Online Petitions: Good or Bad for Pet Advocacy?

I Want to Help, But…

We hear about it all the time. We see it on the news. Pets and other domestic animals subjected to cruelty and neglect. Family pets are kept chained and suffer from exposure. Others are beaten or deprived of food, water, grooming and medical care. Trusting companion animals are left trapped inside a house or apartment or abandoned outdoors when their owners move. Puppy and kitten mills, animal hoarding, dog fighting and the like add to the list of horrors animals are subjected to every day. You want to help a pet in need, but you can’t rescue or adopt them all, and your family life and job obligations don’t leave you the time to volunteer. So you donate. You’ve done your research and learned what pet aid and animal welfare organizations make the best use of your financial contributions. But what about contributing through “digital activism”? It’s so easy to do. But you want to know if clicking to sign that online petition really helps. So PugetPets did some digging (ruff!) and found out what you need to know about this quick and simple method of pet advocacy.

Online Petition Sites

As a measure of public opinion, online petitions can have far-reaching effects, informing policy-makers of interest in an issue, encouraging media coverage, building a list of interested parties, and spurring additional action. Online petition sites abound and all of them present animal welfare and pet advocacy issues that demand our attention. But signer beware! Not all online petition sites are equally effective, and unfortunately, some don’t even have advocacy as their primary purpose. PugetPets looked into several petition sites and discovered that a number of them, while not overt scams, are simply for-profit websites that exist only to sell advertising opportunities while creating an illusion that the signer is helping a cause.

Make Your Signature Count

Somewhere out there a pet needs help, and you want your actions, even the smallest ones, to be effective. To help you determine whether your signature on an online petition will be used to promote animal welfare or address a specific need, here are four questions you should always ask:

  1. Will the petition actually be sent somewhere? Petitions should always be addressed to a specific official or agency (a “target”). However, a name isn’t enough. Look for an address and a date by which the petition will be delivered to the target. Some online petition sites will identify a target by name, but the petition is never actually sent to that person or agency.
  1. Is there a host organization? Favor petitions that are started by an organization that you trust. This group will see that the petition reaches its target. Host organizations often sponsor a petition as part of a larger campaign. Some petitions may be started by private individuals, and these are not necessarily without merit. However, be aware that some online petition sites hire large numbers of low-paid content creators to produce “petitions” in volume. These are for-profit sites. More petitions mean more members (signers), which translates into advertising dollars for the sites’ owners. Make sure the petition you wish to sign is part of a real pet advocacy campaign.
  1. Does the petition site offer paid memberships? Some sites claim that a modest yearly fee will give you benefits offered only to paying members, such as the ability to sign multiple petitions with a single click. Paid memberships are a red flag that the petition site is little more than a money-making website.
  1. Does the site have proven successes with its petitions? One site PugetPets investigated claims to provide examples of their successful petitions. The contents of the linked video, however, are a restatement of text from the site’s “About” page. The video contained no actual examples of successful petitions. Reputable sites will follow a petition through to delivery, as well as connecting you with host organizations, which also provide information about their campaign’s results.

Keeping the Pet in Petition

“The strongest social change organizations will push the most viable and potentially viral petitions forward, strengthening language, providing strategic advice and connecting petitioners with the media, benefiting both the host organization and the causes,” says Gail Ablow in her article on digital activism for Bill Moyers’ website. As pet people, we feel a deep sense of responsibility toward the animals who rely on us to care for and protect them. Aiding pet advocacy causes is one way we can help, and online petitions can be a useful tool. But some online petition sites will try to take advantage of the pet lover’s better nature by selling a feel-good moment in exchange for a signature, while no suffering pet ever sees the benefit. Don’t be fooled by this digital snake oil. Instead, keep the “pet” in petition and spend a few minutes checking out the petition you are thinking of signing. You’ll be sure that your virtual signature, though a small step, counts toward helping a pet in need.