Animals

Victory! The First Federal Law to Protect our Pets

Nov 25, 2019

Sydney Helfand, a Maryland teenager, loves animals. That’s why hearing stories of animal abuse horrified her. And learning there wasn’t a law on the books to protect animals from cruelty – that’s what drove her to take action. 

Nine months and 800,000 signatures later, her petition pushed President Donald Trump to sign into law the first U.S. federal legislation to tackle animal cruelty and torture. 

Earlier this year Sydney learned about stalled legislation from previous years known as the PACT Act, which stands for the “Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture” Act. 

The PACT Act was proposed to strengthen laws to protect dogs, cats, pigs, horses and other animals from abuse and torture. While the law had some support in Congress, ‘politics as usual’ continued to get in the way of its passage. 

Sydney wanted to fix that and turned to Change.org.

Shortly after starting her petition asking Congress to pass the PACT Act, people like you from around the country signed on to show their support. First 1,000 signatures, then 5,000 signatures, then 10,000 signatures … and then it took the internet by storm. 

By March 2019, it had more than 300,000 signatures and Sydney was talking to Members of Congress directly, including Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, one of the lead sponsors of the law.

With all the buzz happening in D.C., her local newspaper came calling to do an interview. “I just wanted to help animals and do something to help make a change in the world,” Sydney told The Almanac. 

By the summer of 2019, Sydney’s petition signatures had doubled as she kept updating signers on how the legislation was moving and encouraging signers to contact Members of Congress directly. 

In July she joined with supportive lawmakers as well as the Humane Society of the United States to deliver hundreds of thousands of signatures directly to the U.S. Capitol. 

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan spoke at a press conference with Sydney. His quote summed it up best:

By October, Sydney’s petition had galvanized more than 700,000 signers, and the U.S. House of Representatives couldn’t ignore it any longer. On October 22, the U.S. House voted unanimously to support passage of the PACT Act. 

Nine months after starting her Change.org petition with just 1 signature, she was in the U.S. House gallery watching lawmakers vote on the centerpiece of her petition. 

Two weeks later, the U.S. Senate held a vote. It also passed in the Senate unanimously, and Sydney’s efforts were covered by NPR, one of the biggest news outlets in the country.  

On November 25, President Trump signed the PACT Act into law, making it the first federal law in U.S. history to deal specifically with animal cruelty and torture. The news of this monumental bipartisan victory is making headlines around the country.

Less than a year after starting her petition on Change.org, Sydney had just one message after her petition became a victory: 

That’s the story of how one high school student took her passion for animals and her desire to see politicians take action instead of stall, and changed American law forever. 

And Sydney did it with more than 800,000 Change.org signers standing with her. 

Thank you for taking action. And know that the next thing you sign or start on Change.org might just make history, too.