Episode 18 with Kari Nienstedt of Humane Society of United States

Kari Nienstedt of Humane Society of United States


Roger: Episode 18. It’s been a little while since we broadcast today. I’m very excited to have Kari Nienstedt, the Arizona State Director of the Humane Society. Did I get your name right?
Kari: You actually, surprisingly, got my last name right and my first name wrong, which is the exact opposite of what normally happens. Kari Nienstedt.
Roger: Very good, very good. Kari, thank you for joining, first of all. I appreciate you taking time out of your day. We had some fun getting the Google Hangout going here. Now we’re here. I’m vegan. I’ve been vegan for about two years now, my wife and I. We got to Joe Hernandez and he introduced you and I and thought that it would be really interesting for us to talk and just get more into what’s happening in Arizona, in specific, and then around the country in regards to animal treatment and things that the humane society is up to. First, I really wanted to launch into just learning more about who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Kari: Great. I’m happy to be here with you. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Basically, I got involved with animal protection a long time ago. It was not through the traditional route that most people go through, the cats and dogs. Of course, we’ve always had cats and dogs, and I’ve always loved them. I got involved through farm animal protection which is sort of unusual for most people. I found about factory farming and how these intensive confinement of farm animals how really horrific it is. I went vegetarian and got involved with other types of animal protections through the farm animals angle which was a fun thing for me because I got to see the full spectrum right away rather starting with cats and dogs, and then adding in other animals as I go because I think that happens a lot.
Roger: Sure, sure. Where are you from?
Kari: From Phoenix, born and raised here, one of the few.
Roger: Actually, it’s interesting. I would say the majority of people I’ve interviewed for Desert Standard have been natives.
Kari: Really? Great. That’s awesome.
Roger: Did you grow up on a farm? How did you find your way towards farm animals and advocacy?
Kari: Not at all. I grew up right here in downtown Phoenix basically, the city of Phoenix. My extensive experience with farm animals was the petting zoo. That was my full extent with that, and of course, my meals through a more unfortunate connection. I got involved because one year my sister gave me a book called Sixty-Seven Ways to Save The Animals. We loved our cats and dogs, like I said. This is great. Help Fluffy.
I was sitting at ASU, I was going to ASU at the time, and I was sitting down. It was first experience with factory farming. They introduced me to factory farming through that book. I was stunned. I was shocked that this wasn’t on the front page of the newspaper every day, that more people weren’t screaming and shouting about it. I was just floored. I realized that from that moment on I realized things really need to change. These animals are deserving of our protection. We need to help make their lives better in any way that we can.
Roger: Okay, okay. Then, you decided you were going to go to college for animal protection degree? I’m assuming they don’t have that degree. Did you go to school to focus on this?
Kari: No, no. Actually, at the time I was going to school for business management. I realized that was not the direction I wanted to go in life. I ended up doing an internship at Farm Sanctuary which is a national nonprofit animal protection agency for farm animals. That was it. I was hooked. I was like advocacy is the way to go. This is what I need to do. I need to stand up for the animals in any what that I can. I became a volunteer for Farm Sanctuary for quite a while.
Through them, I got involved in a ballot initiative here in Arizona. I had been doing fundraisers and public education and all sorts of other types of advocacy along the way. They said, “Let’s do a ballot initiative here in Arizona,” a group of locals and national groups and a bunch of different people got together and decided this is something that we can really do here in Arizona. We worked on a ballot initiative, a citizen’s initiative, to ban veal crates and gestation crates in the state of Arizona. The vote was in 2006, and it passed by a wide majority which was awesome.
They had asked me to be the campaign manager for that because I had been doing a ton of volunteer work and advocacy on behalf of these issues and they wanted me to be campaign manager. I was kind of shocked. I loved it. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done and the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. It was great.
Roger: Very cool. Then, what brought you to Humane Society then?
Kari: Human Society of the United States was one of the major backers of that campaign. They were really involved in that issue and have been a leader on that issue over the years, so I got to know them. I basically had a two-year job interview with them. At the end of the it, I didn’t expect anything to really come out of it. I thought the end of the campaign was the end of the campaign. They offered me a job and I was stunned and flattered and jumped at the chance. I couldn’t be in a more perfect job for myself. I’m thrilled with it. I love it.
Roger: Very cool, very cool. Now I don’t want to get too far down this road, but there are some people in the animals rights community who they get a little upset sometimes I think with some of the idea of making it more humane for the animals in these situations and that abolition is the only stance that we should be taking. I sympathize with that, but there’re steps. We can’t just always jump to the final conclusion. We have to kind of … How do you handle that conversation and try bring people back down or keep working with all these people that are so passionate?
Kari: Sure. I do understand. I understand people who see the suffering going on and feel this intense need to stop it completely immediately. Unfortunately, we live in a reality where that’s not going to happen. We need to make sure that we are looking at the reality of the world around us, and these animals are suffering and we would like to help alleviate that suffering right now. one way that we can do that is through some of these reform measures. We can help alleviate that suffering.
Sorry, no interview with me would be complete without the dog barking in the background. Of course, the UPS guy shows up right now. It’s a tough issue for some people. Really, the Human Society of the United States is a big tent organization. We have vegans. We have meat eaters. We have farmers. We have activists. We have a whole range of people and we’re all working to improve this world for animals. I’m pretty happy for the way that we do this because our mission statement is celebrating animals, confronting cruelties. It’s a pretty broad mission statement, but it does include all animals. It includes cats and dogs. It includes pigs and goats. It includes wildlife, marine animals, animals around the world.
We do have campaigns that people who don’t want to work on reform but want to work on more direct action type stuff like Meatless Mondays, encouraging people to choose meatless meals on Mondays, or things like that. I think there’s a bit of something for everybody in the work [Inaudible 00:08:51].
Roger: Okay, okay, very cool. Specifically, I think one of the things that very exciting that’s coming up is a week from today, actually, the Humane Society is organizing an entire day lobbying event, getting volunteers down, educating the volunteers about the lobbying process. I’ve just started looking into this stuff, and I’m doing the webinar tomorrow night. I’m already intimidated, love to heard more about how this stuff comes about, why you choose this specific Tuesday, and how people can get involved, and how difficult is it to really pull this stuff off, just go with it and tell me about this.
Kari: I’m happy to. That is probably the number one I hear about Humane Lobby Days, that people are intimidated. That is really the reason why people don’t get in touch with their legislators. They don’t talk to them because they don’t know how to talk to them, they don’t know when, they don’t what to talk about, they don’t know the rules of the game. We need so badly to speak up for the animals at our state legislators, at the Federal level, even the city level. There are so many different ways that we can really move the ball forward for animals through the legislative process and the political process.
The idea behind Human Lobby Day is to get people who care about animals to come together and speak with one voice on behalf of the animals. We give everybody all of the information on how a bill becomes a law. We try to do that beforehand. Let people know the process, like you mentioned the webinars, that’s one of the things that we do is to get people to understand the big picture of things. I’m telling you, I have rewatched the old I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill thing from School House Rock. It is really accurate. If anyone hasn’t seen it for a while, which most of us haven’t, go back and check it out because it really helps you understand the process and helps you understand it’s a long road for a bill to become a law.
The idea behind Humane Lobby Day, get folks involved, help them develop relationships with their legislators and their elected officials so that they can then continue to speak up for the animals from now on. We want people to be involved in this process. We want to have a powerful voice on behalf of the animals. This is one way that we can do it.
In terms of why we do it. I get questions a lot, we should be doing this on a weekend because I have to work on a Tuesday, which I understand and I know that people have to take the day off work. It’s a huge commitment. We’re thrilled that so many people make that commitment, but we do need to have it during the week because we need to do it when the legislators are there.
Roger: Sure.
Kari: We want to come to their work and knock on their doors and have them pay attention. The beautiful thing is that it has a huge impact. As I mentioned, not just on animal issues, on every issue, people don’t necessarily know the process on how to get involved in the political process. Not a lot of people do, so when we do, when we come down there with a show of force when we have a strong group of people, professional, articulate, we go down there and people sit up and pay attention. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve heard over and over from people down at the capitol that this is a really impressive show of support for the animal protection issues. It’s wonderful.
Roger: Very cool. How many people are you expecting or are you hoping will be showing up?
Kari: I’m very excite because this year I think we’re going to have our biggest year yet. Last year we had a total of about 120 people, which when you think these are people who come from all over the state including Yuma, Flagstaff, Tucson, they come from all over the state and they spend the entire day. They take the day off work to spend the entire day down at the capitol with us. It’s a huge effort. This year, I think we’re going to have more than that. I think we’ll probably have maybe 150 people, maybe more. I’m really excited. It’s a great opportunity and it’s a lot of fun.
We make appointments for each attendee with each of their three legislators. You have two members in the state House and one member in the state Senate. We will make those appointments. You will go with people from your district, so you don’t go alone, so all the people from district 10 go together. You will all talk about the same bills. We provide you with fact sheets on those bills. Basically, we call them meet-and-greets. You’re there to meet your legislator face-to-face and provide them information on animal protection bills that are currently being run at the state legislature. These are not ideas. These are concrete bills that they can have impact on.
That’s another question I get a lot is people say, “I want to talk to them about prairie dogs,” and “I want to talk to them about pigs,” and “I want to talk to them about parrots.” That’s wonderful. I love it, but wee hope that people continue that conversation after Humane Lobby Day. On Humane Lobby Day we really want to speak with one voice on specific bills that are moving. There’s a chance that we might have a bill actually heard on Humane Lobby Day which will be super cool.
Roger: Wow. What bills currently are you most excited about or are you most fervent talking about?
Kari: We have about five bills that we’re following pretty closely that would be great steps forward. Not all of them are really earthshaking changes, but that tends to not happen at the legislature. You don’t tend to get one bill that does it all with a nice little bow on it. You take baby steps and you keep moving the ball forward. Some of them are really quite good.
One of the bills would ban animal ownership for people who are convicted of extreme animal abuse for a certain number of years. There’s a current ban on the sale of animals on city streets, Wal-Mart parking lots, etcetera in the counties of Maricopa and Pima. There’s a bill that would extend that ban statewide which is important because those animals are often not spayed and neutered, not vaccinated, etcetera, etcetera.
Roger: Sure.
Kari: There is a bill that would add animal fighting to the RICO crimes which would be great because that kicks in a whole bunch of other penalties. There’s a bill that would ban live animals as prizes in carnivals. Kids come home at 10:00 at night with a baby bunny and the family’s like what am I going to do with this. It would ban that. Then, the last one is a really important one it would include commercial dog breeders in the standards of care that pet stores are currently required to adhere to. Currently. There are not regulations for commercial dog breeders at all outside of the cruelty statute. This would create a definition for commercial breeders, and then add them into the pet dealer statute so that they would have to adhere to some very minimum standards of care such as not keeping dogs on wire flooring 24 hours a days or things like that.
Roger: Okay, okay, seems pretty reasonable.
Kari: They’re all very reasonable bills, definitely. Like I said, we’re not going to get anything through there that’s on the state legislature that’s really totally earth shattering.
Roger: It is still Arizona at the end of the day.
Kari: Right, right.
Roger: That’s very exciting. That’s a week from today. Can people still sign up and get involved with this? What’s the cutoff time and date?
Kari: The cutoff for online registration is this Thursday. I would love it if people could sign up before this Thursday. After that, just seeing this or hearing about it you can email me directly, arizona@humanesociety.org, and I can get you on the list. Because we’re making appointments for everyone, we create little name tags and personalized agendas, and all that kind of stuff, we do need as much notice as possible. That’s why we do the cutoff on Thursday.
Roger: Then, there’s webinar tomorrow night, and then I think the final one’s on Saturday.
Kari: Correct.
Roger: How important is it that people attend webinars and get that information?
Kari: I think it’s very important personally because the first webinar, the one that we’re having tomorrow night, is how a bill becomes a law. It gives you really that background understanding of when you’re looking at these bills that we’re talking about where are they in the process and what does your legislator, how can they impact that and how can you impact that. That gives you sense of the bigger picture. Then, the webinar on Saturday, we’re going to go over those bills that I mentioned. We’re going to go over them in more detail, who are the bills sponsors, and what do these bills do, and what are some likely questions that you’ll get.
Generally, the meetings are super short. It’s a lot of handshaking and smiling and that’s about it. Occasionally, some of the legislators will be more interested and want to hear a little bit more about the bills. We do provide fact sheets so no one has to feel like they’re completely on the spot. If you don’t know you can just hand them the fact sheet or they can always refer people to me if there are further questions. Some people like to have more of an understanding of the bills that they’re talking about just to be safe, more comfortable with it.
Roger: Okay, okay. That’s very exciting. It’s Arizona. People can actually get out and … it sounds like this is a lot more impressive and a much bigger show of force than just going on to Creedo or Facebook and hitting like and putting your signature in.
Kari: Yes, it is huge. I’m telling you, like I said, people never come down to the capitol. Sierra Club has their environmental day. There are other groups that have their days. In general, regular folks, don’t tend to go down to the capitol and hang out there a lot. It’s a big deal. I remember not last year but the year before there’s a security guy that I know down there, and he pulls me aside and he goes, “Your people are everywhere.” I’m like, “Yes, they are.” It kind of surprises people.
Because we’re a professional bunch I think that we get a stereotype a lot of times of crazy animal rights activists sort of a thing. The animal protection advocates that come to the capitol are a respectable bunch. We’re articulate. We care deeply about these issues and we vote.
Roger: Yes, yes, we do. Jumping to the Federal level, there’s been some interesting … things have changed in just the last couple of days. Do you want to talk about those a little bit, like the King amendment and some other things I think it was in the farm bill or something along those lines?
Kari: Yeah, it’s huge news. The Federal farm bill gets worked on about every five years. This time around there was a terrible amendment added by Representative Steve King from Iowa. Basically, one of the things that could’ve preempted was the ballot initiative that we worked on here in Arizona, the one that [Inaudible 00:20:22] veal crates and gestation crates. It basically preempted state’s rights on agricultural issues. It was an awful bill. It could have taken away California’s the battery cage bill because they passed a bill with gestation crates, veal crates, and battery cages which are the intensive confinement for egg laying hens. It could’ve done away with a large number of animal protection bills across the country. It was terribly over broad. It was poorly written. It was just not a good thing, and it was something that if it had passed would’ve just been a disaster. It would’ve been a disaster. We had a tough battle on that one, to get that one off of the farm bill. We found out yesterday that it was removed which is … a collective rejoicing of the animal protection movement across the country were so excited that that’s off of there.
The other thing that was included in the farm bill which is another just huge news for us is spectatorship at animal fights would be, it’s been included as a Federal crime. What was happening is animal fights are illegal. There was a Federal law. However, when there’s a raid on an animal fight everyone sort of steps back and says, “Not my dog, I’m just watching.” It’s really hard unless you’ve been doing a lot of surveillance and if you catch people, literally, red handed. It’s really hard to follow through on some of those cases sometimes. Saying that it’s a Federal crime to be a spectator at an animal fight would be fantastic. It’s great news all around. We’re pretty excited. Last night was a great night.
Roger: Very cool. Are there any things coming up on the Federal level that we should be aware, that we should be reaching out to our senators and our congressmen and women about, and maybe even the president about for 2014 or even 2015?
Kari: I’m sure there are. I don’t have the most current list in front of me, so I apologize.
Roger: That’s okay.
Kari: Luckily, we have a sister organization that does a tremendous amount of work on Federal issues. You can just go to HSLF.org, which is Humane Society legislative fund dot org. it’s a 501(c)(4) organization, separate from our organization; 501 (c)(3), is a nonprofit that we can’t lobby for or against candidates, so we have strict guidelines of the lobbying work that we do. We can lobby on issues, but we can’t lobby for candidates. HSLF is our sister organization that does more of the politics.
Roger: Very exciting. As far as getting in touch with you, getting in touch with Humane Society, what are the best ways if people want to get involved or if they have an issues that they want to raise to your attention? What’s the best avenue for them to get in contact with you?
Kari: Email. I’m always on email, arizona@humanesociety.org. That comes straight to me. You can also use my first initial and last name, but trying to spell out Nienstedt is like … forget it. That’s one of the reasons why [Inaudible 00:23:47] goes just make the state name. People can do that. We have or Facebook page. People can always post on there. Email’s the best way to get a hold of me because I’m always on it. I’m always happy to answer questions on any of this. I love it when people ask me questions about the political process or how they can involved or things like that because the more we have people involved in this the better. We want people speaking up for the animals. It’s just so very important. It makes my day when I get those emails. Definitely, please don’t hesitate.
Roger: If people cannot make it on Tuesday because they have to work, should they call their legislators’ office? What’s the best secondary option and action to take?
Kari: Yup, that’s a great way to do it. You can call your legislators’ office and just say, “I wasn’t able to make it down to Humane Lobby Day and I would love to voice my support for animal protection issues.” If you’d like more specifics on how do you find out who your legislators are or what bills should you talk about, or anything like that, I’m happy to provide people with that information.
Roger: Very go, very good. That’s about what I have. I set this time aside, and I didn’t want to take you away from your day too much. I know you have a big busy week coming up next week. Is there anything else you wanted to mention or anybody in particular you wanted to give a shout-out to or anything along those lines?
Kari: I think one of the things, something that’s really special this year for Humane Lobby Day is we’re actually having our president CEO, Wayne Pacelle, coming to join us which is a rare treat and I’m really excited to have him joining us. He’ll be our guest speaker. We’re going to be awarding two humane legislator awards for some great work that’s been done last year, and then they’re continuing their great work this year, one to Senator Steve Farley and one to Representative John Kavanagh. We’re really excited to publicly thank them for their great work to protect animals.
It’s going to be a great time. Even if you can’t attend, please get in touch with me and I’m happy to add you to my list, keep you involved. I have a monthly-ish list that I send out about dates and let people know what’s going on and things like that. I’m always happy to add people to that.
Roger: Perfect, perfect. That’s about what I have today, so I really appreciate you taking the time. I’m going to put all your information on the website so if people want to get in touch with you they’ll be able to reach out to you.
Kari: Great. Thank you so much.
Roger: All right, Kari. Thank you very much.