This isn’t an unusual state for me when I decide to open the doors on my Facebook and Twitter Newsfeeds which are dominated by animal rescue and rights groups and campaigners. Frustration is often accompanied by it’s comfy bedfellow anger and together they either derail whatever project I’m supposed to be working on at the time, or, and this was the case yesterday, galvanise me to do something positive.
The first was a post on Puppy Love Campaigns sharing good news on a successful, peaceful demonstration outside a large retailer in the Northwest of England that sells puppies in volume – no guesses what kind of conditions and places the puppies have been bred in – it was great to read the turnout had been good and people had decided to go to a local rescue without even stepping foot in the shop to buy a puppy after talking to the protestors outside. So far, so good. Then I went to another of my favourite campaigns, the Pup Aid site and there was a picture of a tiny pup in glass fronted cabinet, upsetting, but nothing I haven’t seen many times before. What exasperated me was the slew of comments that people made that reflect a misunderstanding of what the reality is in the UK regarding pet shops selling puppies and where puppy farmed puppies end up.
So I swung from feeling upbeat on news of a positive demonstration, to downhearted that on the Facebook page of one of the major campaigns in the UK to end pet shop and other third party sales of puppies, a hugely successful campaign with plenty of great media interest, people were not aware that these sales are still legal.
Now I know people are surprised that petshops can still sell puppies, I hear it said often to me, but to see it being said yesterday online so often amongst followers of a campaign dedicated to ending it, really struck me that there is so much work that still needs to be done. I posted on the page throughout the day to try to help more people see that this is exactly the issue that we, as people opposed to this activity must be getting into the minds of our legislators. It isn’t enough for people online to air their upset, to voice their outrage but not to do anything with that outrage.
The Pup Aid campaign has had great success in gaining enough signatures on their petition for a parliamentary debate to be taking place on 4th September. This is something truly to feel positive about. Parliamentarians are the only ones with the power to bring in laws to make sales in shops illegal – something so many already think is the case. But in order for the vast efforts of the people behind the Pup Aid campaign to be rewarded by achieving changes for the dogs proper engagement in the political process by every individual who cares about this is needed. What the comments on the post yesterday revealed is a disconnect between what many think is happening and what the reality is.
Social media is fantastic for raising awareness, for gathering support for causes and for allowing people to vent their anger when they see, for example, a picture of a puppy being sold in a pet shop. Yet, being active on social media alone is not enough. To be blunt, it doesn’t matter a jot what anyone posts on any thread about any puppy being sold in a pet shop – or any other animal welfare issue. It may make the person who airs their understandable anger feel better, feel like they’ve done something, but unless active engagement in the political process is also done by that person, it’s a pointless way to spend time.
Actions not (just) words have to be the outcome of seeing an image of a puppy being sold in a petshop. Actions can take many forms: the protestors outside the pet shop on Sunday had a direct impact on those they came into contact with. Behaviour changed that day for at least some of those people who had been destined to step into the pet shop and support the puppy farming industry.
Actions don’t have to be taking part in a demo. We can all do something that makes a tangible difference. Writing a few words online, whether it’s a knee-jerk rant, or carefully thought through post, makes no difference at all unless it’s followed up with action.
Yesterday I felt frustrated that people weren’t engaging with the issues, they were doing what is so common on social media and expressing outrage. Which I understand entirely, I am outraged that puppies can still be sold legally in shops. But outrage changes nothing. I hoped that by asking people really to see what the Pup Aid and other similar campaigns is trying to achieve, not just post a few supportive, or angry words, it would bring some action from the hot air. Everyone can contact their MPs, this is what I suggested through the day that people do; this enabled me to transform my own frustrations into action.
Every one who cares about this has a role to play and must step into that role, not just leave it to others, or assume others will do it better, or that as individuals we are powerless. At the very least, we all are represented by an MP. They alone have the power to make pet shop and third party sales of puppies – big outlets for puppy farmed puppies – illegal. They have that power because we give it to them. Every single one of us can contact our MP, write to them, email them, meet them. We have the right to influence our law makers and need to be using that influence now, the dogs can't do it for themselves.
We must do this if we are to help those in power to see why this issue matters. People who write on social media often haven’t spent time thinking about the issues they find and respond to in their newsfeeds, but they care enough to say something. The challenge is to make more people not only care, but to think and then act. Here’s a short list of actions I think we in the UK should be doing now to support the Pup Aid campaign ahead of the debate on 4th September:
- Email or write to our MPs. Find your MP here. If you do not get a response within a week, politely follow up and ask what response time you can expect. Polite persistence may be necessary.
- Use information from the Pup Aid website to draft a fact sheet that you can email to them highlighting the key issues. Nature Watch also have a handy document.
- Look for any information that might reveal an interest in animal welfare, for example does the MP have a pet? It’s not unknown for MPs to post details on their websites such as they live with a rescue dog – use this common interest to get their engagement.
- It helps to build a relationship, ideally with MPs directly, but at the least, their assistants. They are more likely to listen to our concerns and hopefully engage with the debate and do what we consider the right thing if we develop relationships.
- Ask for a commitment to attend the debate. It may be necessary to provide information on the issues. We need to do this to get our MPs to know why this matters to us and to millions of voters.