Episode 24 – Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin State Director, The HSUS

24 Melissa Tedrowe_FB 24 Melissa Tedrowe_FB   Melissa Tedrowe is the Wisconsin State Director at The Humane Society of the United States. In addition to her countless hours volunteering at local humane societies, Melissa helped launch the Four Lakes Wildlife Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and she served as the President of Wisconsin’s Alliance for Animals organization. With The HSUS, she now works on a wide variety of issues to help animals in Wisconsin. Melissa talks about what The HSUS does, how she is involved, how she started our Lakes Wildlife Center in Madison, Wisconsin and so much more! To learn more about¬†The Humane Society of the United States, you can find visit their website,¬†http://www.humanesociety.org/ Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is proudly sponsored by Joubert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relate Transport. Now on with our show today, we’re talking with Melissa Ted Row Melissa is the Wisconsin state director at the Humane Society of the United States. In addition to her countless hours volunteering at local humane societies, Melissa helped launch the Forelegs Wildlife Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and she also served as the president of Wisconsin’s Alliance for Animals Organization. With the Mains decided United States. She now works on a wide variety of issues to help animals in the state of Wisconsin. Hey, Melissa, welcome to the program. Hi, Chris. Thanks so much for having me. So tell us a little bit about you and the role you’re playing right now. So it’s a big question, and, um and I’m coming up to a milestones. That’s a really meaningful question. Right now, I’m about to hit my four year mark with the Humane Society of the United States. Congratulations. Thank you, thank you. I have been the Wisconsin state director for that organization since February four years ago, and, um, it’s been a dream job, and I love it, and I’m just excited to talk with you about it. That’s really cool. So tell us, for people that don’t know what does the Wisconsin director for the Humane Society’s United States. That’s quite a title. So what do you do? What is your What is your life entail? You’re sure. So the best way to answer that is first, by telling your listeners a little bit about our organization on DSO. Make this fairly brief. The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization. We are 63 years old, and we were founded in Denver, Colorado, um, back in the fifties by a group of folks who were directing a local shelter in Denver. And they were very, very busy adopting out companion animals, dogs and cats and meeting the needs in their local community, and that was satisfying work, that they felt frustrated that there was no one in their mind who waas working on the root of the problem. So why are cats and dogs and other companion animals of different types ending up in shelters in the first place? Why are we seeing neglect and abuse? What are the other issues? Why are we seeing overpopulation? And then, secondly, they were frustrated that it seemed that no organization really existed to take on the issues affecting all the other animals who aren’t companion animals. So 99% of animals never see the inside the shelter because they’re a horse or a whale or an eager it or a turtle or a fox. I mean, I could go on and on, you get the idea. So they founded the Humane Society of the United States to advocate for all animals companion animals that share homes as well as all these other creatures, and to really drive transformational change at the office or so to figure out what the problems are facing animals to pass laws at the local, state and federal level toe work with corporations and just really to make permanent change that would make a difference in the lives of millions of animals. So so that’s the Humane Society of the United States. Big organization. I My little piece of it is I am the representative off that organization in Wisconsin. So I am there. One employee lives in the state, and my job is to know and love this state from head to toe and to know all of the people doing work for animals like yourself and form relationships with them. And to really understand the challenges that face all of the animals in our state and to help HSUS understand what those channels challenges are and how we should be prioritizing them. Because even though we’re large, we can address all the issues at once. They’re a limited resource, is there are other states. And weren’t we now have an international presence, So, um, it’s a busy job. It’s a really meaningful job, and that’s kind of what I do in a nutshell. So you have 49 other peers, then. So one for every state, one for every state. Right now we have a couple of states that are open, so I want to say that 44 states are covered, but but yes, so that I have colleagues in every state and just met, actually, with the 11 other Midwest Regional state directors. So, um, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota. I won’t name them all. But, you know, we all got together and we talked about how our animals doing in the Midwest. And how could we support each other? Because a lot of the issues, as you might imagine, are very, very similar. I mean, Wisconsin were a big hunting state or a big agriculture state with a lot of animal agriculture. And those issues translate throughout the Midwest and present some of the same challenges. So I’m guessing since you’re a kid, you always knew you wanted to be the Wisconsin director for the maid society. The United States, right? Yes, I know that. It works for do Burt one, too. So how did you get started? An animal welfare. I mean, you must have a great story as to how this inspired you to get to where you are. Yeah, I’m so, so glad you’re s So I I not not from the time I was a kid, But let’s say the time I was in my 20. So, like, like many people, I’ve always loved animals. Um, I did not for CIA career, the career that I’m in at all. In fact, I pursued academia. So I I got a PhD in English with a specialty on persuasive communication in writing. So I was a writing professor for almost 20 years. But along the way, I was volunteering at local shelters. I was, um, you know, living with with companion animals. And I was doing a lot of reading and very active in the social and environmental justice movements. And there were a couple books. I read that for me were, you know, huge Ah ha moments where I just started connecting the dots between the way we our with our environment and each other and different kinds of oppression and the way we treat animals. Honest. It’s this Ah, systemic level. Sorry, institutional level. And one day I read a book that talked a lot about factory farming, and that was pretty much it. I, you know, from that moment on, I just really felt like a calling clicked into place. And I thought of this anyway, for me ever to make a career change. I want to do that. And it took about 10 years of really volunteering with lots of different organizations stalking the Web job pages on the Web sites of all sorts of organizations to see what was out there and who was hiring. Um, I asked for informational interviews with leaders in the movement, asked if they would meet me for coffee or talk on the phone and tell me about how they got to where they are and what they’re doing. So 10 years of that, and by the time I applied for this job, I had talked to four different HSUS State directors. Yeah, all of you know, a country, generous people who gave up their time to tell me their story. And I knew if this job ever opened up, I I thought I would be a good fit for it. I would definitely apply, and and that’s sort of what happened. And I like, I say, I got really, really lucky because, um, I was sort of I was not counting out of her working full time in this field, But I did know that even if I stayed in a in a university setting, my whole life, my heart and mind would belong to the animals, and I would do whatever I could on the weekends in the evenings to make a difference for them. Because that’s my calling. That’s amazing. What a great story. Now, you mentioned that the book really kind of the book that you rather the studies that you’re doing on factory farming really kind of change your perspective. Was there anybody or an organization that really inspired you to get more involved? Yes. So I want to say, this is embarrassing, that I’m not gonna remain it. Remember it? But there are books there. A couple of books have similar titles. Diet for a small planet diet for a new world diet for a new America. They’re all and I’ve read them all. And one of those, the one written by John Robbins, will have to go back and look at it. But it was his book where he talked about factory farming and he talked about the dairy industry in particular. Um, that was what really galvanized me and from there, And this is thanks to the web, right? Thanks to the Internet, I could just saturate my son, learn everything I could about farm sanctuary, pita, humane society, United States being an outreach All the big A s P c A. You know, you name it all the big national organizations and really understand how their philosophies differ and how their approaches differ because they are doing complementary kinds of work. But they really are each unique. And then there’s all the smaller organizations to learn about. So I will say it was a fascinating journey and one that I recommend anybody who’s interested in a career in this movement. Whatever you’re doing right now, Um, don’t just wait for that perfect job to come up. Definitely start learning right away. Study The organization’s volunteer, in turn, talked to folks Just really get out there and be proactive because then when the right job opens up, you’ll be ready to sell yourself and walk right in and do a terrific job. Hopefully, yeah, so So now you’re four years end some. I’m curious. Tell us what a day in your life is like. Yes. So one thing I love about this job is that no day is predictable and no day is ever ever the same. So there are certain things I can I can reliably count on in my job one is is that state legislation will always be a priority. So that means I am a registered lobbyist at the Wisconsin Capitol. I am the lobbyist for HSUS. It’s the only lobbying I do is un are our organizations animal protection priorities? Um, so when they when the Legislature’s in session, I am there three days a week, four days a week, talking with people looking out for bills that might harm animals and promoting our bills that we leave will protect animals. Aside from that, it could be anything it could be welcoming a planeload of dogs to Wisconsin from a dog meat farm in Korea that we’ve helped shut down. And we’re bringing the dogs here toe really spotlight that industry and and, uh, help the dogs find new homes. That could be that it could be traveling around to communities throughout Wisconsin who want to learn about non lethal ways of managing their wildlife conflicts, like with deer or beaver or, um, uh, geese is another big one in Wisconsin. It could be, uh, you know, giving a talk about community cats, you know, just just responding to complaints, working on horse issues. It’s it’s endless So if you just think of all the animals in Wisconsin really my dad, any day, it’s like So what is going on today? What needs work and and oftentimes pivoting hsus? My colleagues in D. C, most of whom are specialists in what they do. And I’m a generalist and saying, Hey, Predator protection people, there is a bill that just came up in the Wisconsin Legislature that is really bad for wolves. This is the bill. It will take a look at it. Let’s figure out what we’re gonna do and plan our strategy. So it’s a lot of communicating with D. C. And then a lot of communicating here in the state, some guessing your background and persuasive writing comes in handy. It does is surprisingly. You know what I do a lot of money on when we all be right. Like it’s all about emailing these days. But writing testimony, um, drafting letter letter to the editors for, um, publication that my volunteers might submit that I might submit, um, trying to get people to meet with me and, um, show that I am a trustworthy, useful, friendly person and when they might be skeptical of hsus, explaining that I am not our local shelter, that I say like I sometimes joke. That’s 40% of my pie chart sets explaining books that I am not an read at the Wisconsin Humane Society. Milwaukee and I love and read. They do great work there, but the local shelters. As you heard in our origin story, they have a different mission. My organization works closely with them, but we are separate. And, um, and there is, of course, as you know, Chris, there’s plenty of work to go around, so it’s not like none of us are twiddling our phones on any given day. Yeah, it sounds like a lot of your job is education. Yes, that is very perceptive. And I would say accurate. A lot of it is education either about who we are and what we do, or more often about a particular animal issue and, um, what’s actually at stake and what the options are. I mean, there are you We all know this more people on the planet than ever before building in the wild spaces were eating more because there are more of us are cars or on the highways that We’re having interactions with animals there. We have animals in our home, so there’s a lot going on. And I would say it’s It’s an incredibly exciting time to be an animal advocate and to be a professional in this field. So I’m I’m and I think your podcast is a sign of the times. There are a lot there’s last to talk about. There’s lots of people who are interested, and I’m so grateful that this form exists. And kudos to you for getting the word out there. Well, thanks. So I’m curious. I mean, I’m sure the issues change, and but what are the top issues right now that you’re working on for Wisconsin animals in particular? First of all, I’ll say, for your listeners who don’t know, Wisconsin has one of the longer legislative sessions in the country. Um, our sessions using a session is like a school year. It’s a chunk of time, or legislature agrees to meet, and then they will disband. They will have elections, they will come back, is a slightly new group, and they’ll do it all over again. So a session for us is usually a year and 1/2 long compared to some states that meet first, say, just four months, they might need every two years. We we meet a year and 1/2 on six months off, a year and half on. So it’s quite a long period of time and right now and I should say so. Our sessions beginning, Um, the I I number January of odd numbered years so we started in January of this year will end sometime next spring. So we’re sort of coming into the last third bit of the Legislature when bills that have been waiting to get through are now really lob jamming their like, clamoring for attention. Everybody wants their issues done. And I’m in the capital in a friendly way, jacking for position, saying, Hey, we really need to get you know, this done for animals this session. We cannot wait until 2019 to deal with this issue. So all that said our two bills are are that so First is, Ah, exotic animal possession. Wisconsin is now one of four states where you or I, or any average citizen could own any kind of pet we want. So in Wisconsin you do see people owning tigers alligators, all different kinds of primates for pets. And this isn’t not only an animal welfare issue but a public safety issue. In many cases, it’s a tragedy waiting to happen, so but it’s an underground problem, as hard to convince legislators exists until there is a tragedy or a big incident of some kind on, and we’ve seen that happen in other states where something major happens, it gets the Legislature’s attention and boom. They’ve got their a very rigorous state. Law hasn’t happened in Wisconsin yet, and I’ve been trying to convince our legislators to be proactive. The 2nd 1 is a tough issue, and I only say a little bit about it, and it has to do with an upgrade to our sexual abuse of animals. Law, Um, some people know it is beast reality. So in Wisconsin, uh, this is a thing. It is sadly a thing, and it is also an underground issue, But there are thousands of people who engage in this activity. Um, we know about it mostly through, um, websites where people solicit and meat. And, you know, I won’t say more than that, but it’s an issue. It’s an issue in the thousands. And so this is something that law enforcement actually came to us and asked us if we would have legislation or a model legislation. And we do, because other states are passing bills passing laws on this issue. Um, so So this is one right now. Wisconsin has an extraordinarily weak, weak law on based reality. It’s essentially a misdemeanor, and the activity has to be so specific that it’s quite easy for people to do all sorts of bad stuffed animals and get away with it because it’s not illegal. The law. We’ve proposed a gold standard. It’s really terrific. Um, we’ll get through this session yet I’m not sure. So how can people help you work in? And you know people that are listening to this saying I want to help. That’s crazy that Wisconsin still doesn’t have this. What could they do? Yes, yes, well, the thank you so much for that question, because the reality is is that even though I work for this large animal protection organization, I can cast nothing on my own. Legislators listen to their constituents, and so I’m what I’m always trying to do. And this is education again. it’s it’s take our bills and pivot to the public and say, Here’s this bill we’re proposing Here’s why it matters. Please contact your state senator and representatives. So the main thing is to is to shed any prejudice about I’m not gonna get involved in, um, you know, calling Madison and asking for change because it won’t make a difference. Drop that. It does make a difference. Your calls and emails do matter, and I should say very specifically, they matter most when you’re contacting the people who represent you. So for years I was a petition signer, and I still sign every petition that shows up in my inbox with them stoop superstitious. But I also know that if I’m signing a petition about something in Idaho or Florida, my name is not worth nearly as much. It may not be worth anything as if I email or call or actually show up to the capital and talk with my state senator and my representative. The power there is exponential. So everybody, I would say, believe in the political process, the legislative process. Figure out who your state senator and representative are. If you don’t know how to do that. I am more than happy to help and and just start connecting and making those calls on it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it helps me tremendously. So I want I want toe touch on that because one of the things I think and you play see this more than I do is it seems intimidating. Great. I’m gonna call my state legislator, and they don’t know me where they’re gonna listen to me. How do you help people toe understand how simple it is and the fact that they they want to hear from? You mean what? What should I expect if I pick up the phone and I call Jim Sensenbrenner who’s, you know, my state representative actually in d. C. But if I call a state legislator, what are they going to say? Yes, Yes, That is a really great question of the first thing to know is you’re almost 100%. Certainly not going to get Jim Sensenbrenner or anybody else any actual legislator on the phone. The person of the people who answer the phone. Our staffers some of them have been in the building, you know, either into the in D. C. Or here in Madison for a long time. Others air right at college and you know they are. They’re friendly, they’re accessible, They’re not intimidating. Many of them are young and eager to do a good job, and and they want to know what you think and they’re not expecting. They are expecting you to be a constituent. If you meet that criteria, you’re good. They’re not expecting you to be an expert on the bill that you’re calling about. So there’s going on to win that. I was gonna ask you, do any toe wait for a bill that’s a unaware of to say, Hey, I’m letting you know I support this bill. That’s a great moment to do it. You do not need to wait. I mean, if it is absolutely a good thing to cultivate a relationship with your lawmakers on DSA simply to say my name’s Chris, I live in your district. I care enormously about animal protection. In fact, it’s one of the top issues that I vote on, and I think about when I go to the ballot box and I really would like you to take any animal protection bills that come your way Very seriously. The session that right there is enormously helpful to the movement in our in our efforts in the state. Yeah, that’s good. I like the way you made. It’s very simple, right? It just takes a second. I’m not having to understand the particular bill. You know, act like I know what I’m talking about. I’m just saying, Listen, this is something I’m passionate about, and I want you to take it seriously, and I think the way you say to that is very simple. And it could be an email takes two seconds. We all right? Probably dozens or hundreds of emails a day. Yeah, they consent an email that could do a phone call. They can write a letter. Like you said, if they really feel like and they’re in the state capital, they can stop by and say hello. Yes, exactly. And I will tell you, you just summarize it probably And that I will tell you now that I have spent four years in the capital. Um, legislators hear from constituents, mainly when they’re pissed. Excuse the language. When they’re mad, they caught. They get yelled at for, you know, Why are you doing that? Set it up politeness and thank you. And, you know, Please keep this in mind. And here’s the other secret. They care about animals too. Almost all these folks, when I go actually visit with legislators themselves, they’re showing me pictures on their phone or their grand dogs or their cats or everybody as animals. Everybody loves animals. So it’s a great It’s a great common bond we all have. That doesn’t necessarily mean that, um, we’re all gonna agree on specific legislation, but that bond is a place to start. And friendliness is always a place to start. Yeah, so I want to change gears a little bit. So somebody’s listening to this and saying Melissa like, I want to be You write. This is this is a role I want to do. What advice would you give them on how to get started? Yeah, well, the first thing I would say is that, um and this is really important to hear If you want to be me, I e If you want to be an HSUS state director, you should know that the dozens of us who currently hold this job come from enormously different backgrounds and a normal were enormously different ages. So the youngest of us, I think, is 28. The old of oldest of us is in her early sixties. We are lawyers and writers and former animal sheltering professionals. Are degrees are all over the map were graphic designers, and and what what we all share in common is we were able to persuasively convinced Hsus that our skills or transferrable to this role and there’s there’s just there’s so many different kinds of people who construccion beautifully as an HSUS state director, um, the and the other thing I would say is, is not just be able to make a case that your skills are transferable, but along the way, while you’re in school or you’re working in another career, be sure to build up the secondary resume, which is a resume of animal protection work. Volunteer work and leadership work as much as possible. So while I was a professor, I was also president of the Board of Alliance for Animals, and I was helping to start the Four Lakes Wildlife Center, and I was wasn’t doing those things just to get a job at a just us I was doing those things is an expression of my passion for animals. So But by the time the HSUS job came up, I had this long list. I could you know, that I had put my money where my mouth was. I walk the walk, you know, here’s everything I’ve done and I’m gonna keep doing this work whether you hire me or not. But I sure hope you hire me. So I would say to There are a lot of people out there and I myself at the top of the list here in Wisconsin. It would be super happy to talk with you if you’re interested in having a career and animal protection. I’m happy to have coffee with you. If you’re far away, I can, you know, come visit you and I’m in town or weaken talk on the phone. There’s nothing I love to do more than help the next generation of animal protection professional really come into their own and start to lead the way because we need you. Well, your passion is definitely exhilarating. I can feel the passion coming through. So So is there anything else? Most of that you wanted to share with our listeners. Um, I just want to say that again, Chris, and I know I’m sort of turning a backhand you, but I am super grateful. This opportunity exists for so many different, um, advocates and Wisconsin to come forward and talk about our work. So thank you into your listeners. If you would like to know more and get involved with our hsus work in Wisconsin, we have a number of volunteer leadership positions available. Um, those involved working on local ordinances that protect animals and state legislation. If you get trained to do this work, you’d be working with me. And if you just want to get involved in a lower kit Qiwei we have those opportunities available is Well, um, there just there lots of chances to plug in with HSUS. And there’s big work to do in this state. So we need your help. Um, I am at Wisconsin at hsus dot org. And, yes, I love to hear from from anybody out there and best of luck to all of you listening on your animal protection journey. Well, thank you so much, Melissa, for coming on the program and sharing your background. We appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure. Chris, thank you so much. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast if you’re not already a member, joined the Air P A. To take advantage of all the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign up with do bert dot com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.
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