The St. Louis region has some pretty great leaders in animal welfare. Some are on the front lines, bringing awareness to the animal welfare movement, while others, like Ledy VanKavage, Senior Legislative Attorney at Best Friends Animal Society, do their work behind the scenes.

I tend to see Animal Welfare as having two major branches; although they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. There’s Animal Rescue, where many of us work to save at-risk animals in the garden variety ways (pulling strays from the streets and high-kill shelters, spay/neuter, etc.). Then there is Animal Advocacy. It’s my observation (and just mine) that most of us stick to a comfort zone, the hands-on work of Animal Rescue. The various tasks needed for a successful rescue operation are in most of our wheelhouses. There is; however, need for people like us to join the ranks of Ledy and her colleagues.

Ledy is fighting the good fight daily, nationwide, but also happens to be one of our local treasures. She and her husband, Cliff, were doing TNR well before it was a commonly accepted practice.

I like to think of Ledy as the OG of TNR.

Always a lover and protector of animals, Ledy and a cohort of about 5 others were horrified to learn in 1985 that animals at their local animal control agency were sold for research. SOLD. FOR. RESEARCH. Let that sink in for a hot minute. Ledy is in an initiator; she takes ownership of social problems, so a year later she helped found the Madison County Humane Society, now known as Metro East Humane Society, so animals could have a fighting chance of survival at a shelter.

Thanks to Ledy and her colleagues, Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) (more appropriately labeled Breed Discriminatory Legislation (BDL)), is losing ground across the country. Short-haired, muscular mutts are often on the losing end of these ill-conceived laws.  Sometimes the laws are enacted out of ignorance and racism; BSL/BDL not only unfairly discriminates against animals, but they are racist and classist and discriminate against the people who own those types of animals. (Click here for more information.) Simply put, if you don’t allow pit bulls to live in your municipality, the types of people who own pit bulls won’t live there, either. This is real life and it happens in America, folks.

Besides BSL/BDL, Ledy and her colleagues focus on a variety of other initiatives, including demanding transparency in America’s shelters, saving cats’ lives through Community Cat/TNR programs and ending the atrocity that is the puppy mill. It’s unfathomable to me that the public is still generally unaware of the horrific conditions of puppy mills, nevertheless, they are. Here’s a great article recently published in Rolling Stone, but be aware of its graphic nature.

The more I learn about the spectrum of animal advocacy issues out there, the more I want to get involved but without a legal background, it’s a little intimidating. I asked Ledy how animal lovers, like us, who are really good at the rescue part, can make a difference in Advocacy.

Ledy offered the following suggestions:

  • Sign up for alerts. Best Friends has made it quite easy for us to learn about what’s happening in our own communities. If you sign up for alerts, you will receive email updates targeted to your community with tips on what you can do to help.
  • Attend city and county board meetings. There has been a flurry of activity in the St. Louis region: Florissant repealed its pit bull ban; the St. Clair County, IL Board approved a community cat ordinance and the Madison County Board just passed a No Kill resolution. Ordinances and laws are primarily changed at the local level, so progress happens in baby steps – there is no one-fell-swoop that will protect our companion animals, and they need our voices. Politics is not a spectator sport, y’all.
  • If all else fails and you feel the call, run for office. It’s not easy, but it’s actually really simple.

I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to watch (or re-watch!) The Champions. This is an awesome documentary featuring Ledy and she provides insight into the history and evolution of discrimination against pit bulls. Take my word for it, it’s worth the watch.

Truly, thank you for all you do, Ledy and Co.!