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Writing Letters to the Editor

Sometimes the pen (or computer) really is mightier than the sword - and you don't have to be Shakespeare either. Writing letters to newspapers, businesses and MPs is an easy, effective way to help animals. Here's how.....

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

When you write letters to the editors of local newspapers, instead of writing to just one person you reach thousands, and it's easier than you might think. By reading local papers and magazines you can find fuel for letter content. Watch for articles, adverts or letters that mention animals.

Some examples:

- adverts for pet shops, circuses and fur-trimmed items

- articles about medical experiments

- features about local animal rescue groups or companion animal care

Letters don't have to be rebuttals. Circus in town? Noticed a stray? Or use the calendar for inspiration: At Easter, tell readers about bunnies. On Mother's Day, remind your community of the animals whose babies are taken from them on factory farms.

Write on good news as well as bad. Thank the paper for its coverage of an anti-fur protest or for running profiles of animals available for adoption at shelters.

Be Brief! Sometimes one short, pithy paragraph is enough - try to stay under 300 words (about one typed page). Editors are less likely to print long letters. Check the length of letters printed to get the idea, as publications will vary.

Type, if possible. Otherwise, print legibly. Be sure to use correct grammar and spelling, and remember to have it proof read.

Make sure you include your name, address and telephone number in your letter. You can ask that your address and telephone number be withheld, but some newspapers verify authorship before printing letters.

You can submit a piece of writing already published by someone else, but be sure to check if it's copyrighted. For example, everything PETA releases is not copyrighted so it's available for use by anyone and may be distributed freely. Also, help yourself to anything on this site.

Look for opportunities to write editorials or opinion pieces for local papers. These are longer articles of about 500 to 800 words that summarise an issue, develop an argument or propose a solution. Send the article to the editor of the editorial page.

You can also write (or call) television and radio stations to protest the glorification of animal abuse or to compliment them on a programme well done.


SOME TIPS ON STYLE

Increase your credibility by mentioning anything that makes you especially qualified to write on a topic. For instance, "As a nutritionist, I know a veggie diet is healthy", or, "As a mother", or, "As a former fur-wearer", or, "As a cancer survivor", etc.

Try to tell readers something they're not likely to know- such as how chickens are raised to produce eggs - and encourage them to take action (such as to stop buying eggs).

Keep personal grudges and name calling out of letters; it will hurt your credibility and could kill your chances of being published.

Don't give lip service to anti-animal arguments. Speak affirmatively.

EXAMPLE - "It's not true vegetarians are weaklings."

BETTER - "Vegetarians are healthier and slimmer and live years longer than flesh eaters."

Avoid self-righteous language and exaggeration. Readers may dismiss arguments if they feel preached to or if the author sounds hysterical.

EXAMPLE - "Only a heartless sadist could continue to eat animals when any fool knows their lives are snuffed out in screaming agony for the satisfaction of people who can't be bothered to take a moral stand."

BETTER - "Most compassionate people would stop eating meat if they saw how miserable the animals are."

Don't assume your audience knows the issues.

EXAMPLE - "Don't support the cruel veal industry."

BETTER - "In Europe, calves factory-farmed for veal are tethered in small stalls, kept in complete darkness and fed an anaemic liquid diet. Their mothers also endure sad fates, starting with the loss of their infants a few days after birth.

Inclusive language also helps your audience identify with you.

EXAMPLE - "Eating meat is bad for your health."

BETTER - "We know eating meat is bad for our health."

Use positive suggestions rather than negative commands.

EXAMPLE - "Don't go to the circus."

BETTER - "Let's take our families to non-animal circuses."

Personalise your writing with anecdotes and visual images.

EXAMPLE - "Leghold traps can trap an animal by the face, leg or stomach."

BETTER - "Have you ever seen a fox with his or her face caught in a leghold trap? I have, which is how I know traps tear into an animal's face, leg or stomach."

Avoid speciesist language. Instead of referring to an animal with an inanimate pronoun ("it" or "which"), use "she" or "he" and "who". Say "fish populations" instead of "stocks" and "hunted animals" rather than "game".

Avoid euphemisms ("negative reinforcement" , "culling the herd"); say what you really mean ("painful electric shocks", "slaughtering deer").


LETTERS TO BUSINESSES

Use your clout as a consumer to protest companies that exploit animals. Tell cosmetics manufacturers you will purchase other brands until they stop testing on animals, or tell a shop you won't shop there until it stops carrying real fur - and explain why.


LETTERS TO LEGISLATORS

While everyone's good at complaining about politics to their friends, too few citizens express their opinions to those who can do something about it: MPs. Constituent input really does make a difference.

If you don't communicate with the officials representing you, who will? While you're complaining to your friends about gruesome animal experiments, someone who disagrees with you is communicating with your lawmakers. You're probably not going to single-handedly convince your MPs to outlaw the fur trade, but many share your objectives and just need to be convinced that there is sufficient public support before putting their necks on the line. Here's how to make your voice count:

To find out who your Mp is (UK), either go to http://faxyourmp. com/ or call Parliament on 0207 219 4272. You can also ask them for the phone number of your MP's local surgery (office) if you want to go and see them in person.

Keep letters brief - no more than one page. If you're writing about a specific bill, mention the bill's name and number, if you know it, and whether you support or oppose it in the first paragraph. Include reasons and supporting data in the next paragraph or two. Conclude by asking for a response.

Focus on a specific topic. Don't ask the MP just to 'support animal rights bills'; very few legislators vote in favour of all animal protection legislation because different issues are at stake with each one.

Be polite and concise. Keep everything relevant to the bill or issue in question. Never be threatening or insulting. Remember: Each letter pertaining to a particular piece of legislation is usually counted as a "yes" or a "no". Don't get overwhelmed by the project. Just get those letters written and in the mail! Several hours of letter-writing every month can make a big impact. And don't be discouraged if you receive unfavourable responses; the more we communicate with public officials, the sooner they'll change their positions. Remember: Right now, baby chicks' beaks are being burned off. Right now, animal performers are being beaten backstage. Right now, millions of dogs, cats, cows, sheep, pigs, rats, rabbits, mice and other animals are being tortured in laboratories.

Submitted by Lina Drimas

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