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A Do It Yourself Guide to Passing an Ordinance


Well-known Member
Cavy Slave
Dec 13, 2004

I have been doing advocacy work of various kinds for over 20 years now. Recently (because of finding this site) I have turned my attention to doing some small effort toward animal rights advocacy. I thought about what *I* could do to help out. My belief is that everyone can help in some way, its just that we all have different levels or ways in which we can help. So with that thought in mind I took a look around where I live and found something I could do. What that something was is this:​

Each year my town has a street festival which attracts around 1 million people (big business for a town of 15,000). At this street fair they have games where if you win you get a rabbit as a prize (or turtle or lizard, etc) and this has been going on for over 30 years with the same person handling the booths that do it. Now the animals are neglected, mistreated, and live in just awful conditions as well as all the other horrible things that go with them being treated as an object and given away as prizes. So I decided to put a stop to it.​

The first thing I did was to ask the man who ran the booths to stop. You can probably guess how that went. He laughed at me, talked t me like I was an idiot and told me he and his father before him had been doing this for over 30 years and he had no intention of stopping and since he was on private property there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it as well. At that point I told him that if it took me 30 years I would get this to stop and I left.​

The next thing I did was to check with the humane officer and she basically told me the same thing that he did. While she was against it, there was no law that he was breaking by doing this and so she could not do very much about it. She also told me that the odds of getting a law passed to stop it were slim to none because of her experience with our City Council. I assured her that it would happen.​

So with all that said, I then decided I had to go to City Council and have them pass a City Ordinance to make it illegal to give pets away as prizes within the city limits and so I did.​

So you want to try and get a City Ordinance passed in your town to help benefit animals also?? Well here is my attempt at a basic guide on how to go about doing it and some tips/hints to keep in mind while doing so:​

A Do It Yourself Guide to Passing an Ordinance

1). The first and probably most important part is to decide exactly what you want to do. This is also probably the hardest part of the process. I'll use my ordinance as an example of how to do this and why it can be difficult:​

Example: With my Ordinance it basically says pets cant be given away as prizes except for fish.​

Now many people who are passionate about animals have a tendency to want to do everything at once to help them and that makes sense from an emotional perspective. From a realistic perspective if you get greedy and try to do to much at once you'll probably lose it all. Progress is made in small steps (and this is why "any" action/help is better than none). In my 20 years of experience in mediations, arbitrations and negotiations I have found that if you take small steps toward your ultimate goal (if its large and complex) you will get there much faster than if you try to do it all at once.​

So with my ordinance I had to resist the urge to try to change things outside the scope of just the pets at the festival (e.g. County fair animal auctions etc etc) and I had to be willing to compromise somewhat and you should also. I compromised on the fish (which was not part of my first draft) because the Mayor had some attachment to the fish from when she was younger and won one as a pet. By doing this it did two things, a) it showed that I was a reasonable person, b) it won me the support of the mayor because I agreed/allied with her on the fish. So, remember to not get greedy and try to do it all at once. You can always go back in a year or so and add another piece to your ordinance. Like me, I will wait a year or two and then try to have the fish removed from it. One small block at a time.​

2). Once you have decided exactly what you want to do then search and see if others have already done it and then emulate their work. Basically the ordinance that I had passed is a copy from New York State and its law on the subject. By finding other similar laws around the country it not only helps you to write yours, but it also shows that other states, counties, cities, towns have done the same and its not such a scary move for your local politicians to make.​

3). Write the ordinance out and make enough copies for each person on your City Council as well as a few extras for the Mayor and others. If your not sure how to write it, then emulate other ordinances you have found else where. Unlike in school, you won't get into trouble for copying their work and changing it to fit your location.​

4). Now that you have it written and copies made your next step is to setup an appointment to address your City Council. Call your City Clerks office and explain to them you wish to speak to City Council and they will explain to you the steps to take. In many areas you just show up to the meeting and fill out a Speaker's Slip before the meeting and they will call on you to speak under New Business.​

5). When you address City Council be polite and be direct. Let them know what your wanting and why and give them your copies of what you want the local ordinance to be as well as copies of what other ordinances look like. In my case I asked people from the site here to send e-mails before I met with them to show support and I made it clear that this was a decision about right and wrong and that I would (politely but sternly) want to see this stopped as it gives our community a bad name.​

6). After your initial meeting with the Council they will probably refer your request to a side committee for discussion and debate. This is where it might get frustrating for some people. It might take a year or more to finally get your proposal back to be voted on by the full Council, it might not but it will take awhile. (It took mine 5 months and that was fast). Make sure you attend all the sub-committee meetings about your ordinance if possible. Ask your local humane officer or SPCA to offer support as well and attend if possible.​

7). Now hopefully the sub-committee has approved your proposal and sent it back to the full Council for ratification. If they have the odds are it will be passed (you can probably get a feel for it from your first meeting and how much opposition or lack of opposition you encountered). If so then celebrate and make sure to personally (if possible) thank everyone involved and send a written thank you letter (it goes a long way to making them remember you in a positive light and that helps for future projects).​

8). What happens if it doesn't pass?? Well just because it does not pass today does not mean it will not pass tomorrow. There are many reasons why it might not have passed, to many for me to cover here. Just remember that you can always try it again, and again, and again until it finally does pass. If it does not, try to look at why and see if you can make any changes that might address the reasons why it did not and remember that any gain is better than no gain at all.​

Lastly and probably the second or equally important thing in all of this is to have confidence in yourself and what your doing. If you *know* that your going to get this passed more than others know that your not than you will do it. There is an intangible feel to someone who has this kind of confidence and others can sense/feel it when you address them and it effects them accordingly. You can always feel free to contactdifference to me as well if you have some specific questions also.​

If you attempt something like this you may have someone tell you that your silly and you can't possibly make a difference or something negative like that. Just remember the Starfish Story which basically says:​

“I’m reminded of the story about the beach strewn with starfish and the
little girl picking them up and throwing them back in the ocean.
‘Little girl,’ a passer-by said, ‘what are you doing?’
‘I’m saving starfish,’ she replied.
‘But there are so many! Your efforts can’t possibly make a difference.’
As she picked up another starfish, the little girl said, ‘It makes a difference
to that one.’

I ask you to help make a difference.”
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