Animal welfare advocates have growing -- but largely untapped -- power in Washington and Albany, Rep. Kathleen Rice said Saturday in Mineola.

Rice (D-Garden City) said that when she was Nassau County district attorney, no issue generated more phone calls to her office than those involving cruelty to animals. "There are people out there," Rice told about two dozen people at Mineola Memorial Library. "We just have to figure out how to mobilize them."

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She was joined by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat who speaks widely on animal welfare issues, as he did Thursday at New York University. He said far more Americans belong to animal welfare groups than to the politically powerful National Rifle Association. The NRA has outsize political power because of its lobbying, savvy messaging and ability to quickly marshal members for or against legislation, he said.

"It is critical that people who care about animal welfare care about it as much as the NRA cares about guns," said Blumenauer, co-chairman of the congressional animal protection caucus. He said awareness about animal welfare legislation is growing because of social media and other factors, but few people contact elected officials about animal-related bills.

Among the political priorities for his caucus are proposals to ban animal testing for cosmetics and another to increase penalties for using painful chemicals to induce horses to walk with an exaggerated gait, Rice and Blumenauer said. Another would include pets in domestic violence restraining orders, a response to the fact that some people remain in abusive relationships because abusers threaten their pets, Blumenauer said.