Community Cat Advocacy through a Lawmakers Eyes

August 2012 by Jennifer Fearing

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Veterinary Team

Maddie's Institute® spoke with Jennifer Fearing, California Senior State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, about how learning to see the community cat issue through a lawmaker's eyes can lead to success.

The art of persuasion. "I'm a big fan of the Dale Carnegie ‘Art of Persuasion' principles - enshrined in his best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People. At the end of the day, the degree of success you'll have is proportional to the relationship you have with the decision-maker (and those who influence them)."

You need to be likeable as well as competent. Both count. If they don't like you or identify with you, nothing else matters. You can be as relentlessly activist as you want to be, but you'll only be successful if the decision-makers and people who work with them can be persuaded by you to embrace what you're proposing. Here are some tips:

  • Don't criticize, condemn or complain
  • Show honest and genuine appreciation
  • Admire, ask and then offer to help
  • Be conversational and helpful
  • Make them feel important and do it sincerely
  • Respect opinions, even when you disagree
  • Ask 'yes' questions
  • Understand people; talk from their viewpoint
  • Praise, appreciate, and then gently correct
  • Don't punish; reward
  • Give them a reputation to live up to
  • Always (always!) say thank you!"

Approach the issue from their point of view, not yours. "You need to step back and consider the context, the complete background of your issue and of the broader political and policy landscape. Ask yourself, ‘What is important for them? What else is going on in their world (e.g., the legislature)?' For example, budgetary considerations are critical everywhere now, and failure to anticipate that can harm your effort.

"Being cognizant of the broader context doesn't mean you don't get to advocate for your issues, or that you won't win. It means you have to take the approach, ‘I care about cats, so I developed this strategy, but let me show you how this will save money and help cats, and do so in a way your constituents will support.'"

Learn to compromise when you have to. "There will always be compromise. You'll always have to recognize the concerns of other stakeholders and try to resolve them when they're in conflict with yours. Other stakeholders are relevant, and we can't just wish them away.

"On the community cat issue, lawmakers will hear from people and groups with different perspectives. This is a public process, and everyone gets to speak up. The more you can do to anticipate that, the better. Focus on identifying and mitigating the concerns of other stakeholders - for instance, in advance, prepare and distribute a simple two-pager on those concerns. And to the extent you can propose a policy that meaningfully addresses their concerns - even if it means getting a little less than you hoped - you will expedite the process.

"It boils down to this: Do you want to be right, or do you want to win?

"If you can win, you should focus on winning, which will always involve compromise. Only if you can't win, should you settle for making a point."

Jennifer Fearing

Jennifer Fearing is the California Senior State Director for the Humane Society of United States. She co-founded a community spay-neuter program in Sacramento, helped create the largest annual one-day spay-neuter event in the world, and has led California's successful campaigns for more humane treatment of chickens, and a number of other animal protection laws including creation of a spay-neuter tax check-off fund, bans on cow tail-docking and the sale of shark fins in California.


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