1. Please share a little about yourself and how you wound up working for HSUS.
I grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, but my family spent lots of time Wisconsin. I quickly fell in love with the state and knew I wanted to make it my home someday. In my early 30s, after finishing my Ph.D. in English, I landed a job at the University of Wisconsin and started volunteering at the Dane County Humane Society and the Alliance for Animals. Pretty soon it became clear that I had a new north star in my life -- helping animals as much as possible. It's a dream come true to work for the Humane Society of the United States in a state that I love so much.
2. When did you start and what are your primary duties as WI state director?
My first official day on the job was February 10, so I'm something of a rookie. That said, because I've been an active animal advocate in Wisconsin for quite awhile I feel ready to jump right in! My primary duties as Wisconsin State Director include helping to advance animal-friendly legislation and building a humane network among the many, many Wisconsinites who care deeply about animals.
3. Any pressing or hot issues that you’re jumping on right away?
Yes! We're proud to be part of a broad coalition (including the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies, the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Wisconsin Professional Police and Firefighters Associations, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) working for the passage of Assembly Bill 703, which would restrict the private ownership of certain dangerous wild animals. Wisconsin is one of only six states nationwide that currently has weak or non-existent laws on this issue. Before the current legislative session ends in April, we hope to change that. Right now we’re at a crucial point in the lifespan of A.B. 703. If you’re willing to help, especially if you live in Representative Warren Petryk’s district, please contact me.
4. Any personal goals you have set for yourself in this position?
The Humane Society of the United States is a "big tent" organization -- we want everyone to feel like that they can be part of creating a more compassionate world. In that spirit, one of my personal goals is to reach out to as many people as possible throughout our state. I plan to do quite a bit of traveling in the coming year, so don't be surprised to see me! And if you don't see or hear from me, please send a note in my direction. Wisconsin ranked 35th in the HSUS's Humane State Rankings last year. We can do better, but it's going to take all of us working together to make a positive difference.
5. How is information about the HSUS and its efforts disseminated throughout the state?
Glad you asked! You can find out about our activities in Wisconsin through our Facebook page and through the Wisconsin page on the HSUS website. You also can sign up for HSUS action alerts, which disseminate real-time needs and news. Finally, in the months to come I’ll start publishing an e-newsletter where you can learn about some exciting new opportunities with the HSUS in Wisconsin. Lots of ways to connect with us, lots of ways to get involved!
6. What are some of HSUS’s accomplishments that you are happy to share?
So many recent strides have been made on behalf of animals that it’s hard to name just a few. I’m proud that we helped defeat numerous “ag-gag” bills, which would criminalize whistle-blowing on factory farms; that we prevented horse slaughter plants from opening on U.S. soil, at least for the moment; that we helped convince one of the nation’s largest pork producers to phase out their use of gestation crates, which confine pigs in enclosures so small the animals cannot turn around.
Encompassing all the above, I’m extremely proud that no one in our organization takes any victory for granted. All of us recognize the need to stay vigilant, to protect our hard-won gains for animals and work diligently for more.
To contact Melissa, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 608-572-3122.
Denice Ryan Martin, an advisor with Wisconsin Voters for Companion Animals, is a freelance writer and licensed social worker based in Genesee. You can reach her at email@example.com.