A Dog’s Best Friend

Above: Storm, a 2-year-old mixed breed, shows his affection for Haley Anderson. Storm was rescued by AHeinz57, a foster-based animal rescue organization headquartered in De Soto.  

Writer: Erin Kiernan
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

One of Haley Anderson’s earliest memories is of her grandfather raising his voice. “He was usually so mild-mannered, and he never yelled,” she recalls. “He was upset because I’d picked up a kitten by its neck and was accidentally choking it.” 

Her grandfather not only showed her the correct way to handle the cat, he also told her it was her job to show others how to treat animals. 

That interaction set the tone for Anderson’s life’s work as an animal welfare advocate. She’s been the executive director of the Iowa Pet Alliance for the past two years. 

Born and raised in Ankeny, she spent every summer with her grandparents in rural Iowa and developed a fondness for collecting wild cats and kittens. “Even as a child I was the ‘crazy cat lady’ and my grandparents let me keep them all,” the now 37-year-old Anderson says with a laugh. “My grandfather cut a door in the garage and made beds for them so they’d survive the winter. He taught me a lot about kindness and compassion.” 

Anderson’s love for animals inspired her to pursue a degree in animal science at Iowa State University. “It sounded like a perfect fit,” she says, “but as soon as I realized what being a veterinarian really involved, I couldn’t stomach it.” 

Another realization hit Anderson that year: Life is short. Her father died from pancreatic cancer, an event that served as “a tough and very vivid lesson on mortality” that made her want to focus on enjoying life and making the world a better place. She took a year off from college, then transferred to the University of Iowa, where she graduated in 2006 with a degree in English. 

After working for a few years at Blank Park Zoo, Anderson spent seven years ping-ponging back and forth between working on behalf of animals in the United States and teaching English in Asia. She eventually landed in Thailand, working for a nonprofit focused on caring for street dogs and advocating for the country’s first animal welfare law. It was enacted at the end of 2014 and, Anderson says, “This is when the power of advocating for laws really clicked with me.” That mindset was cemented when she started working with groups throughout Asia as the international director for an anti-dog-meat campaign. “Writing press releases about protecting animals doesn’t do anything,” she says, “but enacting policy does.” 

That passion for policy is what turned a visit back home at the end of 2016 into a move back home. Anderson started volunteering for the nonprofit group Iowa Pet Alliance (then Iowa Voters for Companion Animals), and within a few months she became executive director. 

“Iowa is ranked 48th in the nation for animal protection laws and continues to be a leading puppy mill state,” Anderson says. “Our laws and enforcement aren’t protecting Iowa pets, and people who harm pets aren’t given appropriate sentences.” 

Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, says Anderson’s efforts are admired by animal advocates across the country. “With Haley, the animals always come first and their welfare is her only concern,” he says. “All Iowans who care about animals are fortunate to have her fighting the fight for them at the state Capitol.” 

Anderson has seen the sad effects abusive owners have on pets. Two years ago the self-described crazy cat lady took in Duke the dog, a rescue who was “afraid of his own shadow.” Now, she says, he’s blossomed into the “smartest and sweetest dog.” 

She’ll spend the 2020 legislative session working for animals like Duke, pushing for legislation addressing companion animal cruelty laws and commercial dog breeding. 

Her grandfather undoubtedly would be proud of the woman who rescued kittens as a little girl: “He taught me that we all need to be better people and work together. He’s why I am who I am.”

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