Top of the Month: Lucy's Law turns tragedy to triumph

It's rare for any campaign to result in a change in the law, and rarer still for a cabinet minister to heap praise on it when announcing such a change.

Lucy's Law supporters celebrating victory outside Downing Street last week (Pic credit: The Mirror)
Lucy's Law supporters celebrating victory outside Downing Street last week (Pic credit: The Mirror)

Yet that is what a group of campaigners have managed to do, in their spare time and with no money, in less than a year.

Last week Michael Gove, the environment secretary, announced that the government would ban the sale of puppies and kittens by pet shops and animal dealers.

He made a point of adding: "I pay tribute to the Lucy’s Law campaign, who have fought tirelessly for this step."

The campaign was conceived last year, when TV vet Marc Abraham came up with the idea of using the death of one of Britain’s best-loved dogs as a powerful symbol for change.

Lucy was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel rescued from a puppy farm in 2013. She was in terrible condition when taken in by dog lover Lisa Garner, with the little dog malnourished and suffering serious health problems such as having fused hips and a curved spine from malnourishment and being kept in a cramped cage.

Lucy died in 2016 but by that time her tragic tale had made her a mascot for the campaign against puppy farming and she had more than 70,000 followers on Facebook.

Abraham decided to use #LucysLaw as a shorthand for the call for a ban of third-party puppy and kitten sales by commercial dealers, in a campaign logo which incorporated the face of the dog who inspired it.

The vet credits the influence of his late father Tony, who worked in advertising and was the former creative director at Lansdown, as instilling "that whole branding culture in me".

The Lucy’s Law campaign was launched at an event in Westminster last December, with the campaign group consisting of Abraham, founder of PupAid; Linda Goodman and Sue Davey from Care And Respect Includes All Dogs; Julia Carr from Canine Action UK; barrister Sarah Clover; and Lucy’s owner Lisa Garner.

Abraham met with Mirror journalist Andrew Penman, with whom he’d worked with on puppy farming stories in the past, and managed to get the Mirror to back the campaign, running a series of stories and even creating a microsite dedicated to Lucy’s Law. 

Dogs Today magazine and Our Dogs newspaper also supported the campaign and a turning point came in February this year, when Ricky Gervais tweeted the campaign’s hashtag.

This was a "PR breakthrough", according to Abraham, citing Gervais’ massive social media following. "He’s a playmaker on social media and having that endorsement from one of the biggest animal lovers on the planet took the campaign to another level."

Abraham used targeted tagging on social media posts to help get the attention of journalists and animal-friendly celebrities. The social media-led campaign focused on regular postings to promote the hashtag.

Consistency of messaging was key, as was engaging with people and making sure they were publicly thanked on social media, according to Abraham.

An e-petition calling for a ban was launched in March, and the campaign used the progress of the e-petition as another reason to post about the campaign on social media.

In an example of the picture-led approach of the campaign, a giant #LucysLaw Mother’s Day card was taken to the Crufts dog show later that month, where coverage on Channel 4 saw more than 20,000 sign the e-petition in the space of an hour. The e-petition went on to get almost 150,000 signatures and triggered a Parliamentary debate in May this year.

Ahead of the debate, Newington Communications gave some public affairs advice to the campaigners and provided them with the twitter handles of hundreds of MPs.

Abraham then set to work sending individualised tweets to each MP, tagging their local media outlets and constituencies, and urging them to attend the debate. Just months later, the Government announced it would ban the sale of puppies and kittens.

The Lucy’s Law campaign was simple and clever, with sophisticated use of social media. It became headline news, with support from high-profile celebrities and politicians, and its ultimate goal of a ban on sales of puppies and kittens was achieved just eight months after it was launched.

The campaign has had at least 130 pieces in national newspapers alone since it launched, not to mention numerous pieces on TV and radio, and the support of a number of celebrities, such as Gervais, Brian May, Peter Egan, Sue Perkins, Clare Baldin and vlogger Zoella.

Abraham commented: "The Lucy’s Law campaign appears to have outshone some of the biggest animal welfare organisations in the UK, who all have in-house PR teams, the most unbelievable budgets at their disposal, easy access to TV, radio, multiple social media platforms and government."

He added: "And yet a small group of campaigners with no money and no in-house PR team, and running the campaign in our spare time, have basically - helped greatly by the face of little Lucy and what she stood for - shown what can be achieved to improve the lives of our nation's pets."

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