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Kinship Circle Column runs monthly in The Healthy Planet. Ms. Shoss is also a contributing writer for VegNews, AnimalsVoice Online, Family Safety and Health Magazine and other publications.


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By Brenda Shoss

Be Their Voice: Essence Of A Compelling Letter

Five years ago I was quietly single with a hunky beau and four companion animals. One day, The Boyfriend suggested that we pile his three children and my two canine kids into an RV to travel the Northeast coast. Warning: If this extraordinary notion takes hold of your senses, pack plenty of air freshener and earplugs.

But this enterprising guy, now my husband, had another idea. "Why don't we stop by Farm Sanctuary? We'll be near Watkins Glen [New York]." Our first trip to Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit haven dedicated to the rescue and protection of farmed animals, launched yearly treks. We even married there, under a chuppa of wildflowers, with those big lovely critters at our reception.

During my initial visit, I met a handful of East coast activists who would become the core of Kinship Circle. Today we are a nonprofit organization that generates letter campaigns to legislators, private industry, the media, and other institutions linked with animal cruelty and protection issues. Subscribers receive sample letters in their email box every week. They may personalize the text or send letters as written.

Kinship Circle also publishes informative literature, coordinates regional demonstrations, and speaks at conferences, schools and other public forums. We even offer a line of animal-friendly attire. Still, letter campaigns remain the heart of the Circle.

Kinship campaigns in 2003 helped place animal abusers behind bars, prompt government agencies to manage wildlife without killing it, stop a Texas bill from legalizing the nation's only two horse slaughterhouses, propel companies to utilize non-animal research modes, and kill a bill to throw investigators in jail for photographing without permission inside Missouri puppy mills.

Whether you are a voice for animals, children, human rights, health concerns, environmental issues, civil justice, political freedom or world hunger—your letters are a direct line of communication with the decisionmakers. The following "nuts and bolts" of a compelling letter equip you with the tools to be heard.

Identify why the reader should consider your point of view. Begin letters to legislators with "As a registered voter in your district." When addressing private industry write, "As a consumer" or "As a potential tourist." If feasible, express your unique link to the issue. For instance, a parent might write: "As a mother I would like to buy your line of diapers and lotions, but I do not feel confident using items determined safe in animal tests. Every year over 50 percent of animal-tested goods are recalled or relabeled due to harmful repercussions in people."

In the concluding paragraph, reidentify yourself: "My family would be pleased to purchase your products and suggest them to our friends when company switches from outmoded animal tests to tenable non-animal research methods."

Clearly assert your main message within the first few paragraphs and reiterate the call-to-action in your conclusion. For example, in letters to a district attorney regarding an animal abuse case, request prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, with the maximum jail sentence and fine, along with mandatory psychological counseling. Urge litigators to order the defendant to be prohibited from owning or harboring animals.

As a constituent ask your legislators to cosponsor or vote favorably for a pending bill. Or persuade them to oppose a bill's language that is detrimental to your cause. "I am pleased to learn that the Downed Animal Protection Act has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. As a registered voter in each of your districts, I hope I can count on you to cosponsor H.R. 2519 and S. 1298, respectively, to ban the routine practice of beating, bulldozing, shocking and dragging disabled animals from stockyards to slaughterhouses.

Letters to other government agencies—such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), or National Institutes of Health (NIH)—should stress the wasteful use of taxpayer dollars along with your call to action.

In letters to private industry, use your leverage as a consumer to initiate industry-wide reforms. "While I have found your company to be a reliable source for merchandise, my family will no longer purchase goods from one of the largest fur distributors in the U.S. We hope you will join the many ethically responsible retailers that have implemented a store-wide ban on fur products."

Know the key points and refer to verified facts from news stories or credible investigations. Refrain from accusations based upon hearsay. When applicable, propose alternatives to the negative situation. To argue against the use of animals in medical research and product testing, encourage recipients to evolve with the most proficient and humane technologies available. Mention the fact that many facilities now fulfill study requirements with non-animal research tools such as in vitro analysis, cell imaging, epidemiology, computer and mathematical modeling, advanced MRI imaging, etc.

When writing about lethal wildlife programs, suggest humane management options for the species in question. Rather than sharpshoot "nuisance" deer, for example, agencies can combine fence or mesh-netting systems with repellent plants or resistive edge that deer find unappetizing. If you write regularly, save facts for fingertip access. An animal rights activist might file statistics and quotes under vivisection, companion animals, animals in entertainment, wildlife, farmed animals and other major categories.

Kinshipper Jamini Tolpin stores letter templates and fax numbers for her government representatives. "That way I can quickly type in the letter and start emailing and faxing," she says. "I just love to let these people know that we are aware of what is happening. We disagree and we are willing to say so."

Yes, you are outraged and may feel powerless. Do not use letters to vent. Accusatory statements and vulgar references will only alienate the legislative aide or office receptionist who likely screens all correspondence. You want readers to feel something other than an urge to clobber you. Ultimately, your words can prompt them to see the situation through the eyes of the victim.

It is imperative that letters reach the right people Use a letter service such as Kinship Circle for researched contact information. Or type key words into a search engine for links to reliable advocacy groups that produce action alerts.

High school English teacher Tom Wehling taught me how to present a logical argument, from thesis to topic paragraphs to conclusion. Letters crafted in this classic essay style, along with correct grammar and spelling, are more convincing.

Do not ramble. Giant blocks of run-on text are intimidating. Compose like a journalist in concise paragraphs that fit on the front side of a letter-size sheet. Use the standard letter format (even when emailing) with the recipient's name/address in the upper left corner, followed by the salutation and body of the letter. Always sign letters with your full name and address.

Finally, put a stamp on it. Emailed letters take less time, but postal delivery gains the most attention. Faxed letters rate second on the impact hierarchy. Whatever your venue, keep writing. Countless animals and other victims need you.

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