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Judie Mancuso gets the word out for creatures who have no choice, no voice, no vote

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Getting the word out for animals” is Laguna resident Judie Mancuso’s passionate mission, and she accomplishes it in a groundbreaking way – by fighting to create legislation that protects and saves the lives of animals. She has long been recognized as a leading advocate in California’s battle for animal protection laws. 

In the 12 years since founder, CEO, and president Mancuso started Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, 16 bills (including the one that was just passed last week) have been put into law in California that have significantly changed the lives of animals long term. Her organization sponsors and supports landmark legislation that promotes the care, rights, and protection of animals. 

Mancuso has been featured multiple times in the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, and has been interviewed on CNN, HLN, Fox News, BBC, NPR, NY Times, NY Post, SF Gate, Sacramento Bee, and many other periodicals, radio shows, online news publications, and all local major network stations. 

Just this past Sunday, Mancuso was on a news conference with NBC’s Conan Nolan to discuss the passing of Wildlife Protection Act of 2019 into law: “People are coming of age on these issues, and the public opinion is shifting.” 

To view the interview, click here.

Mancuso and her organization have had much to do with this change.

Results driven campaigns

One of SCIL’s most well-known successes was the passing of Bill AB 485, in October of 2018, which made California the first state to ban the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores. The bill, which also covers cats and rabbits, requires that pet stores only sell shelter/rescue animals.

Mancuso was instrumental in passing the Dining With Dogs law that makes it legal for restaurants in California and New York to offer areas for people to dine with their companion canines. More states are expected to follow suit.

Additionally, she founded the Pet Lover’s License Plate, a California specialty license plate available through the Department of Motor Vehicles, which was created to raise awareness regarding pet overpopulation and fund free and low-cost spay and neuter programs throughout the state. To date the plate has brought in more than 1.6 million dollars for free spay and neuter surgeries. 

Judie Mancuso and dog

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Judie Mancuso with Dinky Pooh

This is a particularly significant week for SCIL. On September 5, the AB 273 (Gonzalez) Wildlife Protection Act of 2019 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. It prohibits commercial or recreational trapping on both public and private lands, making California the first state to outlaw a centuries-old practice of commercial trapping of native species, including gray foxes, coyotes, badgers, beavers, and mink, whose pelts are often sold in foreign fur markets.

Mancuso says, “The signing of this bill into law is the result of compelling data and a change of heart in public opinion regarding animal cruelty.”

Deadline to sign or veto bills

Governor Newsom has until October 13 to sign or veto all bills that come to his desk. Right now, Mancuso has two others awaiting signature and three more one step away – SB 202 Blood Banks (would allow for animals that live with their owners to give blood at commercial blood banks), SB64 Pet Microchipping (currently on the Governor’s desk, passed full Assembly vote 76-0 on September 2), AB 733 Aquatic Toxicity (hazardous waste must be disposed of properly), SB 313 Animals: prohibition on use in circuses (ban on statewide traveling wild-animal exhibitions, passed State Senate), and AB 1260 Endangered Species (also currently on the Governor’s desk). This bill would ban the importation and sale of skin and other body parts from lizards, hippopotamuses, and caimans. 

Mancuso says, “If Governor Newsom signs them all, it will be the first time in history that this number of animal protection bills have been passed and signed into law at the same time.”

Advocating for animals even before SCIL 

Even before founding SCIL, Mancuso had long been an advocate for animal rights.

Although she was born in St. Louis, Mo., and came to Calif. when she was nine months old, the family only stayed a short time and moved back to St. Louis because her mother was homesick. Not surprisingly, Mancuso loved animals as a child and wanted to be a veterinarian. Eventually, 25 years later, she came back out west – to Los Angeles. 

She was appointed as a public member to the California Veterinary Medical Board in July of 2010, where she served the maximum of eight years, two four-year terms. Following a successful 20-year career in the information technology industry, she began using her skills and expertise for advocacy, legislation, humane education, and other pro-animal program development. 

Judie Mancuso three dogs

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With Twiggy, Petula, and Dinky Pooh at Alta Laguna Park. Mancuso also has five cats at home.

In 1995, Mancuso moved to Laguna, selecting this location, “Because of the beauty and its proximity to everything, and the open space and wildlife.” 

How SCIL was born

During her time in L.A., Mancuso says, “I was protesting and saving animal lives one at a time while doing rescue work in Los Angeles. I realized we needed something that would really make change and affect animals on a larger scale, and what we were doing wasn’t moving the needle large scale. So I decided to go big with something sweeping like legislation. My background in information technology gave me the foundation to create solutions and find a path to success. We are results driven.”

When she says “we,” she’s including her 10-person board which consists of: Simone Reyes, VP Communications, Leah Sturgis, VP Wildlife, Nickolaus Sackett, Director of Legislative Affairs, Margaret Perenchio, celebrity superstars Diane Keaton and Maggie Q, Haze Lynn, Katie Cleary, and Dr. Karen Halligan. 

A SCIL event Mancuso hosted in July to welcome Keaton and Maggie Q to the board raised $164,000.

Sponsoring legislation is expensive

Since she founded SCIL, Mancuso says, “many people and groups are coming to me saying, ‘We’d like to do a bill on this or that...but I have to say, ‘not without funding.’ Sponsoring legislation is an expensive task.” 

Mancuso currently has six contract lobbyists working for her nonprofit, both state and federal. Her organization also partners with some big groups to utilize their expertise and hundreds of thousands of supporters around the state. They include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). 

She says, “We only have so much expertise – they have doctors, scientists, an army of attorneys and other experts. My group is teeny tiny compared to them, but we have the political strength and know how to get things done.” 

A long path to the governor’s desk

Evidently, it’s not an easy process to get a bill on the governor’s desk for signature. It’s an arduous course of action. Mancuso explains that it requires the navigation of necessary governmental paths, which involves lobbyists, public relations, the Assembly, and the Senate. 

The ideas for bills come from a variety of sources – board members, donors, supporters, elected officials, and Mancuso herself. The SCIL board then votes on the bills to determine which they’ll sponsor. Based on what they decide, other groups and individual supporters provide funding. 

Judie Mancuso kissing

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Dinky Pooh

Mancuso says, “We pitch the bill to an assemblymember/senator and ask if they want to carry it for us. Sometimes a member of their staff is excited about the bill and that helps the process.”

However, she’s immersed on a local level as well. 

Last year, Mancuso ran for a seat on the Laguna Beach City Council.

Recently, she was appointed to the Laguna Beach Environmental Sustainability Committee for a two-year term. Mancuso says, “We are considering a couple of important issues – banning of plastics and pesticides.” 

Advocating for animals here in the wilderness, she fought the City Council’s decision to allow the trapping and killing of coyotes in the city. Her outcry and grassroots support led to the reversal of the decision.

California is an influencer

​ Mancuso made headlines as the organizing force behind the fight to spare the life of local mountain lion P-45 after the Department of Fish and Wildlife issued of a 10-day permit allowing ranchers in Malibu to shoot and kill him after four alpacas were found dead on a farm. The permit was ultimately revoked, and the permit holder instead decided to work with Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service, and the Mountain Lion Foundation on better ways to humanely protect their animals from mountain lions. Mancuso was instrumental in that outcome.

Based on her actions, this was a significant step in helping animal welfare organizations in their desire to ultimately pass new legislation to make it tougher to obtain kill permits.

​“California is a significant influencer on the nation,” Mancuso says, “It is the fifth largest economy in the world, as we go, so goes the nation.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mancuso – and her organization SCIL – is a significant influencer in the welfare of many creatures. She has given them a voice and a vote, and all animal lovers applaud her.

For more information on SCIL, go to www.socialcompassioninlegislation.org.