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Influence Positively: Is animal advocate a kinder, gentler activist?

Do dog activists help animal rights, or would an advocate make a greater difference? A friend of mine says, words have power. She said this as both warning and I believe, inspiration. When my July/August issue arrived from Best Friends this week I got to thinking about the terms activist and advocate. Does the power of both these words influence positively animal welfare? How does someone measure that effectiveness? Is it more important to act? I've tried to be careful with my word choices for years. Working in the financial services world, I used to have legal and compliance reviewing my word choices, sentences, even font choices. So I'm curious, what you think about these words and how do they make you feel?

image from www.greenchildmagazine.com

Who knew Alec Baldwin was an animal activist

Let's start with the dictionary. Activist is a noun, and defined as militant, zealot, protester; radical, extremist, with the example: a human-rights activist. I googled activists and animal activists and I found out Alec Baldwin is known as a animal rights activist. The singer Pink is also well-known as an animal activist. Groups labeled activist included PETA and the Animal Liberation Front. Activists seek to end the moral and legal distinction drawn between human and animals, to eliminate the status of animals as property, and to stop the use of animals in research, food, clothing, and entertainment industries.

Alec Baldwin does seem to make the news, which can benefit a cause but his coverage doesn't always seem to be for the right reasons, nor does it add gravitas to Mr. Baldwin as an activist. At least the headlines that I find mostly include him apologizing for something (See Capitol One brouhaha).

Is advocate a kinder, gentler activist? 

Advocate on the other hand is defined as champion, upholder, supporter, backer, promoter, proponent, exponent, spokesman, spokeswoman, spokesperson, campaigner, fighter, crusader; propagandist, apostle, apologist, booster, flag-bearer. The dictionary used the example an advocate of children's rights. The singer Sarah McLachlan is well-known animal advocate. Groups considered to be advocates are The Humane Society of the United States and Best Friends Animal Society. 

Where lines got blurry for me and partly inspired this post was this group NIFAA. NIFAA: National Institute for Animal Advocacy includes the word advocacy in its name, but their mission reads activist to me. Am I wrong? Where is the line drawn? In multiple places I found that activists seem to lean towards protests and lobbying, while advocates leans towards local solutions. Animal advocates fight animal cruelty, and encourage the public to foster and adopt. 

Where do you fall and does it matter?

If I had to define myself, it would be advocate for dogs, and animals generally. I say this because honestly I love the idea of being a flag-bearer and crusader for dogs like Cleo. Adopting a large adult Shepherd-Husky in San Francisco was the best decision we ever made. I'd like to think of myself as a fighter and propagandist in all the positive ways that help dog adoption and nonprofits like Pets Are Wonderful Support. And if I am really being honest here, I'll admit that at my age, advocate sounds more romantic and optimistic, than activist. Twenty years ago, maybe I'd have a different point of view but truthfully right now advocate works for me.

I find it fascinating that my dictionary listed so many definitions for advocate compared to activist. Almost as if it was passively trying to influence my perceptions about these nouns. I like the word "act" because it seems so assertive, but it also makes me think of Alec Baldwin impulsively, emotionally, actively, shooting his mouth off without thinking of the consequences of his words.

Do dog activists help animal rights, or would an advocate make a greater difference? How do you define yourself? I'd love to know your thoughts on these word choices and what they mean to you. Please email me or leave me a comment below.

Please note: My goal here is to listen to what people have to say about these words, their meanings and their effectiveness in the world of animal welfare, particularly related to dogs. I'm not judging anyone on their choices or self-described views, I'm just really curious about your perspective.

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