Writing Animal Articles

By Barbara Rosen

When I first became a full-time freelance journalist ten years ago, my dream was to devote myself entirely to writing articles to help animals. It took eight years for that dream to come true. In March, an editor at a major animal protection publication told me he only knows of seven full-time animal-protection freelancers, and I’m one of them.

Maybe, like me, you have a passion to make a difference for those who have no voice. Does it bother you that an estimated six million dogs and cats are killed in the US yearly because no one wants to adopt them? Do you feel sad that some chimpanzees, who share about 98 percent of our genes, spend their lives in cramped, barren cages in research laboratories? Would you like to help stop companies from tearing down the rainforests that are home to many types of animals? If things like these matter to you, then writing articles to help animals might be a way you can gain money and some peace of mind as well.

“Animals are the most oppressed beings on the planet,” Angel Gambino, an animal-rights attorney, told me. There’s a seemingly infinite number of ways that animals’ lives could be improved. If you read up on the animal-protection literature, I can guarantee that you’ll never run out of article ideas.

Writing Animal Friendly Articles

I’ll wager you can find at least one animal angle for every type of readership. Pet magazines, and animal welfare magazines such as the ASPCA Animal Watch, are the most obvious markets. But that’s just the beginning. For science magazines, why not cover the mental abilities of gorillas, and why scientists like Jane Goodall want to see these animals get better treatment? For a retirement magazine: “Are You Planning For Fido In Your Will?” For a children’s magazine: “Five Things To Ask Yourself Before You Get That Puppy.” For teen magazines, try profiling teens who have made a difference for animals. You might suggest in your query, “This might be especially appropriate for October, which is National Animal Safety and Protection Month.”

Then there are parenting magazines: “What To Do If Your Child Doesn’t Want To Dissect Animals In Class.” Holistic health magazines: “How To Be Beautiful Without Using Products Harmfully Tested On Animals.” Even religious magazines can be carriers of your message: “Do Animals Have Souls Like Ours?” Women’s publications might want an article on battered women’s shelters that allow women to bring their companion animals.

Thumb through a book like Writer’s Market to scan some of the trade publication listings. Truckers might want guidelines on how to avoid running over animals, or on how to transport animals humanely. Auto industry publications might want to alert readers that some antifreeze is deadly to animals and children.

I’ve been published in the law trade on how to be an animal-rights attorney. And social workers learned from me about how animal abuse can signal or lead to human abuse: “Watch Out For Animal Abuse–It Might Save Your Client’s Life.”

Police magazines might want to cover the law recently passed that makes it a felony to harm a police dog or horse. Teachers might want to read about programs they can use to teach children to be kind to animals.

How do I come up with so many article ideas? Many times, it’s from reading literature put out by animal protection groups. Several send me their publications regularly, because they’ve been interviewed for my articles and know I’m trying to make a difference for animals. If you can’t get your hands on their print publications, look up the groups on the web.

Articles on how Animals Suffer from Abuse

Sometimes I have an experience that tells me, “This is something you should write about.” Like the time a woman told me she didn’t want a second cat because she wanted her lonely indoor cat to be starved for companionship and lavish love on her during the few hours she was home. Ooh! I could have given her a piece of my mind. Instead, I wrote an article for Cats on the companionship needs of these social creatures, and I used “Ms. Selfish” as an example of what not to do.

J.R., a dog chained to my psychotic neighbor’s car for 18 months straight, inspired me to write about the cruelty of chaining dogs. In one of my articles, I included the story of how I tried to rescue J.R.

Keep your eyes open to what’s happening in your town. I queried a recycling-industry magazine about how my local recycling center finds homes for shelter dogs, and I got a “yes.” I wrote the cover story for a local alternative paper on the problem of homeless cats and dogs in my town. I covered how local animal activists got every restaurant in the town of Venice to stop selling milk-fed veal, and I sold the article to the Los Angeles Reader.

Don’t forget celebrity profiles or interviews. Paul McCartney, Mary Tyler Moore, and numerous others have been outspoken in the press about protecting animals.

Some of my topics are not obviously animal-rightsy, but they help animals indirectly. My article on how to give a dog a funeral (Dog Fancy) hopefully helped raise the status of dogs in society. Many companion animals are put to death because someone was allergic to them–so I wrote about ways to conquer allergies to horses, dogs and cats. The most popular hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is Premarin, made by locking up mares for months at a time to collect their urine (then sending most of the babies to slaughter). So I wrote about the very real health hazards of taking HRT.

Love ‘Em–Don’t Eat ‘Em

The vast majority of tormented-and-killed animals in the U.S., at least, are the ones people eat. For writers who want to help curb the suffering of farm animals, vegetarianism, fortunately, is an “in” topic these days. I’ve written, for example, about vegetarian diets for kids, and how restaurants can offer more meatless meals. I hope I also helped farm animals with my Q-and-A interview with a livestock consultant on how to raise “stress-free” sheep (National Wool Grower).

Who Do You Interview?

I often interview animal protection groups. Most of the time I balance out their points of view with the people they’re charging with abuse–for example, hunters, farmers and biomedical researchers. Run your animal-protection sources by editors first–they may consider certain groups too “radical” to be in their magazines. Don’t tell sources who else will be quoted, though. A promoter of the Iditarod sled dog race would not be interviewed for my article after I told him Friends of Animals (which wants the race banned) would be quoted too. When people refuse to be interviewed, I let readers know.

Sometimes I pick sources not because they’re necessary for my article, but because I want to influence them. When I wrote an article to promote sterilization of young pups and kittens (to curb animal overpopulation), I quoted two of Britain’s major animal charities. I did this mainly so that I could send them a copy of my article and be sure they’d read it. I almost always send a copy of my published piece to everyone I quote. Usually I add a note: “Please feel free to distribute photocopies, if you’d like.” That way, my articles help even more animals.

Do’s And Don’ts

1. Keep your readership in mind when you write. In your zeal, you don’t want to come across as too “extreme” and have an editor reject your piece. For example, if you’re writing for a conservative business publication, it’s probably better to quote a more conservative group like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) than a more radical one like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. If you’re writing for a hunting magazine, it’s probably better not to advocate banning all hunting–but you might write about how bow-hunting leaves many animals to slowly die of their wounds.

You might want to check with the editor before including graphic descriptions or photos of animal abuse.

Sadly, the vast majority of readers seem to care more about how to get pleasure for themselves than about how to alleviate the pain of animals. So you’re more likely to spark change in them if you focus on what’s in it for them. For example, when I write about vegetarianism, I rarely mention how this will help animals. Instead, I tell readers going vegetarian can improve their health, figure, environment, sports ability, etc. Most people care more about dogs and cats than about foxes and coyotes. So when I wanted readers to abhor the leghold trap, I focused on how dogs and cats sometimes get caught in the traps.

2. Appear as “objective” as possible. Unless you’re writing an opinion piece, or your editor lets you take a strong stand in articles, play it cool. For example, leave out exclamation points, superlatives like “amazingly,” and loaded words like “vivisection.” I tell editors and readers that I specialize in writing about animals, not animal protection. I make it a policy not to join animal protection groups or to participate in any of their activities. Editors probably won’t see me as objective if I’m personally involved in what I’m writing about.

3. Use language that promotes respect for animals. For example, refer to animals as “he” or “she” rather than “it;” “who” instead of “which;” and “companion animals” rather than “pets.” Refer to people as animals’ “guardians,” not as their “owners.” (The word “owner” implies that animals are mere property rather than beings in their own right.) Avoid language that debases animals: “bird-brained;” “I smell a rat;” “he acted like an animal.”

You might want to avoid euphemisms like “The shelter put hundreds of animals to sleep,” so that readers absorb what really DID happen: “The shelter killed hundreds of animals.”

4. Writing for foreign publications? Each country has its own animal laws and cultural attitudes toward animals. Prep up on these before you query.

If you care a lot about animals, writing articles to help them can be one of the most rewarding things you do. After I wrote about vegetarian bodybuilder Meghan O’Leary, she told me how women would approach her in the gym, eager to learn what foods she ate. That, for me, was more rewarding than any paycheck could ever be.

Magazines on Animal Abuse

Animals’ Agenda magazine

Animal People magazine

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:

Barbara Rosen is an award-winning journalist in the USA. For the sake of animals, she’d love to multiply herself. So feel free to take off on any of the article ideas she’s presented here.

2 thoughts on “Writing Animal Articles

  1. This is such a great and helpful set of ideas and suggestions. It is also my dream to use my writing ability to advocate effectively for animals. It is a tricky business because, as you point out, most users of animal products do not want to hear, see, or read anything that would diminish their enjoyment of using animal products. By refusing to acknowledge the truth about the “production” of animals for human consumption, people can pretend animal cruelty on factory farms, on fur farms, on fish farms, in puppy mills, in circuses, in zoos, rodeos, hunting arenas, bullrings, racetracks, … (my God, the list goes on and on and on) … does not exist. We humans have a unique talent for rationalizing our actions and behaviors to uphold and protect our less-than-moral pleasures. If animal-rights advocates fail to consider human nature, we risk angering people to the point where they cease to hear and all reasoning is lost. We risk making things worse for animals, not better.

    In addition to your suggestions and the resources you list above, could you please direct me to other resources you have found, or perhaps, workshops or writing classes that focus on crafting advocacy messages in support of animals?

    Thanks so much! And, thanks for your very useful article.


  2. Thanks for a wonderful guide to writing for animals! Although it’s 3 years old it’s still up to date and very useful.

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