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Protecting Animals Isn’t Just the Right Thing—It’s Uniting Politics

As we search for more ways to bring people together, compassion for animals provides us a wonderful opportunity to do some good and forge a greater unity of purpose in our politics.

Jamie Griffith, 6, cuddles his chicken Elsa at his home on Saturday, November 21, 2020, in Piedmont, Calif. (Photo: Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Jamie Griffith, 6, cuddles his chicken Elsa at his home on Saturday, November 21, 2020, in Piedmont, Calif. (Photo: Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

We’ve just come through an especially contentious election in an increasingly polarized country. Yet there’s an issue that offers hope to bring people together, and on which legislators from both sides of the aisle could find common ground: concern for animals.

Caring about animals has been a core characteristic of who we are as Americans. So many historic figures over the last several hundred years have demonstrated that heart for our fellow creatures. There are accounts of Abraham Lincoln placing baby birds back into their nests and scolding his peers for mistreating turtles. Ulysses S. Grant was sensitive to the mistreatment of horses used for supplying the Army.

A 2018 Ketchum study judged animal welfare the number one cause of interest to Americans, while a Gallup poll from a few years earlier indicated that 94% of U.S. adults believe animals deserve protection from harm and exploitation.

As a child of the 1980s, I have such nostalgia watching videos of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. I think back to President Bush’s dog, Millie, who had her own bestselling book. A few years later we all got to know Socks, a stray tuxedo cat President Bill Clinton adopted.

Today, animal issues stand at the top of ordinary Americans’ minds. A 2018 Ketchum study judged animal welfare the number one cause of interest to Americans, while a Gallup poll from a few years earlier indicated that 94% of U.S. adults believe animals deserve protection from harm and exploitation. This concern for animals isn’t just about policies for their betterment; it’s personal. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. families have pets in their homes, and 95% of people with pets consider them to be members of their families.

Non-partisan support for the protection of animals has been strong in recent years and animal welfare appears to be popular across the political spectrum. Over the last two years, both Republicans and Democrats approved legislation to ban the cruel caging of egg-laying hens in Colorado, Michigan, Oregon and Washington. Animal causes consistently win in a landslide at the ballot box in red, purple and blue states—and often in rural and urban regions alike. In 2018, a Florida ballot measure to ban greyhound racing passed with 69% of the vote. Arizona voters approved a measure to outlaw the immobilizing caging of pigs by 62%. An Oregon ballot measure to ban wildlife trafficking passed with 70% of the vote.

Leaders from across the aisle have long worked cooperatively to advance animal welfare. In 1958, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, a milestone of post-World War II animal protection. The bill was championed by Senator Hubert Humphrey, a Democrat, and signed into law by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who noted: “If I went by the volume of my mail, I would think no one was interested in anything but humane slaughter.”

Our national clamor for mercy is born out of the many ways animals touch our lives: the small business owner who spends her scant time off by taking a hike in her local woods to spot wildlife; the mother who tucks in her daughter every night while the cat sleeps next to her; the father whose after-work ritual is playing catch with his kids and the family dog. 

The moral instinct to protect animals is already in us, be we Republicans, Democrats or Independents. And whatever else we do to make sense of the recent election, we should feel good about the political advances we’ve made together on behalf of animals in recent years.

As new and reelected lawmakers shift from campaigning to governing, there’s good reason for them to include animal issues in their platforms, priority initiatives and work agendas. There is so much good they can do to advance the treatment of animals. And as we search for more ways to bring people together, compassion for animals provides us a wonderful opportunity to do some good and forge a greater unity of purpose in our politics.

Josh Balk

Josh Balk is vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. Follow him on Twitter: @joshbalk

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