8 min read

Can You Really Help Animals With An Online Petition?

Yes, and here's how.

There are thousands of petitions on the internet (and off), and people who are concerned about animal welfare are signing them in droves. But there might also be a skeptical thought nagging in the back of many petitioners' minds: Does adding my name really make a difference?

With so many petitions at different sites, and focused on animal issues all around the world, it can be hard to tell which ones - if any - even get read by the people who need to read them.

Recently, when news came to light that the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recommended that 45,000 wild horses and burros kept in government facilities be killed, an online petition seeking to save these lives got A LOT of signatures.

"I wrote this Care2 petition to start a grassroots campaign," Anne Novak, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Protect Mustangs, said in press release about a petition she wrote to try to save these wild animals, which she intends to send to Congress. "This petition is step one to show Congress that we are standing with America's wild horses in captivity and in the wild."

The petition, which garnered nearly 119,000 signatures in less than two days, demands that wild horses and burros be returned to public land. But will this ever actually happen?

"Just like votes, protests, donations, canvassing, lobbying or any other political action, online petitions can rarely claim 'full credit' for change," Randy Paynter, founder and CEO of Care2, told The Dodo. "But petitions are major, major factors in big decisions ... Making a difference is the result of many steps and many influences, and petitions are an important piece."

Indeed, a Care2 petition just recently prevented a cruel "greasy pig contest" (where kids chase a terrified piglet around a tiny pen until they can catch him) from taking place.

The Dodo also asked Pulin Modi, senior campaigner at Change.org, if online petitions can ever make a real difference, and how.

"There's no doubt that members of the public have used Change.org to have a big impact for animals," Modi told The Dodo.

Chris Green's petition, Modi pointed out, helped to persuade Delta Airlines to stop transporting animals who were killed as hunting trophies. Robin Merritt's petition also pressured Southwest Airlines to end its partnership with SeaWorld. GoDaddy, a domain name hosting site, pulled a Super Bowl ad after Helena Yurcho's petition pointed out that it made light of puppy mills.

"My advice to anyone who starts a petition on Change.org is to think clearly about who the correct decision makers are, articulate exactly what the goal of the petition is and to be authentic in telling a story of why the individual or organization initiating the campaign believes a change is needed," Modi said.

"It's also important to explain why public signatures matter to building momentum on the campaign, whether it's the value of engaged consumers or putting a spotlight on a local issue for elected officials," Modi said. "You need to convince people that there's a real chance their actions will lead to change for animals."

Different petitions can carry different weight, depending on the issue. If the decision-maker is a government agency and you want the White House to respond to your concern, you can use The White House's "We The People" petition tool. But you need to gain 100,000 signatures within 60 days for the administration to reply. And this means you really have to make your case.

"I generally tell people to think about writing around five brief paragraphs to start and possibly just one or two links if absolutely needed," Modi said. "Chances are you don't need much more than that to make the case for why someone should support a petition about animal issues."

As for the wild horses and burros? While the U.S government responded to the outcry over the board's recommendation, saying it has no current plans to kill the animals, their fate still remains uncertain. But Novak remains hopeful that the petition will create lasting change.

"A petition is an awesome outreach tool to educate people about the mustang crisis and fight for the wild ones who have no voice," Novak told The Dodo. "This petition gives America's wild horses and burros a voice in the matter. They want their freedom back ... Every signature shows a person is standing up for them."

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world," Paynter said, quoting Margaret Mead. "Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."