Advocating for Animals: Dyson Students Take Action

Amanda Ghysel
June 26, 2023

The Animal Policy Project, an initiative launched by Professor Michelle Land, JD, within the Environmental Studies and Science department in Pleasantville this academic year, puts students at the forefront of animal issues, immersing them in hands-on research aimed at influencing policy while developing advocacy skills. Offering opportunities for students of all majors and at the undergraduate and graduate levels, the Animal Policy Project houses its cornerstone course entitled the Animal Advocacy Clinic, connects students to industry mentors on the Animal Policy Project Advisory Council, and presents firsthand experiences in lobbying.

“The Animal Policy Project is really about giving students opportunities to learn how to advocate for something they’re passionate about and connecting them to experts and resources,” said Land. “The topics we’re studying in the Clinic are all related to animal issues in New York State and have a science-based component, but students can employ the skills they learn in critical thinking, information-gathering, advocacy, and public speaking in any discipline or career.”

Animal Policy Project students standing outside the Legislative Building

Animal Advocacy Clinic

This spring, students in the Animal Advocacy Clinic course were organized into groups to focus on various issues surrounding the treatment of animals and how animals impact the ecosystem. In late April, a group of students from the course, along with faculty advisors and other students involved in the Animal Policy Project, went to the state capitol in Albany to meet with legislators, share their research, and lobby for the passage of a bill designed to ban wildlife killing contests.

Wildlife Killing Contests

Wildlife killing contests are competitions in which any person with a state hunting license can participate to kill as many animals of a certain species as possible to win cash and prizes. Typically, the targets are “nuisance” animals, such as squirrels, coyotes, or foxes. These competitions, which are difficult to find—typically only advertised through private Facebook groups—are not regulated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and can have harmful effects on the ecosystem of the area.

“In a certain small area, if you kill a higher number of, say, coyotes, they will repopulate even more to account for this,” said Leanna Ward ’25, Digital Journalism, a member of the group that researched wildlife killing contests. “So, there will be even more of an issue with coyotes in the area, which is the opposite of what these contests are supposed to be for.”

Ward also mentioned that traditional hunters are often critical of wildlife killing competitions because the contests do not follow fair chase rules or hunting ethics.

Bill A2917, introduced by New York State Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee—who represents the area in which the Pace New York City campus resides—advocates for the banning of wildlife killing contests in New York. The bill has been proposed numerous times, often getting “stuck” in the Environmental Conservation Committee and not making it to the floor of the Assembly.

Animal Policy Project partner The Humane Society proposed the bill and New York State Director Brian Shapiro, who serves on the Animal Policy Project’s Advisory Council, worked closely with students in creating a campaign to support its passage. The students in the Animal Advocacy Clinic gathered 525 petition signatures in support of the bill from the Pace community before heading to Albany to deliver the petition and lobby for the passage of the bill.

“It was really rewarding to educate people on campus,” said Ward. “It’s really important for lobbyists to come through in situations like this.”

At the time of publication, Bill A2917 passed in both the state senate and assembly and is awaiting approval by Governor Kathy Hochul.

Animal Policy Project students standing together with a petition

Exotic Animal Ownership

Another group in the Animal Advocacy Clinic focused their research on exotic animal ownership. While the definition of exotic animal ownership varies by state, New York State Senator Monica Martinez has proposed a bill to clarify and expand what is considered a “wild animal” and an “exotic animal” in New York. Under the proposed bill, any “indigenous, non-domesticated animal native to the country in which they live” would be considered a wild animal, while an exotic animal would be defined as a wild animal with “an origin of a different continent.”

This clarified definition would expand the list of animals that cannot legally be kept as companions in New York State, including examples such as hyenas, elephants, kangaroos, sloths, wallabies, and armadillos.

“Exotic animals are sold in large quantities to people who are not technically prepared to own and care for these animals,” said Travis Gerber ’23, Psychology, noting that many pet stores sell animals bought from breeders who use unknown sources. “It’s so problematic in New York State that we don’t have comprehensive legislation in place when it comes to caring for such animals.”

A member of the group working on this topic, Gerber noted that he and his classmates corresponded with Senator Martinez, sending her examples of other states that have passed legislation banning exotic animal ownership in hopes of providing support to get the legislation passed in New York.

“I’ve definitely learned more about how legislation is created and introduced in the Assembly and the Senate,” said Gerber, “and how we can reach our senators and legislators, learn to lobby for advocacy, and discover that a lot more can be done with all the research we’ve done.”

At the time of publication, Bill A6211B had passed in the New York State Senate and is in the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee.

Graduate Research

Graduate students in the Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy program worked closely with the Animal Policy Project for their research projects in the spring semester, with mentorship from Land, as well as environmental professionals from the Animal Policy Project Advisory Council.

Something that’s so unique about the Animal Policy Project is combining the science and legislative pieces, because it’s so important to have both of those to be successful in advocating.

—Andrea Galassi ’23

Wildlife Health

Andrea Galassi ’23, MS Environmental Science and Policy, opted to pursue this degree to supplement the Master of Law she earned from The Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, with a focus on environmental law. For her independent research project, Galassi focused on wildlife health monitoring. Certain states have systems or databases that monitor diseases or other health issues facing local animal populations and the subsequent impacts on the ecosystem. However, these systems are often difficult to find or out-of-date, and states do not communicate or cooperate on the collection of this data.

Galassi mentioned that veterinarians are engaged in robust work in monitoring wildlife health, but this work often goes unrecognized at the state and federal level. Galassi’s research aims to get the attention of New York State legislators to move forward with policies to streamline and expand these processes.

Galassi worked with Advisory Council member Dr. Deborah McCauley, DVM, executive director of the Veterinary Initiative for Endangered Wildlife (V.I.E.W.), who helped shape her research, pointing her in the direction of important resources to help provide persuasive information to legislators.

“Something that’s so unique about the Animal Policy Project is combining the science and legislative pieces,” said Galassi, “because it’s so important to have both of those to be successful in advocating.”

Group of Animal Policy Project students sitting around a table during a business meeting

Anticoagulant Rodenticides

Taylor Ganis ’23, MS in Environmental Science and Policy, hopes to use the research she conducted in her capstone project to advocate for a statewide ban on anticoagulant rodenticides (AR), poison used to kill mice and rats that is dangerous for humans, wildlife, and pets.

“As a New York State Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator, I recognized the importance of protecting wildlife from unnecessary poisoning while also researching alternatives to protect people from rodent infestations,” said Ganis. “This topic presented challenges that I wanted to learn more about to be part of the solution.”

With the help of Advisory Council member and fellow wildlife rehabilitator Suzie Gilbert, Ganis distributed a survey to better understand the usage and dangers of ARs. Gilbert assisted Ganis in building connections, finalizing survey questions, and distributing the survey.

“The most rewarding part of my research has been to see how many people truly care about the wellbeing of wild animals,” said Ganis. “From meeting with various organizations and individuals to reading through the survey participants responses, I was blown away by the passion that so many people hold for protecting our state’s wildlife.”

The research and advocacy that students engaged in during the spring semester are just the beginning for the Animal Policy Project. Land’s goal for the initiative is continued growth, including research on ongoing animal issues, introduction of new topics, fostering more connections across the University on animal issues, hosting guest speakers and events, and more first-hand advocacy opportunities.

Dyson Digital Digest: Summer 2023