Good laws protect dogs and uphold the rights of responsible owners. But alarmingly, too many recent animal laws erode the rights of owners and mandate care requirements that defy both science and common sense.
Some of the best—and worst—news heard ringside is, “Did you hear they just passed a law…”
The American Kennel Club Government Relations Department (AKC GR) works with dog owners, AKC clubs, and allied groups to protect the rights of dog owners and help ensure that laws governing dog ownership, exhibition, and breeding are reasonable and non-discriminatory.
AKC clubs drive this advocacy on behalf of dogs, especially on the state and local levels. Members may ask, “What can we do to support good dog laws and to amend or defeat bad ones?” Here are 25 actions every AKC club can take, starting today:
- Keep your AKC legislative liaison and club officer contact information up-to-date. AKC GR relies on this information to be able to contact you in case we need to reach you about a dog law proposal in your community. AKC GR emails geo-targeted legislative alerts to club officers based on club-submitted officer information. If this is not kept current, club officers may miss receiving important information. Update legislative liaison and officer contact info today.
- Sign up to receive legislative alerts directly. AKC legislative alerts are available to all dog owners. View recent alerts and sign up to receive future communication at www.akc.org/legislative-alerts.
- Quickly advise AKC GR when canine legislation is discussed in your community. AKC GR utilizes a tracking system for federal and state bills, but that does not cover local measures. Immediately email email@example.com when you hear about dog issues at county and city levels of government.
- Appoint and empower an AKC Legislative Liaison for your club. Legislation can—and does—move in hours. Legislative Liaisons are AKC GR’s main point of contacts at AKC clubs, and they must be able to receive and quickly forward alerts to all club members. You may also want to consider forming a legislative committee within your club (especially if it’s a breed club) to help share responsibilities across regions or when hot issues are in play.
- Identify your allies. Successful advocates form strategic alliances with like-minded groups, such as owners and breeders of other pet species, sportsmen, 4-H, agricultural organizations, groomers, trainers, industry professionals, and veterinarians. Get to know animal control in your community. Find out if you can help a local shelter with their needs and build a positive relationship with them. Animal control often only sees and hears negative things about breeders. Unless they hear directly from us, that may be all they ever hear about breeders.
- Share mutually relevant communication with allies. Include them in your outreach and advocacy. There is strength in numbers.
- Establish a quick-response team for phone, text, social media, and email communications. Legislation can move fast, sometimes in hours or overnight. Getting the word out quickly and taking immediate action is crucial to success. Prioritize reaching your most informed and active club members and allies with breaking news.
- Compile contact info about elected officials. When you need to send a fast message to lawmakers, how long would it take to locate contact info? Set up a committee to annually update contact information for your state representatives and senators and for county and city commissioners.
- Get to know your elected officials. Meet with state senators and representatives in their home districts, especially now while most state legislatures are adjourned. Let them know that you, your AKC club, and the AKC Government Relations Department are reliable and knowledgeable resources on dog issues. 2022 is an election year. Encourage fellow dog owners to register to vote. Learn about candidates’ positions on animal issues, and support those who are dog friendly. Be sure to invite them to your events and shows. When they come to an event, be sure you have a knowledgeable person available to devote time to them, provide a tour, explain what’s going on and answer questions. Follow up on all correspondence with them. Send them updates on notable things your club is doing in the community.
- Be an effective advocate. Empower yourself and your club members to speak at public meetings before dog legislation is introduced. Time is usually limited, so practice delivering concise and meaningful statements. When addressing lawmakers in person or via video conference, organize in advance and divide topics among speakers to minimize duplication. View the AKC GR Toolbox at www.akcgr.org for information and talking points.
- Practice responses to questions and challenges. We have all heard about elevator speeches—those three-minute sales pitches. Can you also do it in 30 seconds? Also practice polite, positive responses to factually incorrect, inflammatory, or impolite questions and statements, such as: “Why do you breed dogs when pets in shelters are dying?” and, “Why do you have purebreds, are you some kind of elitist?”
- Eliminate animal rights and extremist language. For example, the derogatory term “puppy mill” is too often applied to all dog breeders. Change the dialogue! When referring to a neglectful breeder or an abusive pet owner, call them what they are: a “substandard breeder” or “abusive owner.”
Avoid “guardian,” “fur mommy,” and “pet parent.” “Guardian” has legal ramifications that could empower a third party to remove a dog from your care and control. Protect your property rights and proudly use the correct term: dog owner.
“Rescue” is overused in reference to a dog placed under new ownership. In most cases, a more accurate term is “rehomed.” Another frequently misused word is “adopt.” Under law, it is a sale when consideration in the form of payment, an adoption fee, a required donation, or other value received in exchange for an animal. Call it what it is—a sale.
- Seek seats on animal advisory boards. These opportunities may exist at state and local levels. Learn about the criteria and ask your governmental officials to consider you for these roles. Along with your professional résumé, provide details about your background and activities with dogs.
- Quantify your expertise. If your AKC club has 20 or 50 or 500 members, how many years of experience with dogs does that represent? Just one person who trained their first dog in 1967 has more than 55 years’ experience. Make it a club project to quantify and total the expertise of your members. The numbers will impress.
- Create a list of your club’s and members’ activities. You know how hard your club works. Does anyone else? Take a look at the AKC “Above and Beyond” flyer in the AKC GR Toolbox at www.akcgr.org for ideas, and compile a list of your club’s good works to share with lawmakers.
- Include on your list all the things your club does on behalf of dogs. Examples include training classes; canine health and microchip clinics; participation in veterinary research such as canine DNA sample collection, health studies and surveys; and breeder education and mentoring.
- List what you do for your community—and let your local leaders and media know about it. These may include public education events, RDO Days, Canine Good CitizenTM tests, seminars, mentoring of prospective and current dog owners, pet therapy visits, support for 4-H, animal shelter and other groups, and much more. Be sure to share the new AKC Above and Beyond and Impact By State flyers in the GR Toolbox at www.akcgr.org.
- List donations by your club and members. Big ticket items, such as contributing to an AKC Reunite Pet Disaster Relief trailer or supporting a study through the AKC Canine Health Foundation are easy to remember. But what about all those fundraising baskets, bags of food for pet pantries, and other day-to-day donations? Include both donations from the club treasury and individual member contributions.
- Include dog retention and rehoming activities. When enumerating your clubs’ and members’ good works, emphasize dedication to keeping dogs in homes through careful placement, follow-up, training, and mentoring. Include dog rehoming activities and the time devoted by your members to ensure that dogs have life-long homes.
- Describe your good works using action/benefit statements. For example: “Our volunteer trainers have offered affordable public dog training classes four times a year since 1965. We taught thousands of dog owners how to train their dogs to be well-behaved members of the community. A trained dog is less likely to be relinquished to a shelter or be a nuisance in the neighborhood.” Use evergreen language, such as “since 1965” rather than “for 57 years.”
- Share, share, share. After you create your club’s good works list, share it with lawmakers, the media, your allies, schools, colleges, churches, community groups, pet professionals, and veterinarians in your area. Periodically update your list and re-share it.
- Use this positive messaging to raise your club’s profile. Some clubs are great at public relations, while others are far too modest. Get the word out about your club, members’, and your dogs’ accomplishments. The AKC Communications Department can help. Area colleges may have public relations and creative writing students who want to build a portfolio.
- Discourage breeder bashing. How can we form alliances with other groups if pointing fingers at each other? It hurts us all when a fancier denigrates another fancier or breeder, or refers to a regulated, fully-compliant professional breeder as a “puppy mill.”
- When communicating with lawmakers, the public, and the media, facts are essential—but stories are memorable. A good personal story can be very compelling.
- Always be respectful when making a point. Consider the thoughts and feelings of others, especially when responding to challenging questions, such as, “Why would you buy a purebred dog when dogs in shelters are dying?”
A polite, impactful reply might be, “I have the greatest respect for people who acquire rehomed dogs from shelters. Personally, I want every possible assurance that the dog sitting next to my children comes from a responsible breeder, has predictable traits, received early puppy training, and is free from diseases and parasites. That’s why I acquire my dogs from knowledgeable breeders of purebred dogs.”
For more ideas and information on how to effectively advocate for dogs, contact AKC Government Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
As Vice President, Government Relations for the American Kennel Club, Sheila Goffe leads the AKC’s efforts in the public policy arena, including working to protect the rights of all dog owners and promote responsible dog ownership. She oversees AKC legislative policy strategy and AKC outreach at the federal, state, and local levels. She also serves as AKC staff lead for the AKC Detection Dog Task Force, Service Dog Pass, and other key programs.
Sheila joined AKC in 2006. Prior to working for the American Kennel Club, she was a Senior Legislative Analyst/Editor and Deputy Director of Editorial Product Development for Congressional Quarterly in Washington, DC. Previous experience included federal legislative staffing and advocacy, work as an editor and analyst for The Economist Intelligence Unit, and serving as an adjunct in Political Science/Comparative Politics at the State University of New York/Stony Brook. She also owns, breeds, and shows Siberian Huskies.
*Guest contributor Patty Van Sicklen is Southeastern Regional Manager for the AKC’s Government Relations Department.