Society for Animal Protective Legislation:
50 Years of Growing a Movement
In our nation's capital, there are lobbyists for every industry imaginable—agriculture, energy, tobacco, defense—but what about the animals? Who lobbies for them? Fifty years ago, it was illegal for non-profit tax-exempt organizations to engage in such activities. "We couldn't do any substantial amount of lobbying and keep our tax-exempt status," explained Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) founder Christine Stevens several years ago. Her solution? To form an organization that didn't require a tax-exempt status, one that would inform Senators, Representatives and the public about animal issues and work to pass laws to protect them.
The year was 1955 and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL) was the first of its kind. It wasn't long before SAPL developed an extraordinary reputation. If Senators wanted to know more about issues pertaining to humane slaughter, leghold traps or endangered species, they simply contacted the organization.
On these two pages you'll find brief summaries of some of the most important animal-related laws passed by our public servants over the last 50 years. SAPL not only supported these legislative efforts and others, but also fought hard for strong regulations for their enforcement, for substantial funding of the programs and, of course, to stop bad bills. "Almost every animal welfare law on the books is owing to SAPL's leadership," said AWI President Cathy Liss.
John Gleiber offers our readers a unique vantage point. From 1958 to 2003 he held various positions, as executive secretary (later secretary) of SAPL and then as assistant to the officers of AWI. In 2003, when SAPL merged with AWI, he joined the AWI Board. Over the years, he has been a careful observer of the animal movement. He has nourished it and watched it grow. On this special anniversary, John recalls the early days of lobbying on Capitol Hill with fondness and a dash of humor.
Remembering the Acorn
I think of SAPL as the mighty Oak tree that grew from an acorn. When Christine Stevens realized a lobbying organization independent of AWI was necessary, the fact that she lived and worked in Manhattan didn't faze her for a minute. She and her young daughter Christabel would get up early and work long hours to bring their messages to a bemused Congress in one-day visits, courtesy of planes and trains from New York to Washington, D.C. Christine held the secret of successful lobbying—know your subject, know the staff and never give up.
Sue Hunt, who once worked for SAPL during the summer months, remembers her aunt, Helen Mayer, speaking of powerful Committee Chairs and Senators darting into the men's room whenever they spied the two women hovering in sight. The Senators came to value and listen to—and sometimes fear—Christine's relentless pursuit of her goals. But if they were on the opposite side of Christine's legislation, flight was the better part of valor.
Early on, Christine sensed the intricacies of the power structure in Washington. She co-opted Ceci Carusi, a legendary and beautiful hostess, to open doors and make appointments on the highest possible political and social levels. Ceci had another valuable attribute as a master mover of traffic cones to make parking places. Few tough Capitol Hill policemen would want to face up to this assured, determined woman. Ah, the good old days—today she would probably be checked out as a terrorist!
Finally, Christine's husband Roger came to Washington to embark on a remarkable cultural career at the Kennedy Center, at the behest of President Kennedy himself. This meant Christine was only 15 minutes from Congress, and SAPL now had an office in the AWI quarters. Marjorie Cooke, an awesomely efficient and dedicated power machine, relieved Christine of office management for the organizations, and remains a loyal friend to SAPL staffers to this day.
Gradually, SAPL's work became more professional and more pressured. Each new employee brought a higher degree of skill, academic background and commitment. The atmosphere grew to resemble a think tank, and SAPL prospered. But I will always cherish those modest fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants days; I shall never forget that original acorn.
Changes in tax laws now permit AWI to engage in substantive lobbying activities. Please note that donations earmarked for legislation are not deductible. Most importantly, write your Members of Congress regarding animal-related bills. For information to use in writing these letters, join AWI by signing up at www.compassionindex.org or by sending us a note.
The Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection Act 2000
Establishes a national sanctuary system for chimpanzees no longer used in experimentation.
Captive Wildlife Safety Act 2005
Prohibits the interstate transport of exotic big cats, such as tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars or cougars, for private ownership as pets.