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Activist targeted by Missouri state legislators

Activist targeted by state legislators
April 4, 2010 — Negotiation Is Over
Courtesy of St. Louis Today

Brenda Shoss
by Tony Messenger

JEFFERSON CITY — Animal activist Brenda Shoss and the Missouri lawmakers who loathe her agree on this: Having your inbox fill up with hundreds of unwanted e-mails is infuriating.

That’s what happened to Missouri House members a week ago, when Shoss and members of her advocacy group, Kinship Circle, unleashed a deluge urging legislators to vote against a bill that would open the door for a horse slaughterhouse to come to the Show-Me State.

Lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — objected to the tactic. They said they had never before received hundreds of e-mails from all over the nation, and even the world, on a bill.

Shoss received calls at her home from offices in the Capitol, taunting her and making “neighing” voices into the phone. One caller sang a version of the theme song from “Mr. Ed.” A number of the calls came late at night.

Some legislators programmed their e-mail systems to forward any message containing the word “horse” to Shoss. And some told the activist that they would consider passing the bill out of spite.

“I would think that some people who voted against it previously might change their vote,” said Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka.

The response of elected officials has left the experienced activist dumbfounded. Even when her organization got involved in the high-profile animal abuse case of NFL quarterback Michael Vick, she had never seen such a vitriolic reaction.
The late-night, anonymous phone calls led Shoss to file a harassment complaint last week with the University City Police Department.

The calls stopped, she said, after the Post-Dispatch started asking lawmakers about them.

Frame is one of the lawmakers who awoke March 22 to a full e-mail box urging him to oppose legislation — pushed by Rep. Jim Viebrock, R-Republic — allowing a horse slaughterhouse in Missouri.

The bill would seek to bypass the ban on using federal funds for horse meat inspection by allowing state officials to collect fees and pass them on to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are no horse slaughter plants in the U.S., but the meat is considered a delicacy in some countries.


Proponents argue the bill would create a market for horses that are otherwise abused or neglected. Shoss and other opponents argue that Americans don’t want to eat horse meat and that the slaughter process is inhumane.

Frame is against the bill, but he said he understands the seething anger felt by some of his colleagues who faced the onslaught of e-mails from as far away as Spain and Australia.

“I spent two hours before even getting to the office doing nothing but deleting those e-mails,” Frame said. “Almost none of them were from Missouri. I was as mad as I can be.”

Frame was mad enough to call Shoss and give her a piece of her mind. He was one of the few lawmakers to reveal his name, Shoss said.

Other lawmakers chose to respond to Shoss and her fellow activists via e-mail.

“It’s so fun to piss you wackos off,” wrote Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, to one activist from his private e-mail account. “You’re lucky I even acknowledge your existence. It’s so much fun to taunt people like you — ha! Tell me, is it truly liberating to be so incredibly clueless?”

Guernsey said he heard about some of the phone calls made to Shoss but said he didn’t make any of them.

“I e-mailed her and asked her to stop,” he said.

Several lawmakers chuckled when asked by the Post-Dispatch about the calls made to Shoss, and some said they thought they knew who made them, but none said they were involved.

The way Guernsey and some of his colleagues see it, they shouldn’t have to respond to lobbying on issues from people outside their district. And having to wade through all the e-mails to see whether any are from constituents is a waste of time, he said.

“If they’re from Missouri and they have some dog in the fight, that’s one thing,” Guernsey said.

Shoss said she thinks that attitude is shortsighted.

If horse slaughterhouses were to open in Missouri — which is unlikely, even if Viebrock’s bill were to pass — that would affect horses everywhere, she argued.
Shoss is a freelance graphic designer who also does work in advertising. Her e-mail pleas are generally fact-based and not particularly emotional. She directs Kinship Circle, which she founded, as a volunteer. The group also has a volunteer board.

Shoss is a former officer of the St. Louis Animal Rights Team who has also advocated against puppy mills, cockfighting and the poisoning of urban pigeons.

By their nature, animal activists are persistent, Shoss said. She concedes that flooding someone’s e-mail box with messages is “inconvenient,” but says legislators overreacted.

“Maybe Missouri lawmakers just didn’t know how organized and passionate we are,” Shoss said.

Shoss’ current group has coordinated pig rescues during flooding in Iowa and most recently has been involved in animal rescue following devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

Other animal activists say that what Kinship Circle does is no different than other political groups that flood lawmakers with e-mail.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of any state legislature reacting so negatively. It’s kind of shocking” said Susan Trout of Born Free USA, a national wildlife advocacy organization.

Trout was recently asked to serve on Kinship Circle’s board, and she said the group has a good reputation. Trout also said that most animal activist groups, like many political advocacy groups, participate in similar e-mail campaigns all the time.

The House passed Viebrock’s bill in a voice vote Monday. It needs one more House vote to go to the Senate.

Shoss said she was shocked by the suggestion that some lawmakers might vote for a bill simply because they didn’t like the way her group opposed it.

“They’re going to pass a bill to get back at me?” she said. “That’s just scary.”

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