“We need (BOG) boots on the ground! We need an army to do this!” With those words Liz Raab from Queens, New York, became commander and chief of one of the savviest, most successful, social media campaigns any state legislature has ever faced.
Four feet, eleven inches tall, “Liz took Ohio by storm,” affirmed Wendy Flickering-Smith, one of Liz’s lieutenants. She commandeered a grassroots core of 2,000 animal activists, ”Nitro’s Ohio Army”, with the lilt of her New York accent, straight talk from the heart, and a Facebook page. “I always tell them the truth. That’s why they go the extra mile,” assured Liz.
Liz launched her Ohio campaign from her battle station far away in one of the boroughs in NYC, successfully using her own fiery brand of charisma, animal passion, people smarts, and a “don’t back down” attitude. She motivated her Ohio troops in 88 counties to unyielding action on behalf of ground-breaking, companion animal legislation, HB 90, “Nitro’s Law”. With the enactment of “Nitro’s Law”, intentional animal cruelty by owners, managers, and employees in a kennel became a felony.
Liz began her battle to enact the initial “felony first”, animal cruelty legislation in Ohio shortly after a personal tragedy. Her beloved three-year old, Rottweiler, Nitro, was left with food, toys, full medical coverage, and anticipation of additional training in a Youngstown kennel, while she and her husband, Tom Siesto, kept vigil at the hospital bed of her ailing father.
When they came to pick up Nitro, they were stunned by the nightmarish scene and horrific news. Nitro was in a freezer waiting for them. The boarding kennel had been a hell hole, with no food or water for the animals lodged there. The nineteen dogs there had been left in a house of death. Nitro and six other animals had died slow, painful deaths, day by day, while boarded at the kennel.
An additional twelve animals were in deplorable physical condition, severely underweight, dehydrated, and near starvation. How could this happen? Liz and Tom’s much-loved animal went from a healthy 105 pounds when they left him at the kennel to 50 pounds at his death weeks later.
Ohio’s hideously weak animal laws revealed themselves at the criminal trial of the kennel owner. For severe, animal cruelty, the agonizing deaths by dehydration and starvation of seven dogs and the near deaths of twelve additional animals, all of which had been left by their owners in his care, the kennel owner was subject to a misdemeanor charge with four months in jail with four counts of animal cruelty. He then declared bankruptcy, which allowed him to avoid paying for the animals in the lawsuit.
The Commander Strategizes
This general would never leave behind her fallen comrade. “Change doesn’t happen unless there is a tragedy,” Liz acknowledged. She mustered up the grit to endure five years and three tours of duty in the Ohio General Assembly to see enacted a felony five provision in the Ohio Revised Code.
Liz, her daughter Christina, her husband Tom, and her thousands of soldiers in Nitro’s Army, sacrificed much and campaigned tirelessly with the Ohio legislators to put Ohio, which had been 34th in animal protections, on a playing field with the other states, forty-nine of which had felony provisions for animal abuse.
“I am far from a quitter. When someone tells me it cannot be done, I push ahead more,” asserted Liz. With her Army, Liz facilitated peaceful rallies throughout Ohio on behalf of animal welfare. The troops attended pet shows, parades, events, and expositions to educate the public about animal cruelty legislation. Platoons went door to door to collect signatures. Liz sent battalions to monitor specific, animal cruelty cases in courthouses throughout Ohio.
In addition, she initiated her “Wanted Wednesdays” program. On Wednesdays, Liz featured “cold cases” of Ohio animal abuse and cruelty on social media. “People send me their cases from all over Ohio. Sometimes the media sends them to me too,” Liz stated.
How did the 27,000 animal lovers who followed Liz on Facebook feel about her mission to protect companion animals? Kristina Manley, a soldier in “Nitro’s Ohio Army”, wrote, “Every Wanted Wednesday lights my fire to do more! Yes, it’s heartbreaking, but every one of those stories feeds my desire to change the world. It reminds me what we are fighting for. I don’t want those animals to have suffered in vain. I want to stop all the suffering. I will stand by all of those animals who have been wronged.”
Liz strategized her maneuvers for success in the Ohio General Assembly all the way from New York, speaking weekly with State Representative Ron Gerberry, from Youngstown, Ohio, where Nitro’s tragedy happened. She kept in touch personally with many of the state representatives and senators by phone and by e-mail.
The general was on her war game “24/7”. When in Columbus, a nine and a half hour drive from her home, she met personally with as many members of the Ohio Congress as she could. She watched all the taped versions of the Ohio General Assembly and its committees to study the personalities of the individuals, their preferences, their interests, their special projects. The general was mapping out her war plan.
Where did she get her grit? Liz answered, “I’m a Rottie mom. In all honesty, I’m just true to my breed. A Rottie is a very loving and caring animal, but he’s forceful when necessary … God sent this terrible situation with Nitro to me. It was my destiny. I believe that this was meant to happen because God knew that I would do something. He sent it so we could enact legal protections for animals. And we are going to keep on doing it!”
The Five-year Trek
What was a five-year trek through the Ohio General Assembly like? Liz replied, “There were no highs along the way, no clear victories. There were a lot of disappointments.” Still, she mustered on. It seemed in 2012 with the Ohio House approving HB 90 and an informal poll taken of the senators’ votes, that “Nitro’s Law” was headed for a long-awaited victory. But the Ohio Senate president refused to put the bill to the floor for a vote. Another opportunity for improved laws in Ohio died.
Thankfully, the tides turned favorably in the spring of 2013. Ohio Governor Kasich signed into law HB 90, “Nitro’s Law”. It was step one, an incremental part of a journey to increasingly strengthen Ohio animal protections. Liz announced, “We’ll be back in the fall. My dream is to see all of the animal groups in Ohio, the groomers, the breeders, the rescuers, the hobby breeders, the sportsmen, all come together. They need to check their feelings and preferences at the door and work together for what is best for Ohio animals.
“Nitro and his kennel mates will now be able to rest in peace. This law will make a huge difference. It will be built upon, in future General Assemblies, to include more and more (legal protections) for our companion animals, our family members.”
Now, even though “Nitro’s Law” had been enacted, Liz and her regiments in the Army remained on active duty. All of their successful campaigns continued in their Ohio garrison for the “next step”, felony for animal cruelty.
Liz Raab, commander of “Nitro’s Ohio Army”, distinguished herself in her call to duty. She showed unparalleled courage and dignity during and after the deaths of her beloved Nitro and each of her dear parents. In spite of her own health issues, she soldiered on with extraordinary leadership and selflessness, animating the troops with photos, songs, and funny pictures.
When enemy forces bore down, she wielded her mightiest weapon. She sent her soldiers pouring down on Ohio senators and Ohio representatives with calls, letters, and visits. She lit up social media with gospel choirs singing “Oh, Happy Day!” to rally the troops to action. On other days she ignited combat operations with raucous music, like “I’m Not Afraid to Take A Stand” and “Bad Boys, Bad Boys Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?”
We salute you, Liz! Mission accomplished. Ohio enacted its first “felony first” law, “Nitro’s Law”, to protect the defenseless, companion animals and their owners. We await the enactment soon of its sister bill, HB 45, Humane Officer Training.
One determined woman from New York stayed the course for five years, directed a huge social media blitzkrieg from a faraway state, and propelled tens of thousands of animal advocates to action, in order to replace the weak laws in Ohio, to forever protect companion animals and their owners, in memory of her own beloved Rottweiler, Nitro.