When you think of the term ‘discrimination’ the first thing that likely pops into your mind are groups of people discriminating against other groups of people. For Luke Westerman, animal discrimination, especially in the dog world, is something he thinks a lot about.
A former corporate worker, he now works tirelessly to change and expand the public perception of some of the most vulnerable dogs in our communities.
He actively talks to law-makers, community decision-makers and the public about how we can better raise, rescue and respect man’s best friend. Westerman is a shining example of what deep love and passion can achieve when directed into action.
His work with Breed Specific Legislation is giving a voice to those unfairly labeled and stigmatized. We spoke to Luke about his dedication to this noble cause.
You are a former ‘Wall Streeter’ what happened? Why did you move away from that work & what do you do today?
I reached a certain point in my life where I became aware of my calling and wanted to pursue it. For me, that’s helping animals. Whether that’s through advocacy and activism, rescue or through ventures that serve animals and their people.
You say you want to go to bed each night knowing you helped as many people and animals as possible, what’s a typical day and tell us about a successful day that comes to mind.
At this point in my life, all I want to do is make a positive impact. If an activity I’m engaged in isn’t making someone’s life better, I stop doing it.
My days are a mixed bag of activities. Everything from meeting with legislators to discuss potential laws that can better protect animals, to networking for homeless animals, to raising public awareness about important issues animals are facing, to collaborating with animal welfare leaders across the globe, to galvanizing the public around salient topics impacting animals, etc.
A successful day for me is engaging in all of those activities at some point throughout the day.
Your posts are very often confronting in terms of the darker side of humanity and the way they treat animals, can you tell us a memorable/warm story that comes to mind and that makes it all worthwhile?
I think it’s important that we acknowledge the reality of the world we live in. There is still a lot of ugliness towards animals, sometimes right in our own communities and unless we’re aware of that, we can’t take action to fix it. I feel a responsibility to put facts out there in addition to recommended action steps to remedy these problems.
This is how I got involved in animal welfare. I would see a problem and my natural instinct is to try to solve that problem. When I adopted my first pit bull I learned (after the fact) about the evil of pit bull discrimination and the evil people who perpetuate hate against these pure and innocent souls. So I got involved and have been actively combatting breed discrimination ever since. Everything from attending city council meetings all across the country in an effort to help convince elected leaders to do the right thing and repeal BSL to encouraging and coaching others to do similarly in their communities.
Now seeing innocent dogs once again being able to live in the open in their communities where they were once at risk of seizure and euthanasia is extremely rewarding.
I share a lot with people about the importance of adopting. Because I’ve seen the ugliness of the puppy mill business first hand, I have an understanding of the abuse and neglect that the industry perpetuates. Sharing the fact that buying a puppy from a pet store continues the cycle of abuse to the parents of that puppy has helped countless people make the better choice of adopting from a shelter or rescue.
Helping people realize they can adopt a puppy or a specific breed from a shelter or rescue often results in someone choosing to adopt and not shop. The key is not to be judgmental or accusatory, but to still be passionate while helping people come to the right decision on their own.
What do you hope to achieve with your work in the next 3-5 years or even 20?
I want to help make the United States No-Kill. Meaning, no more euthanasia in our shelter system (unless it’s medically the only humane option). I want to help make breed discrimination illegal throughout the country as well. I want pet stores throughout the country to adopt a rescue-only model (meaning no more sourcing from breeders) and I want to help shut down the ugly puppy mill industry. These are long term goals but goals that are achievable when we all work together, respectfully, to that end.
Just be prepared to deal with haters. Be aware that as your voice grows louder, you may face slander, defamation and character assassination attempts. I’ve experienced all this and more, including bogus legal accusations aimed at silencing my voice so bad people can continue to hurt animals for profit.
Whenever you are willing to oppose powerful people and organizations whose business is exploiting animals including the public officials who do their crooked bidding, you are putting a target on your back. Wear it like a badge of honor. When evil people are gunning for you, it’s a sign you are doing holy work. Keep going. Don’t be intimidated. The animals are counting on you!
What other organisations or individuals inspire you?
I am inspired by my friends at Best Friends and other organizations that put animals first every day. I’m inspired by my fellow shelter leaders across the country (like Austin Pets Alive for example) who refuse to kill animals, choosing instead to create programs that save lives. I’m inspired by friends like Steffen Baldwin who work exclusively with dogs that people have given up on and falsely deemed “aggressive” or “un-savable”. I want to be in the company of people who put the animals first and don’t have time or interest in tearing others down or sitting back while animals suffer and die.
What is something everyone reading can do to become a better voice or advocate for dogs and animals in general?
Contact your local elected leaders. Start meeting with them, develop relationships with them where you have their ear and you can be a voice for the animals. They will listen when we are respectful, informed and passionate.
I encourage everyone to find a group of people in your community with similar passions for animals and start actively collaborating together on behalf of animals. Create strong grassroots groups that can stand up for animals on issues that impact them in your communities. There is strength in numbers and that’s especially true in the political arena. Participate in protests. They are extremely effective. Anyone saying otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Publicly boycott businesses that profit off of the pain and suffering of animals. Tell everyone you know about the issues animals are facing and provide action steps so folks know how to effectively channel their emotions for the benefit of animals. Keep your passion. It can be emotionally draining to see the plight of animals day in and day out. Find an emotional support system and keep going. The animals are counting on us.
How can people support your work?
Follow me on Instagram to see the issues and causes I’m currently working on. I always provide details on how everyone can help move important initiatives forward.
I’m working on an app that will help animals and their people and when that is ready to go live I’ll share those details. The bottom line, we can accomplish much for animals when we work together so let’s collaborate and make the world better for animals and their people!
Who should we interview next?
Steffen Baldwin. He’s an example to me and countless others and he’s in the trenches day in and day out making the lives of animals better.
Luke, Thank you so much for sharing your story and for being such an incredible advocate for these beautiful souls.
Guys, please go and follow Luke HERE and be sure to take his advice around speaking up and getting involved in your local community to promote the rights and welfare of animals in our care.