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Heartbreak is just a part of life, right? That’s especially true when your career is in animal welfare, witnessing a parade of mistreatment year after year.
Holly Hazard says she’s certainly experienced her own share of it after 35 years of being a leader in the nonprofit field as well as a lawyer, advocate, and professor. It’s also helping her chart her course as a future politician. She was kind enough to reflect on some of what she’s experienced and some of what she is planning for the coming years.
When I asked Holly what some of the saddest disappointments in her animal protection career were, she mentioned the annual round-ups of wild horses by the federal government in western states.
“Seeing horses running wild and free and knowing we have the answer in contraception, and we’ve had it for 20 years, and over and over, the government has refused to employ it” is how Holly described the situation.
“They gather the horses up and adopt them or just hold them in paddocks. It’s wrong. I’ve been fighting year after year, as the horse population grows, and the ranchers demand that horses be removed, and the government does nothing to stabilize the herds,” she added. “Then I return and watch them again round up horses, separate mothers from young, some turned out, some sent away for adoption. It breaks my heart every time.”
It’s not the only case of the government working to satisfy the rich and powerful—and certainly not the only issue on which Holly has been active.
Her animal advocacy efforts began in 1981 when she decided to go to law school to launch a career in animal law. Like many people I know, she started her professional life in one area and then came upon animal welfare after experiencing some dissatisfaction in the field she’d chosen when she was younger.
“I wanted more from my career than a paycheck. I started as an economist and couldn’t imagine retiring as one,” she said.
She then planned to work on environmental issues but found herself drawn to the plight of animals as part of our natural environment.
“No organization would hire an economist to help animals so I went to law school to reinvent myself,” Holly explained.
That was just one of many barriers she would overcome.
“There weren’t any classes in animal law at that time,” she explained. “I had to take independent study.”
The pioneering spirit continued when she helped found Galvin, Stanley and Hazard, “the first animal rights law firm in the country,” where she began decades of lobbying experience. And Doris Day became one of her accounts.
After six years at the law firm, Holly went on to become executive director of the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL), a lobbying nonprofit that she helped found with the retired film star in 1987. The focus was on reducing pet overpopulation, strengthening anti-cruelty legislation and improving federal wildlife laws and regulations. Holly would work there another 19 years—building up the DDAL to a budget of $3 million, a staff of 13 employees and a donor base of 100,000 members.
Later, the organization became part of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), where she worked another 12 years as a senior vice president. While there, Holly led many of the organization’s domestic programs, including departments focused on companion animals, wildlife, and equines, as well as direct-care wildlife centers, an animal rescue team and rural veterinary outreach effort.
When asked what aspects of her years in animal protection she enjoyed most, Holly said, “Although it wasn’t a significant part of my job, the days I loved best were the days I was in the field, either at one of our rescue centers, out trapping prairie dogs, darting mares on Vieques Island or deer in the Hudson Valley in New York, or helping at a spay clinic in Puerto Rico or South Dakota.”
I wondered if this love of being out among the creatures we wish to help was because so often animal advocates spend their time in meetings with other people or at their computers, rather than with animals themselves.
“In my mind, I know the policy will have the greater impact but in my heart, seeing that difference in their eyes at the end of the day is the best,” noted Holly.
She also has fond memories of helping out on the ground after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“After Katrina hit, I watched the TV for a few days and then decided if I don’t go down to that chaos, who’s going to go? I bought a Zodiac [inflatable raft]and outboard engine, threw my sleeping bag in the back of my SUV and drove to New Orleans,” she said. “Those days of getting up at 4:00 a.m. and going to bed after an outdoor shower at 2:00 a.m., slogging through slime, driving down highways the wrong way, breaking down doors, but occasionally finding one scared little dog tucked in a corner and knowing without me making all those choices, he’d have starved to death or drowned. That felt good.”
She greatly enjoyed the early days of Spay Day USA, which was started by the DDAL, noting that since her time in animal welfare started, the country has gone from euthanizing 18 million pets to less than 800,000 per year.
“Going out to the clinics all over the U.S. in the early years and witnessing people bringing their pets to get altered was so heartwarming. People would show up in the rain or snow, sneaking an animal on a bus, at 6:00 a.m., with rope for a leash, and wait for hours to see a vet,” she explained.
“Some folks think people in poverty don’t love their pets as deeply as people with higher incomes. That’s silly on its face and it isn’t borne out if you spend two minutes with them. Pets are pets, and people and pets form bonds regardless of what’s in their pockets or bank account. If you give them the opportunity to provide veterinary care, they’ll do most anything in any weather for their family. It’s deeply moving to witness,” added Holly.
As for less pleasant moments in her career, she related one story from her days at the DDAL.
“We formed a coalition to end the use of chimpanzees in entertainment. We were running an undercover investigation of a chimp entertainment training facility in Los Angeles. We had evidence of the head trainer beating a chimp and were ready to act,” stated Holly.
Because she wanted to work in concert with other coalition members, she let another organization know about their plans as a courtesy. She was shocked when the organization “immediately called all seven chimpanzee trainers and scheduled a meeting to tell them everything we’d discussed.”
With so many humane organizations operating nationwide, it’s only natural there should be conflict between groups. Holly says she found being at loggerheads with some of them at times to be one of the more frustrating dimensions of working in the field.
“I least enjoyed the struggles between equally passionate animal protection groups with exactly the same mission but different predictions about the future, or intentions or egos that blinded leaders to reasonable compromise,” Holly said. “I often said my most difficult adversaries through the years were never our enemies of animal protection—they were our friends. What a waste of energy and our donors’ resources.”
Holly says she wishes she’d pushed harder and sooner on farm animal issues now that she’s seen how much progress has been made by advocates this decade.
“I didn’t think I’d see any change to meat and egg consumption in my lifetime,” she said. “It’s billions and billions of lives.”
She is pleased to see enormous change for animals on many fronts.
“This happened because many professionals at the time, myself included, looked very strategically and pragmatically at how and where we could realistically push people and we focused there,” she said.
These days, Holly is using skills learned during her animal advocacy career to help other causes.
She retired from the HSUS in September 2017—but has hardly been sitting around and relaxing. Prior to retiring, she took an unpaid leave of absence in the summer of 2016 to volunteer with the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. She specifically focused on engaging animal welfare voters. When the campaign ended, Holly felt compelled to stay involved in Virginia politics.
These days, she is working as a grassroot political advocate. She is now the co-vicechair central of the Fairfax County (Virginia) Democrats. She also has served as legislative director for a Virginia House of Delegates member and taken several classes from the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. They include candidate training courses, and Holly is considering a run for public office at some point.
One lesson Holly has learned through her increased political activity outside the animal protection arena is that animal advocates need to be more involved in the political process.
“I’ve become increasingly aware how silent the progressive political movement is on animal welfare issues. We’re invisible,” she said. “Animal protectionists don’t engage either with other groups or with candidates.”
She urged being less insular by networking, participating in coalitions with other interest groups and knocking on doors for candidates specifically as people supporting humane laws. Such actions will lead, according to her, to more candidates focusing on and supporting animal-friendly initiatives.
Meanwhile, the scope of Holly’s endeavors continues to broaden.
“I’m also working with a group to create a pilot project at a Virginia high school to employ professional coaches for kids who may want to go to trade school or junior college,” said Holly. “In Northern Virginia, we push so hard for four-year degrees but have so few resources for kids who may want to pursue a different path. I’d like to find a way to help guide them to a successful future.”
In addition, she is a founding member of a grassroots group called Network NoVA, which formed in part recently to flip Virginia’s legislature to Democratic control for the first time in a generation. The goal was successfully achieved in 2019 in the state’s off-year election.
When not working, Holly, along with her husband, dotes on their dogs: Fenway and Loki.
Fenway ended up in Falls Church with the couple following rescue by the HSUS from an Arkansas puppy mill. He is a 13-pound ginger miniature poodle who was saved from the facility as a puppy. Loki is from Ohio, where she also was rescued from a mass breeding facility at less than one year of age. Like Fenway, Loki is also a ginger miniature poodle, but she is only nine pounds. When rescued, she was found to have a broken leg that had been left unfixed for months; she was underweight, filthy and timid.
Holly’s advice for people wanting to accept positions in the animal welfare field and make meaningful change for our fellow species?
“It’s an exciting time and we need bright, passionate, committed leaders. The best way to help is to gain a professional skill post-grad—but not get attached to a commercial salary—and then use that expertise for a nonprofit,” explained Holly. “That’s a tough sell, but it’s the most efficient way to make a significant difference.”
“Every leader,” she added, “should know how to be an advocate, protestor, media spokesperson, lobbyist, litigant and negotiator and be agile enough to employ the right tactics, and switch them if necessary, during any campaign.”
Holly also believes hiring the right people to achieve animal protection goals is critical.
“The people I’ve mentored over the years have done more for animals than I could have imagined. They have such intellect and passion,” she said. “I learned very early to be ruthless in waiting to find the right person for a job, train them well, insist on excellence, and let them fly.”
As she moves further into Democratic politics in the Old Dominion, Holly reflects on efforts as diverse as protesting on the U.S. Capitol steps while dressed as a sea turtle and testifying to Congress inside the same building. Similarly, she has documented the abuse of horses being rounded up in the West and darted them with contraceptive drugs—while simultaneously raising millions of dollars to assist them.
I asked her how all of her experience—including the heartbreak she’s felt so often while helping animals, including the wild horses continually betrayed by the federal government—would inform her potential work as an elected leader.
“Policy makers don’t do their constituents any favors by plucking the easy fixes year after year,” Holly told me. “This issue taught me that the real leaders look beyond the horizon, take on the tough fights, stay with it, compromise, listen, empathize and build or develop solutions if none exist.”
This article originally appeared on the Animal Matters blog.
Featured image: wild horses in Idaho. Image credit Bureau of Land Management / Peter Robbins, CC BY-SA 2.0.