Never give up, even on disheartening days. This work is an emotional rollercoaster. We do have a lot to celebrate, but sometimes the bills are stalled for one reason or another and then we have to start again the following year. For example, AB 1282 California Blood Bank Modernization Act, is a bill we’re hoping will sail through this year, because it has already done so in 2019. It made its way to the Governor’s desk, but he didn’t sign it because “it did not go far enough”. So now we are back, incorporating the changes he wanted to see and hoping this is the year it becomes a law. But now because of Covid delays, there have been so many animals that could have been saved if it just passed into law the first time around. This is the heartbreak we feel, but it also keeps us going.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Judie Mancuso.
Judie Mancuso is the founder, CEO and president of Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL), a nonprofit dedicated to saving and protecting animals. Under her direction, SCIL has spearheaded more than 50 state bills — including 18 that have been signed into law, 17 in California and one in NY. She has also successfully led organized opposition against some of the world’s largest special interest groups to stop harmful and exploitative legislation that would negatively impact animals. For more information about Judie, please visit www.socialcompassioninlegislation.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved animals, and since I was a kid I would look into the eyes of my dog and other animals and felt a connection. I did not know it at the time, but it was a strong sense of empathy. That empathy has led me on my life’s path to end suffering and the needless deaths of animals. I spent many years helping to rescue animals and writing checks to non-profit organizations dedicated to saving animals. Later in my life, I decided to leave my 20+ year career in Information Technology and focus solely on helping animals full time. I knew if I were to dedicate my life to this cause, I wanted to spend my time on what would have the greatest impact, and to me that was creating and changing laws. Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL) was born in 2007.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
It was SCIL’s first meeting on SB 1249 (Galgiani) California Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act (a bill that required cosmetics and personal hygiene products being sold in California not to be tested on animals by their manufacturers or their suppliers). We were meeting with opposition to the bill in our author’s office, I was with three others on our team, and there were at least 20 lobbyists in the meeting against us. They were looking at us like we some stupid, naive, crazy animal rights people. Their eyes glared at us and said, “how dare you think you’re going to get the cosmetics industry to change!” We made our case and were respectful, but they were so condescending and sure of themselves that the bill was not going anywhere. It was a real David and Goliath moment because some of the largest corporations in the world were all represented in the room. What makes this story so interesting is that we went on to defeat them; the bill passed! This meeting was just the beginning of the opposition, but after staying strong and methodically presenting our case and gaining public support, the bill was passed and signed into law later that year. Not only that, but similar bills have been signed into law in three other states and six pending legislation introduced this year.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
I was speaking to a legislator about the horrors of puppy mills and the need to reduce euthanasia in our shelters. The solution was to utilize pet shops for shelter adoptions, rather than selling puppy mill animals. He looked me dead in the eye and sincerely suggested that the solution would instead be California having our own homegrown puppy mills. I could not believe this was what he came up with after hearing about the plight of the puppy mill animals and all the shelter animals dying in our state shelters. I let my emotions get the better of me; I just lost my temper and went through the roof. My lobbyist, who could hear me yelling at him from down the hallway, came running into the meeting to intervene. When we walked out, she told me very sternly not to ever raise my voice again to any member, that it didn’t matter what they said, that I should never get short tempered like that. To date, I never lost my cool again.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
What I learned was that not everyone is going to be moved by the same things that I am, and others in the animal rights community, are moved by. We see the pain and suffering that animals endure, and for us, that makes us act. That motivates us to change laws to protect them from pain, suffering, and needless deaths. For others, the pain and suffering of animals does not shift their perspective. That is terribly frustrating for me, but what I have learned is to quickly pivot and figure out what resonates with them and craft my message to connect with what they care about and are influenced by. For me, it is whatever works and gets them to vote in favor or against whatever particular bill I am trying to influence them on.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
It starts with awareness. Most people are not cognizant of the problems that exist for animals, so when we introduce a bill, we are educating legislators and the public about the situation and giving them the framework on how we can make it better. If after all the legwork involved in creating new legislation pays off and the bill turns into a law, then the impact becomes more concrete. For example, AB 1965 (Yamada) CA Dining With Dogs, was passed in 2014 and that had a tremendous social impact. Before that, unless you had a service animal, California restaurants were not able to accommodate people and their dogs. This law allowed the restaurants that choose to welcome dogs the ability to open their outside patios to people with their pets, legally. For anyone previously forced to keep their best friend at home, they might have opted to dine out more often because of this. This is just one of the 18 laws we have passed, but the impact has been significant. Our laws have saved countless animals and influenced several other bills around the country. This new law was so popular we got it passed in the state of New York the following year.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
The laws we have passed have saved millions of lives, so it is really hard to narrow it down to one individual. From hospital patients who can finally get a vegan meal to restaurant owners who wanted to offer their patio to dining with dogs, the laws SCIL has helped pass have helped so many. But I do know that animal control personnel have thanked me over the years. Before the SB1806 (Figueroa) Animals in Unattended Motor Vehicle bill was signed into law (which was the first bill we introduced and passed), animal control had to stand by and watch dogs die of brain seizures while tearing up the interior of a car (heat causes brain seizures). There was one animal control officer who did thank me specifically for changing the law because it broke her heart to have to repeatedly experience a distressed animal that she could not save. Of course, I’m certain all of the dogs and owners are grateful for this law as well, but I really remember this one officer’s sincere gratitude because of how serious of a problem this was previously and how traumatic it was for her to have to stand by and watch. According to that officer, after the law was instituted, she saved hundreds of animals from dying in hot cars.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Move to change the definition of an animal from chattel to a sentient being who deserves rights. They are currently seen as personal property in the eyes of the law, but they are conscious beings that experience feelings, pain, respond emotionally, and they deserve to be treated as such.
- Hold people responsible for abusing animals. The district attorney does not always have the will or bandwidth to prosecute, even when there are laws in place to protect animals. Laws are only enforced at the discretion of the locals. Sometimes the law is not taken seriously unless there is a ton of public pressure. For example, when neighbors see someone abuse animals and they share it on social media, the public outcry calls attention to the issue, and finally the local jurisdiction will step up and do something.
- Stop promoting and subsidizing cruelty. For instance, the cattle and dairy industries have been subsidized heavily by the government (our taxpayer dollars) for a long time. This is something we are trying to change with AB 1289 (Kalra) The Smart Climate Agriculture Program this year. We can continue to subsidize farmers who need help, but let’s not subsidize animal cruelty. There are other ways to help those in need, and this piece of legislation benefits the farmer without investing in animal cruelty or degrading our environment.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is being organized, not allowing anything to fall through the cracks, being able to successfully manage small to large groups of stakeholders, setting an example, and focusing on solutions all while having a vision, a plan, and the tenacity and know-how to get there. It is also important to be strategic and find multiple paths to the finish line and to be flexible and change course as needed. Never giving up as a leader is key. An example of this would be AB 702 (Santiago)The Pet Breeder Humane Care Act. I started working on similar legislation in 2007, then again in 2009, and here we are in 2021, giving it yet another try. We have addressed overbreeding and pet overpopulation (the problem) in other groundbreaking bills that have become law, (such as restricting puppy milled pets in pet shops, microchipping pets, making the shelter pet the official State Pet) but at the core of this is humane breeding. Breeding pets as commodities at high volume to make the biggest buck at whatever cost is detrimental to so many, including the poor captive mothers and their offspring, the buyer who is getting a sick and often inbred puppy or kitten, the veterinarians who are stuck with having to put the puppies down from parvo and other diseases, our shelter system, and many more. We have been focused on this over the years, chipping away at the issue, but we must never give up on the core to the problem, just because it’s hard. As a leader for the animals, I refuse to ever give up on this issue for them. They need our voice.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “A lie gets halfway around the world before truth puts on its boots.” In the beginning of SCIL’s days, the dog breeders would put out misinformation, and I thought that having the truth on my side would be enough. What I did not realize was how much people would fabricate their own truth, and the depth they would go to get their way, by using misinformation and flat out lies. Being naive, I thought that if you showed up with a suitcase of facts, that the truth would prevail. But they hired the tobacco industry’s PR group and Jack Abramoff’s lobby firm, and they constructed their own story. They made charts, graphs, letters; none of which were in touch with reality. After the last few years witnessing the spread of misinformation online, this may not be as surprising, but back in 2007 it was shocking.
- You will find allies and enemies in the strangest of places. There are people that act like they want to help you and are in it for the cause, but in reality they just want to profit from it somehow, and you may not know it at first, and they might even be selling you out. This happened to me with lobbyists in the early days, which is unethical, but it happens. When you have people in it to take credit, money or feed their ego, they will make bad decisions that are not good for the animals and go directly against the cause. That’s because ultimately, the animals are not their primary concern, they are just looking out for themselves.
- Everything is political. You can have so many constituent letters, but to the committee or legislators, it may not carry as much weight as the opinions of their closest allies and friends. We have to know who they listen to, whether it’s their vet, doctor, a sportsperson, their spouse, their biggest donor. While public opinion really should be the primary entity they answer to (and that’s what we have no problem acquiring), it’s sometimes that close friend of theirs that’s able to sway their opinion. Constituent letters provide the foundation and evidence of public support that the legislator might need to give them cover to vote for the bill (or against it, depending what side we are on), but sometimes what will really move them one way or another comes from their inner circle that has greater influence.
- The “human element” involved. As mentioned, the members of the committee don’t always vote with the constituents. They may know it’s the right thing to do, and that the public supports it, but if there are special interests involved they can still vote against you when it comes down to it. Even if it is morally and ethically wrong, that does not mean it can’t happen. You can plan and work very hard presenting a compelling case for the bill and garnering all the right support, but at the end of the day, it can come down to one or two members that side with special interest versus their constituency, the facts, or compassion. With members having to run for reelection so often, it makes them beholden to their donors that are writing the big checks to them. Not all of them of course, but there certainly is always a faction beholden to other special interest.
- Never give up, even on disheartening days. This work is an emotional rollercoaster. We do have a lot to celebrate, but sometimes the bills are stalled for one reason or another and then we have to start again the following year. For example, AB 1282 California Blood Bank Modernization Act, is a bill we’re hoping will sail through this year, because it has already done so in 2019. It made its way to the Governor’s desk, but he didn’t sign it because “it did not go far enough”. So now we are back, incorporating the changes he wanted to see and hoping this is the year it becomes a law. But now because of Covid delays, there have been so many animals that could have been saved if it just passed into law the first time around. This is the heartbreak we feel, but it also keeps us going.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s an easy one… a vegan world. Luckily, it just keeps trending in that direction, but I truly believe the more vegans there are in the world, the better will come from it. We already know the environmental and health impacts from being vegan — can you imagine what the world would be like if even just half of the population went vegan? All the animals saved from suffering a horrible existence and an even more brutal death. Greenhouse gases would dramatically decrease, water would be cleaner, and everyone’s health would improve. The ripple effect of everyone going vegan would be incredibly positive. This is a pipe dream, for now, but that would be the biggest benefit since literally trillions of animals would not have to suffer and die. I think the more people realize animals are living, breathing, sentient beings, the more will go vegan for this reason alone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” This is the foundation of our work at Social Compassion in Legislation. It is exceedingly difficult to get bills passed into law, so it’s critical we don’t let obstacles deter us and get in the way of our goals. If a bill does not pass the first time around, we look at what changes we could make to address the issues, and then we reintroduce legislation in subsequent years. We adjust where we need to, getting broad bipartisan support when we can, but we never compromise to the point that our goal of saving and protecting animals is not at the core of the final version of the legislation. Success rarely comes easily, especially not at your first attempt. If it were easy, someone else would have already done it.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Joe Biden, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Bernard Arnault, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, or Sergey Brin — basically the few with the most money and power because they can make the biggest changes quickly. I would do my best to convince them that dedicating some of their resources to protecting animals and our environment should be a top priority and offer ways they can make the biggest impact.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow Social Compassion in Legislation on Facebook (@socialcompassioninlegislation), Twitter (@SCIL_Tweets), and Instagram (@socialcompassion) where we regularly make updates on our bills. We would also recommend signing up for our newsletter here as that’s really the best way to stay informed on all our legislative progress and successes.Additionally, you can follow my personal social media channels on Facebook (@Judie Mancuso), Twitter (@judiemancuso), Instagram (@judiemancuso), and also LinkedIn (@JUDIE MANCUSO).