My debate with the candidates

As the presidential, gubernatorial and legislative races scurry towards November, candidates and parties are attempting to address my concerns — assuming my concerns are already on their agenda.  As a woman, an aerospace worker and a member of the middle class, my vote is clearly valuable if you judge the campaign by the content of 30-second commercial debates.

But what if my actual concerns for the problems in our community are not on the political agenda of the candidates at all?   Do they ever get addressed or even heard?  Is my vote ever wooed in the direction of a candidate that I actually want in office?

I’ve always felt that rather than debate an opponent, candidates should debate a voter instead.   And with that format, the field is wide open on topics for discussion.

So my debate with the candidates would include issues of the Washington economy and access to affordable health care, but it would also include my long-term concern for the welfare of animals and support for the un-glorified government agencies and organizations that try to address these issues.

And I’m not alone.  Not only is Seattle an intensely dog-centric city, it is home to roughly 50 animal rescue, welfare and advocacy groups.  Additionally, these groups don’t even reflect a true estimate of the number of individuals who live without harming animals at all.  For example, if we use the density of vegan restaurants (around 20 or so thriving businesses in the City of Seattle) as a yardstick of the number of people interested in the welfare of animals, this unit of measure indicates that Seattleites not only care about animals and what happens to them, but they have created a community that reflects that ethos.

Furthermore, our population of vegetarians, feral cat rescuers, pet adopters, shelter volunteers, foster families, and conscientious people who are willing to take that extra step to house back-yard chickens and goats, buy free-range eggs and support humanely raised local meats should indicate to candidates that animals matter in our community.

So in my hypothetical debate with the candidates, here are a few issues I would like to discuss.

For the past few years, legislators in Olympia have passed over future consideration of the so-called spay/neuter bills.  HB 1226 and SB 5151 would essentially create a state-wide program to provide low-cost, accessible spay/neuter services to all areas of Washington State.   The goal is to help reduce the number of homeless animals that are euthanized in our shelters and to relieve local governments of the financial pressure of dealing with so many homeless pets.  The problem is that it costs money.  Not much money, and the proposal for the program includes a fee on pet food to avoid using general funds.  The opposition is simply from people who are tax-phobic – even when cities and counties in Washington have to pay many times the cost of the spay/neuter program to euthanize animals rather than fix them.

Second, I want to know that progress will be made to help end long-term chaining or tethering of dogs in Washington State. This is an issue that was considered in previous legislative sessions as HB1755 and SB5649. Advocates hope to reintroduce the bills in the 2013 legislative session. From my discussions with a handful of Washington candidates, opposition to this bill comes from legislators who don’t think you can tell people how to treat your dog.  So who will fight the good fight in Olympia?

I recently learned that the Washington Alliance for Humane Legislation (an advocacy group in Olympia) hopes to find sponsorship in the 2013 legislative session for a bill that would give animal control officers (ACO) in Washington the authority to enforce anti-cruelty and neglect laws (read more here).  I don’t need to see another news story about neglected, starving horses or a raided puppy mills to know this is a good idea, but I do need to know my representatives will support such a bill.

Finally, while I’m a fan of small businesses, I don’t feel that businesses that cost our government money, instead of adding to the economy, are appropriate.  This is the problem with retail pet stores found scattered across Washington State.  In the past few years, many city governments in Canada and the US have banned the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits to stop the flow of impulse-purchased pets into shelters and end support of puppy mills.  Austin, TX made an early move to ban the sale of dogs and cats and found an almost immediate reduction in the number of animal intakes at their local shelter.  The Los Angeles city council is poised to do the same this fall (ref: Spot).  LA council members in favor of the ban report that it will help reduce the nearly 20,000 animals euthanized in LA each year.

So why not in Washington State?  Why not in Seattle?  We have a lot of homeless pets in our city and our state, coupled with a network of private breeders who can provide purebred dogs to appropriate homes with the proper oversight.  We don’t need animals shipped from puppy and kitten mills in the Midwest and sold to any passers-by.  Furthermore, I’m tired of paying for the consequences of massive numbers of homeless pets shuffled through our animal control agencies statewide.  I want this to be an election issue, and I want to know where the candidates stand.

The propensity for candidates to stick to their issues has never been so well explained than by Anne Romney during her recent Iowa network interview.  When she was pressed to answer questions on birth control, she responded, “Again, you’re asking me questions that are not about what this election is going to be about.”

I’m fairly certain that an election is about what voters decide to speak up about.  And for me, this election agenda includes animal welfare and the financial pressures that failures to address these issues puts on our local and state governments.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a freelance columnist who writes for City Living Seattle newspaper and the blog “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” at www.sniffingouthome.org.

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