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Connie, who was president of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay at the same time, also took care of having all the neighborhood animals spayed, neutered, registered and brought up to date on their shots. The following year she was recognized as the Florida Association of Realtors Humanitarian of the Year. In 2012, the National Association of Realtors honored her with their National Community Hero of the Year award. Connie also sits on the State Board of


Veterinary Medicine, reappointed earlier this year by Governor Rick Scott. As a political advisor to the U.S. Congress on Private Property rights, she also has Tallahassee lawmakers’ ears with regards to real estate issues. “I talk to them about real life situations. They want to hear what they’re constituents are thinking and they know I’ll be straightforward with them.” That point became ever- apparent as we had an opportunity to shadow Connie during this year’s Humane Lobby Day in Tallahassee on January 24. Sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, it is the one day that gives animal advocates an oppor- tunity to talk to their legislators about passing laws that protect animals in their state.


That morning, animal advocates from


all over Florida gathered at the Challenger Learning Center in Tallahassee. We listened to Christine Dorchak and Carey Theil of GREY2K USA discuss the reality of bringing Greyhound racing in Florida to an end. The goal: get the item on the November ballot for the people to vote. We were also given presentations on Ponce’s Law and the Lost or Stray Dogs or Cats bills. After lunch, we (Connie, myself and Belinda Reynolds, Practice Director for the SPCA Florida) headed to the Florida Capitol to meet with legislators and/or members of their staff. All other Humane Lobby Day participants had appoint- ments scheduled for them. We did not, however, that didn’t mean we were going without a plan. Connie had already mapped everything out—where we were going, who we were going to see and why.


The walk to the Capitol was not


uneventful. It was just around lunchtime, and the sidewalks were crowded with


24 THE NEW BARKER


lawmakers. Connie stopped to talk with several of them along the way. Everyone she called by name responded enthusias- tically, stopping briefly to listen to what she had to say. Each of her conversations was congenial, always with a point made, whether it was an upcoming bill in ani- mal advocacy or real estate. She made certain the lawmaker registered the infor- mation. I am not ashamed to admit—I stood there slack-jawed, until Connie poked me to keep moving.


The day before heading to Tallahassee,


I received some disturbing news about a proposition that had just emerged to place a ban on local pet store regulations. If passed, it would essentially strip local municipalities of the authority to regulate pet stores, specifically banning the retail sale of cruelly-bred puppies in stores. It would also reverse the bans passed in almost 60 Florida municipalities. I shared the information with Connie, who quickly put in both a phone call and text message to the office of one of the proposition’s sponsors, Commissioner Tom Lee. And the gears of Tallahassee politics began moving. Within 24 hours, Connie sent me a text. There was somewhat of a reprieve as the proposition was pulled from the agenda, presumably to be re-written. Ponce’s Law is named after a


Pistol Pete, one of Connie’s 12 dogs.


He survived four major surgeries and nine days in intensive care. Doctors told Connie he wasn’t going to make it and she told them, “Oh yes he will!”


Whatever one’s politics are, this was


the heartland of how things get done— seemingly so simple yet so profound. It’s not just who you know but what you know, and when to use it. This was poetry in motion. Once inside, we had an opportunity


to sit down with State Representative Janet Cruz-Rifkin, Tampa District 58, to discuss Ponce’s Law. We went to the office of Tom Leek, Florida House of Representatives, District 25 and spoke with one of his most knowledgeable aides, Dylan Fisher. Dylan was so very helpful throughout the Legislative Session, making himself available to me via email and phone to answer questions, provide updates and guidance on the status of bills, especially Ponce’s Law. His availability and assistance would prove vital to the cause later in February.


Labrador Retriever puppy who was beaten to death by his owner in Ponce Inlet last year. Travis Archer is awaiting trial on felony animal cruelty charges. Debbie Taylor Darino presented a proposed amendment to our State Legislature for consideration of amending the current animal cruelty laws. Debbie’s proposed amendment would impose stricter, harsher punishment and penalties for the abuse, torture, and killing of innocent animals. We continued to communicate with Debbie throughout the legislative session and posted updates to our readers on social media whenever she notified us. The bill seemed to be moving along, until February 14. The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida put the brakes on almost every bill and proposition in the Florida Legislature. All focus was, understandably, redirected to the protection of students and gun control. Debbie was concerned but unde-


terred. She didn’t want to telegraph her doubts to the public. But then, seemingly at the 11th hour, the bill hit a wall when we couldn’t even get it placed on the agenda. The 2018 session was coming to a close. “I guess we’ll just have to start again in 2019,” said Debbie. After I hung up with her, I sent a message to Connie, who was able to reach the right people, all the while communicating with Debbie.


www.TheNewBarker.com


Photograph by Nikki Dudack


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