June 12, 2006
By Loren Drummond
As more than 3,500 animal advocates in 47 states gathered at HSUS Party Animal parties on June 11, Tropical Storm Alberto picked a path toward the Florida coast and threatened to increase speeds to hurricane status. Alberto, the first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, added urgency to the evening event, which centered on galvanizing action for U.S. Senate passage of the Pets Evaluation and Transportation Standards Act.
The PETS Act calls for disaster plans to include pets and service animals, and passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a whopping majority (349 to 24) in late May.
Last year's late-season Hurricane Katrina exposed a gap in local, state and government disaster response plans—the failure to account for people with pets in disasters. Thousands of families were forced to leave their pets behind. Others refused to evacuate without them, putting themselves in further danger. Now, The HSUS and its Party Animals house party program are pushing lawmakers to implement better federal disaster response policy before the hurricane season really gets rolling.
At the event, this call for change rang in living rooms, offices and restaurants from Alaska to Mississippi. Motivated by Katrina's lessons and their own bond to animals, individuals reached out to inspire action in their own communities by hosting parties, raising thousands of dollars in funds and listening in to the nationwide conference call.
Even animal-loving businesses got in the party spirit; San Francisco-based C-Net hosted a party, and Maine-based retailer Planet Dog made a donation to help protect animals in disasters.
People and Pets Behind Policy
Just blocks from Capitol Hill at the party on C Street, N.E. in Washington, Jazz and Louis, both dogs rescued from Katrina, were honored guests, mascots for passage of the PETS Act. While they weaved around the legs of partygoers, a film distributed to each of the 354 parties played images of Jazz and Louis' Katrina cousins, animals who had been stranded and later rescued.
U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a cosponsor of the bill, participated in the party from his home on Cape Cod. The Senator spoke about his reasons for supporting the bill, including his two Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Splash, who the Senator said rarely leave his side, even in the halls of Congress.
"I wouldn't leave the house without Sunny and Splash," said Sen. Kennedy, speaking on the nationwide conference call to party attendees around the country. "It's no surprise that so many people in New Orleans flat out refused to be rescued if they couldn't take their pets with them." The PETS Act, he said, "is not just about saving animals; it's about saving people, too."
Slidell, La. Party Animal host Regen Klein shared her story of evacuating with her husband and three dogs Aug. 28, just prior to Katrina's landfall. "We had no idea we wouldn't be able to return for two weeks." Klein also asked about ongoing animal welfare reconstruction and spay and neuter efforts in the Gulf Coast, and received an update on those continuing efforts from HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle.
Party Animals Plan for Action
While the evening's themes touched on last year's devastation, a call to action beat as the real heart of the Party. Bryan Wilson, a three-time Party Animal host in Winter Park, Fla. called in from his party of more than 100 people, asking Pacelle how Party Animal events translate into real change.
Pacelle's response: "The only way we will ever succeed as a social movement is if we have tens of thousands of people respond to a call of action. When people participate, we can make a difference." Party Animal parties are designed to fund and build the grassroots networks—the calls, emails, letters and faxes reaching legislators every day—that form the backbone of lobbying efforts.
Sen. Kennedy echoed Pacelle's rallying cry, "Now is the time to pass this in the Senate...Let's send the Pets Act to the White House." Actor and longtime animal advocate Eric Roberts, a native of Biloxi in Katrina-ravaged Mississippi, also joined the call from Los Angeles to help push the PETS Act over the finish line.
Wilson, his wife Carla and their guests have taken the Party Animals message to heart. During their party, the Wilsons' guests signed letters to Florida Senators, and grabbed more to take with them to family and friends. Other guests who couldn't make it because of Alberto contacted the hosts to say they would mail their pledge donations
"We have gotten such positive feedback," said the Wilsons after their party, "People thanking us for having the event, and giving us the commitment of returning at our next event."
With Tropical Storm Alberto prompting early season evacuations and thousands taking action, the Senate is already hearing from these Party Animals that PETS Act passage couldn't come too soon.
Loren Drummond is associate editor for www.hsus.org.
Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. HSLF, 519 C Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.