, Newburyport, MA

July 4, 2011

Animal advocate

All creatures have a friend in state Humane Society director

By Jill Oestreicher Gross

NEWBURY — It's only 8:30 a.m., but as Alexis Fox gazes out her window toward her neighbor's horses, she is already wondering where the day went. The energetic and articulate 30-year-old has phone calls to make and legislation to pass.

Since September when she became state director for the Humane Society of the United States, Fox has been spending most of her days lobbying for laws to protect animals' rights, investigating farming procedures throughout Massachusetts and answering questions on how to help injured animals.

"The spectrum of animals that I talk about in a day is amazingly varied," Fox said. "This is my dream job. It's wonderful."

She is also getting settled into her new life in Newbury, where she shares a home with her husband of five years, Jesse Fox, and the couple's two cats, Venus and Luna. She regularly bikes to town and to the beach and said that although she's only lived here since May, she already feels a sense of community.

"It's perfect. We love it here," she said.

After living in Gloucester, the pair picked Newbury to settle in because it is halfway between Beacon Hill, where she spends much of her working time, and Newmarket, N.H., where her husband creates custom bicycles at Independent Fabrications. When she was a child, her family traveled from their home in South Salem, N.Y., about an hour outside of Manhattan, to vacation on Plum Island.

Fox's degree in environmental politics from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, led her on a path to advocate for sustainable farming and protecting animals.

Her first foray into the world of animal law was at Stanford University in California, where then boyfriend Jesse Fox earned a graduate degree from the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. She attended a meeting of the Animal Legal Defense Fund there and was hooked.

"I knew early on that's where I was headed," said Fox, who is a vegan, meaning she does not eat animals or animal products. "It's been my passion to help animals."

A graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., Fox came to a point in her career where she said she had to choose to focus on either litigation or legislation. She chose the latter and is currently working with lawmakers to pass several bills related to animal protection laws, including protecting farm animals from extreme confinement, horses from slaughter and pets from domestic violence.

Working from a home office has allowed Fox to quickly ingratiate herself into the local mix, making connections in her hometown at Tendercrop Farm and Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm and in Newburyport at Plum Island Coffee Roasters, Revitalive Café© and Jabberwocky Bookshop, where she will host a free seminar Thursday nigh for people interested in learning how to advocate for animals. She also hopes to book time soon at MetroRock for rock-climbing practice.

One of her new neighbors, Debbie Goss, is an animal lover and owner herself and a member of the Humane Society. Goss said Greater Newburyport is lucky to have an advocate like Fox living here.

"She's so friendly and enthusiastic and knowledgeable," said Goss, who owns a pet-sitting business, Boardwalk Dog. "I'm sure Newburyport will be much more involved (with animal issues) now with Alexis being here."

Fox's upcoming seminar will explain how legislation is passed on the state level and how citizens can become involved with the bills she is working on.

Jabberwocky owner Sue Little, who has sheltered horses and cats at her barn in Newbury, said she's happy to have Fox present her work for the Humane Society at the bookstore.

" A lot of people in town are very orientated toward animals and toward kindness toward animals," Little said.

The bill Fox says is closest to her heart is the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (H. 458/S. 786), which specifically addresses the confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and male calves. The bill would prohibit the confinement of the animals in a manner that does not allow them to lie down, stand up, turn around freely and fully extend their limbs.

Another bill (S. 1033) would update the antiquated wording of animal control laws, create a statewide spay and neuter program, and provide training for animal control officers. She's also working on bill S. 655, which would ban horse slaughter for human consumption and prohibit exporting horses to other countries for slaughter, and bill S682, which would protect animals during a domestic violence dispute.

"Massachusetts is a leader in animal protection, and Alexis is a leader, too, so she's a natural fit for the state," said Elise Traub, an outreach and policy manager at the Humane Society of the United States. "Alexis has a real gift for grass-roots organizing and she's the perfect person to mobilize the residents who want our state to remain at the forefront of animal protection."


What: Effective Animal Advocacy seminar presented by Alexis Fox

When: Thursday at 7 p.m.

Where: Jabberwocky Bookshop, The Tannery, 50 Water St., Newburyport

How: Free admission

Did you know?

When Alexis Fox turned 30, she had her hair cut into a shorter style and donated what had been chopped.

Fox spent four years laughing at Bates College in Maine as a member of the improvisational comedy troupe Strange Bedfellows.

Fox wasn't born a Fox; her maiden name is Curry.