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An animal activist named Fearing has her foes worried

Jennifer Fearing's unlikely career path took her from highly paid L.A. consultant to Sacramento representative for the U.S. Humane Society. It all started with a stray dog.

April 20, 2009|Eric Bailey

SACRAMENTO — Her inner alarm chimes before dawn, long before her dog Yoda emerges from his nightly nest amid the bed covers, before the proverbial rooster crows and the day begins for 19 million or so egg-laying chickens whose lives she worked to change.

It's 5 a.m., and Jennifer Fearing is beginning another day as the rising star of California's animal protection movement.

The statehouse point person for the Humane Society of the United States plucks her iPhone from a bedside table and launches the first of hundreds of e-mails she'll send today. Fearing, raised an Air Force brat, calls her schedule "a wartime blessing and a peacetime curse."

But it is routine for the 37-year-old, whose career took off with the landmark ballot measure California voters passed last fall easing the confinement of hens and other factory farm animals. Fresh from her victory as manager of that campaign, with its 19-hour days, she set up shop as the Humane Society's lobbyist in the Golden State.

She flips through blogs and news websites and e-mail, prepping for the long day ahead. It will be paced like the marathons she somehow finds time to run.

"Jennifer has an extra motor in there," says her boss, the society's chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, who often arrives at his Washington headquarters to find a flock of Fearing's early e-mails.

Fearing stands out in the Capitol's animal rights corps -- a passionate but sometimes scruffy lot -- with her stylish blond hair, high heels and a resume jammed with achievement. She has a Harvard graduate degree, a highly paid past with a Los Angeles consulting firm and service at all ranks of the animal-protection movement.

She was reared a Midwest Republican and a Presbyterian. As a teenager, she was president of Christian singer Amy Grant's fan club. She interned for the first Bush administration and voted once for the second. Among the liberal-leaning true believers at the Humane Society, Fearing is still considered the token Republican, though she grew disillusioned with the GOP several years ago and registered independent.

Chums once jokingly presented the former sorority girl with a plastic doll of Elle Woods, the Chihuahua-toting dynamo who triumphs over stereotype in the movie "Legally Blonde."

Fearing nonetheless remains a rookie in the house of mirrors that is the state Capitol. She has her worries.

"I'm probably going to get eaten alive," she says.

For now, Fearing and her cohorts have foes worried.

The landslide passage of Proposition 2 left California's egg farmers decidedly anxious about their future. They cite bare-knuckle tactics that Fearing helped shape, including litigation to tie up $3 million of their money and a lawsuit against two industry-backing researchers from UC Davis -- Fearing's undergraduate alma mater.

Leaders of the state's agriculture industry aren't accustomed to losing. But Proposition 2 proponents "beat the tar out of us," said Arnold Riebli, a fourth-generation Sonoma County egg producer.

Fearing and her troops -- she built a campaign army of 4,000 California volunteers -- "have the zeal of missionaries," Riebli said, "and in some cases that's what they are: zealots for what they call animal welfare."

Today, that campaign is in Fearing's rear-view mirror. Soy-chai latte in hand, she's driving to her first appointment. Her Prius bears a bumper sticker: "Wag More, Bark Less."

At the wheel, Fearing holds forth on the evils of Internet dog sales and the perils of puppy mills: "Those animals are treated like nothing more than a cash crop."

And she talks about herself.

"I'm kind of a mess to manage," Fearing allows. "I'm a little bit of a whirling dervish."

Her first meeting is at her unofficial office: a corner table in a bohemian coffee hangout not far from the Capitol.

She sits over tea with two representatives of the California Council of Churches, talking of the moral link between animal protection and Christianity.

Fearing tells them of the push to persuade consumers to buy cage-free eggs. She voices hope that the churches will support a bill to ban the amputation of dairy cows' tails. Such treatment hardly seems what God intended, Fearing says as her listeners nod in agreement.

Her own bible on animal protection is "Dominion," a book by Matthew Scully, a speechwriter for former President George W. Bush, who argues that Christians and conservatives should join to shepherd the best interests of creatures great and small.

Fearing glances at her watch -- five minutes until a meeting at the Capitol, four blocks away. She's out the door, dodging puddles from a recent storm. She catches her breath before marching into the office of state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a member of the Food and Agriculture Committee.

They shake hands, and Fearing recites her resume.

"Oh, you ran Proposition 2," Pavley says, nodding in appreciation.

Animal protection is big this year in Sacramento, where more than three dozen bills on the subject are moving through the Legislature.

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