DOWNTOWN COLUMBUS — Animal rights activists joined forces in the hopes of bringing sweeping changes for dogs in Ohio.
The group called Humane Coalition of Ohio is made up of people from animal rights groups all over the state. Several members said they've lost some political battles in the state legislature, so now they want to work together to pass bills in the Statehouse.
"There's so many wonderful animal advocates, rescue groups, but they tend to work tunnel vision on whatever project they're working on," said Luke Westerman, one of the people organizing the group. "Folks tend to think of animal people as kind of these radical, crazy radical people and what we want to do through this group is show that actually the largest voter base in America are animal owners, pet lovers."
Nearly a hundred people from around the state met Monday evening in Downtown Columbus. The group focused on getting rid of puppy mills, breed-specific language banning pit bulls and creating no-kill shelters.
"Animals don't vote," said Steffen Baldwin with the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio. "If animals don't vote, they're not always heard and they're not always listened to, but we vote."
One of the inspirations for the group was the recent passage of the so-called "Petland bill." Governor John Kasich signed it into law in December.
Petland lobbied for the bill which regulated dog sales in the state, but critics said it was a bill crafted by lobbyists to protect one company. Critics also accused Petland of buying dogs from puppy mills, a charge the company has long denied.
The Petland bill passed despite protests from numerous animal rights groups.
"We're here to speak for those folks who don't support things like the Petland bill," Westerman said. "There's strength in numbers."
Several people at the meeting said they want to turn the Franklin County Dog Shelter into a "no-kill facility." They said there are other shelters that size which are doing it. They wanted to show local shelters how they think it can be done as well.
"Let's get together," he said. "Let's talk through it and then let's go as a unit to the county to discuss it with them or the state legislature to discuss it with them."
The Humane Coalition of Ohio plans to meet at least quarterly in person in Columbus.