AmPA No-Kill Conference 2013: Guest speaker Ledy VanKavage from Best Friends Animal Society

by Ari Auber • Posted in: Awareness/ PR, Conferences

Ledy VanKavage has long combined her love of animals with her knowledge of the law. Out of her hard work “being a voice for the animals,” she has seen more than 30 bills about animal welfare and treatment passed in her home state of Illinois and elsewhere around the U.S.

“I realized (before going to law school) that no one really listens to you unless you can sue them,” Ledy says.

Lawmakers have certainly listened. Her success spearheading the passage of all those bills for animal welfare groups like the ASPCA and the Best Friends Animal Society is one reason she’ll be speaking at the American Pets Alive conference in February. At the conference, taking place Feb. 23-35, she wants to impart on her listeners the importance of lobbying – an invaluable skill for anyone who wishes to change a city or state law in favor of animal rights.

Sometimes, lobbying can be as simple as picking up the phone. Constituents reaching out to their city council or state legislators often choose email or social media instead, Ledy says, but a phone conversation is more effective.

“It’s easy to just email, and emails do work if you send a lot of them, but the personal touch of a phone call is very effective,” Ledy says.

She noted that a Facebook campaign doesn’t always work, either, because many of the people in power don’t use social media sites.

A law degree also isn’t necessary, but it has certainly helped her. She has been involved in changing animal welfare policies since 1985, when she organized a coalition that successfully petitioned to stop an Illinois county, Madison, from selling shelter animals to research. Since founding a humane society next door to Madison County’s pound, she has gotten more than 23 bills passed as the senior legislation director at the ASPCA and, most recently, helped to spearhead four other bills as the senior legislative attorney at Best Friends.

Ledy’s current focus is on breed discrimination. As Best Friend’s national manager for their pit bull terrier initiative, she hopes to reverse the stigma surrounding pit bulls, which she says causes them to be mistreated and killed in far too many cities and shelters across the U.S.

“There are some towns where people kill dogs simply because of their appearance, and some shelters don’t adopt out short-haired muscular dogs. That’s wrong and simply has to change,” she says.

She has held a soft spot for pit bulls since she was a small child, when she owned one named Boody that she considered her best friend. It’s because of him that she has lobbied on behalf of animals for so long.

For Ledy, her efforts, as well as the efforts of many others, have paid off. Illinois is now the most humane state in the U.S., according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an organization that fights to protect animals through the legal system, but she says the state wasn’t so pet-friendly when she first kicked off her lobbying efforts.

Illinois’ success can be replicated in other states, she is quick to say, as long as others speak out too. Best Friends intends to try and get a humane bill passed in the upcoming Texas legislative session, beginning Jan. 8, and she notes the animal welfare group can never have enough people lobbying in favor of the bill.

To hear more from Ledy Vankavage register for the American Pets Alive 2013 No-Kill Conference!

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