats were also holding their election party at the Radisson that night, and as the votes were counted, they, too, were celebrating, because the Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, carried the state and the country. The animal advocates decided to hold an impromptu victory parade through the hotel, led by one of our members in a bear costume, and the partying Democrats cheered us on as we passed by. But then the mood darkened: as later returns came in, it became clear that Amendment 2, a major statewide anti-gay-rights measure, had also passed. Dejected gay rights activists slumped along the walls of the ballroom, embittered by the realization that the same people who had voted to protect bears had declined to protect gay and lesbian humans.


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