Kara Holmquist, MSPCA Director of Advocacy
October 1, 2010

1. What exactly does your job as Director of Advocacy entail? 

The primary goal of my job is to advocate for the protection of animals through stronger legislation and public policies.   I also work to defeat policies that would harm animals.  This involves research, education, working with legislators and other organizations.  I have been here for a long time, so I also often answer questions on a variety of animal protection issues.

2. Does the MSPCA’s advocacy work focus solely on companion animals, or do you also advocate for wild animals?

When people think about animals, it is often those they live with in their homes.  But the MSPCA provides care for all kinds of animals (as you can see by visiting the farm!) and advocates for all species.  This includes wildlife, farm animals – animals who share our world, but perhaps not our couch!

3. When the MSPCA decides to support an issue, what steps must the Advocacy Department take in order to bring about change?

This is a great question.  We make sure we can document the problem that we are trying to fix.  We research any other states that might have addressed the issue and how they have done it – to learn from the successes of others and also what they may have done differently.  We talk to animal-friendly legislators and try to build support at the State House, with other organizations that care about the issue, and work with members of the MSPCA to encourage them to advocate for the issue.  While the MSPCA has a voice at the State House, legislators are most concerned with what their constituents think – so we need people who care about animals to speak up for them.


4. Do you work closely with the MSPCA’s Animal Protection Services Department (Law Enforcement), and, if so, how?

We do.  A lot of the legislation that we work on is based on problems with the laws that the officers see in their daily work.  They are in a unique position to identify changes that need to be made and have the stories to make the case.  Sometimes people will call with a concern about an animal, but the situation is not covered by the cruelty statute.  I talk to these people about how to change a law and try to get them involved in our Animal Action Team, a group at the MSPCA that contacts legislators when we send out alerts on timely issues that need support or opposition.


5. What do you do when a bill that the MSPCA supports is defeated?

It really depends on why it was defeated.  If we think the reason that the bill stopped might change (such as a committee chairperson who was against us, but is no longer in that role) or if there are other reasons that we think can be overcome and have another good shot at it, we will try.  A lot of bills take several sessions to become a law and only 3-5% of all bills filed in Massachusetts make it into a law, so the process is a bit more like a marathon than a sprint!  It is easy to become involved in so many issues that there isn’t enough time and resources to really devote what is needed on each of them, so making priorities is important – though very difficult. 


6. Is there an element of humane education involved in animal advocacy?

Absolutely.  A lot of what we are really doing is education; we’re educating legislators, our members, the public, and the media about an issue – with the specific goal to promote change (and take action). 


7. What are a few of the greatest achievements you’ve seen regarding animal advocacy in the last several years?

In the past few years, in Massachusetts,  I think the ballot question that phased out greyhound racing was very important for many reasons.  There was significant opposition from the greyhound racing and breeding industry, but the voters decided that they cared about how these dogs were treated.  It was also the first time greyhound racing was outlawed while it was still happening in a state.  The other bill that is one of my favorites is the one that changed animal cruelty from a misdemeanor to a felony.  Just last month, the Governor signed a bill that adds a bitter-tasting agent to antifreeze – and that will save the lives of thousands of animal each year.  There are a lot of other important bills that have impacted animals that have passed over the years and are listed at www.mspca.org/advocacy. 

8. What are some of the challenges that still remain?

Right now, I feel that the biggest challenge is getting people to extend the compassion they have for their companion animals to other animals – such as farm animals and wildlife.  Another challenge is educating people about more systemic and institutionalized forms of abuse.  We all make choices that impact animals every day; for example, buying cruelty-free products or to choosing not to buy food products that come from animals who aren’t raised humanely (choosing only cage-free eggs, for example), or not attending a circus that uses wild animals.  I know it is sometimes more difficult to make these choices, but they are crucial to reducing suffering for animals.


9. How did you end up in this position?

I pretty much always was a kid that loved animals.  My first job was working at a dog boarding facility.  I volunteered at an animal shelter in college and then volunteered for the MSPCA when I graduated.  I was lucky to be hired by the MSPCA many years ago.  I went back to law school to try to better help animals by understanding and using the law to protect them. 

10. What kind of education and training do you recommend to young people interested in pursuing a career in animal advocacy?

I think reading and learning about all types animal protection issues is important.  In school, public speaking and debate skills are things that could become valuable, as well as courses in political science.  Negotiating and other skills related to working with people are important.  Volunteering in a local legislator’s office is a good idea, too. 


11. How can kids or adults become more involved with advocacy?

Even kids can meet with their legislators and contact them.  Legislators always respond really well to kids at hearings – they give them more time to speak than we get!  We are happy to work with student groups to facilitate meeting with their legislators at the State House.   Kids and adults can join our Animal Action Team www.mspca.org/jointheteam to receive alerts about important issues and ones that we need assistance with.  A lot more information can be found at www.mspca.org/advocacy.


12. Your work sounds like it can be time-sensitive and stressful. What do you do to alleviate stress and keep your life balanced?

Like most jobs, there are times when we are really busy and sometimes (though not always!) there are times when we can catch up and do more outreach, research and all the things we never seem to get to spend as much time on as we would like.  We have a full-time legislature, so there aren’t any real breaks.  Like most people reading this, I spend time with my animals, who offer unconditional support.  I think it is also important to try not to let some disappointments get in the way of the big picture.  I also volunteer with some other groups, such as the animal friendly license plate program –- which is different than the advocacy work, but still helping animals and provides a nice balance.  I also exercise and that really helps clear my head and I often solve a lot of problems and think of new ideas when I am running.