AKC National Legislative Conference

From the July 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe. Pictured above: The seven representatives of the groups at the Capital Hill reception.

We had just finished a months-long battle to stop new county regulations that would have prohibited pet shops from selling puppies as well as put onerous new restrictions and inspections on local hobby breeders. As the legislative liaison for Brevard Kennel Club in Florida, I had been pulled into a fray I felt I wasn’t completely prepared for. While we were somewhat successful in getting some particularly distasteful requirements changed or deleted, we were unable to keep the ordinance from passing.

On top of that, we were in a letter-writing and email campaign to stop some draconian, proposed state legislation against breeders in Florida, which thankfully didn’t make it out of committee before the session ended. After AKC sent our club an invitation to participate in the AKC National Legislative Conference and the club voted to spend the money to send someone, it was a no brainer to say “Yes! I’ll attend.”

What an incredible weekend, with dedicated, inspiring and motivated people! Two days with the AKC government relations staff, great speakers and other club and club federations’ legislative liaisons; I feel both energized by their commitment and experience in fighting anti-dog breeding and anti-dog ownership legislation and daunted by the money and rabidness of the animal rights activists we are up against.

My first impression was the group of attendees was much smaller than I had expected. I had expected a few hundred from kennel clubs across the nation but, inclusive of the speakers, there were about 50 in attendance.

The biggest clear fact that came out of this conference is that AKC doesn’t have the manpower to fight this without us as their troops. Just as an officer in the army leads a battalion, we must recognize without us AKC has no Army. General Eisenhower couldn’t have won World War II by himself; it took the soldiers and airmen and sailors. The AKC can’t fight this on our behalf. It needs us.

The folks in AKC’s government relations department are extraordinary. They come from government, legislative and legal backgrounds and they all have a genuine love for purebred dogs. They are fiercely committed to protecting our right to breed, own and participate in canine events. These aren’t just jobs to them. Several on the GR staff are active breeders and exhibitors themselves and members of breed and all breed clubs. They have a stake in this just as we do.

The conference took place over two intensive days. Among the speakers, in addition to the AKC GR staff, we got to hear was Susi Szeremy, the founder of National Purebred Dog Day. She is a Puli fancier and her commitment, drive and imagination has led to an entire day devoted to purebred dogs.

Bill Shelton, AKC judge and Corgi breeder, also spoke. He’s started a Facebook page to promote the conversation and protection of purebred dogs. Bill works tirelessly to promote the welfare and preservation of purposefully bred purebred dogs. His dedication to this work resounded through his presentation and we were moved by his passion for 
our sport.

The CEO of the AKC Canine Health Foundation, Diane Brown, DVM, spoke on the work the foundation has done in providing funds for research, which not only benefits purebred dogs but ultimately leads to better health for all dogs and people as well.

The CHF has provided more than $46 million in grants to improve canine health: not just purebreds, all dogs. Some of the cancer research AKC funded was noticed by researchers for human cancers, and in some areas, they are working collaboratively, sharing research and data. Ultimately, these will benefit all. This is information we need to share with our lawmakers when we talk to them.

It is evident from the facts provided at the conference that we must align ourselves with other groups that are also working against anti-animal legislation. We had speakers from the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), the Canadian Kennel Club and the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. Fair managers are regularly receiving protests, hate mail and even death threats to try to intimidate them into stopping the use of animal acts, exhibitions and shows.

The assistant deputy administrator of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Animal Care) was an interesting and informative speaker. He was quite surprised by a number of questions and concerns we raised.

A large concern we had that he acknowledged as not being aware of but would be reviewing was the weaponization of the USDA’s primary definition of a commercial breeder (four breeding bitches). Because so many states and municipalities use that as a guideline, some AR supporters will call in and anonymously report a person with four bitches as an unlicensed breeder. This happens even if the breeder doesn’t meet the remainder of the criteria to require a license.

After lunch on the second day, we were let loose in the hallways of Congress to see our state representatives and senators. In most cases this meant a meeting with a staffer, but we were lucky with our meeting with Rep. Ross Spano. While the official meeting was with his aide, he pulled us into his office to show us pictures of his dog and chat with us about our pets. I was with two other wonderful ladies from Florida, Diane Roberts and Judy Seltrecht, and we discovered the hallways went on forever in those huge buildings.

Our main topic for discussion in our meetings with them was the issue of foreign dogs being imported for rescue and the lack of health documentation and oversight. It was noted by one of our conference speakers that CDC, as a result of the farm bill passing with AKC support, reported well over one million dogs were brought into the USA in a year’s period. As we’ve seen, rabies, brucellosis, canine influenza, leptospirosis and other diseases have been brought into the United States, and often the dogs are not tracked and have 
fraudulent paperwork.

The second day was concluded with an AKC reception for members of Congress and their staffs. It only took a minute to see that many of their staff and interns are less than 30-years-old and on very limited budgets. Offering food and drink, along with the chance to meet cute, friendly show dogs, resulted in quite a large crowd. Nearly 350 people attended, and the other conference attendees and I went from group to group explaining why it’s important to keep breeders of purposely bred purebred dogs at the table and in the conversation when considering legislation concerning dogs. Of course, I showed them cute Toy Fox and Toy Manchester Terrier photos and videos as well and discovered what dogs they have. They love dogs!

So what can you do?

Be a part of the AKC army. AKC is a club of clubs. You are probably in one or more of 
those clubs.

Visit your local offices of your federal and state lawmakers. Take them cookies and pictures of your dogs. Explain who you are and how anti-dog legislation would affect you. Give them your personal story. The animal rights groups have painted bad pictures of us that are false; show your state and federal representatives the authentic you.

Explain your participation in your breed rescues. Discuss how your clubs and members contribute in so many ways to the community; enumerate and list your good works. Give them your local club’s list and include on it all that you do on behalf of ALL dogs.

Share this list with lawmakers, media, colleges, churches, pet professionals and veterinarians in your area. Make friends with your local law enforcers. Use positive messaging to raise your club’s profile but discourage breeder bashing. We can’t eat our own in this fight. Be respectful in discussions so they hear what you say.

Seek seats on animal advisory boards and committees. Don’t let the other side completely take all the seats to provide the expert advice to the government groups. We can’t wait for a bill to come out. Get them familiar with you now!

Offer your clubs’ members’ hundreds of years combined experience training, breeding and working with dogs to help them when dog issues arise. Quantify it: You are the experts! Diane, Judy and I added ours up and told the folks we met with that combined we three had almost 120 years of experience in training, breeding, showing and instructing. Add your club’s experience up and share that.

Don’t let the other side take that role because you hid in silence. If you hear of an ordinance or legislation in your area quickly advise AKC GR. The staff in GR are few, we breeders, exhibitors and club members are many—we cover the country.

Please consider donating to NAIA and the AKC PAC. The AR groups are spending enormous amounts to influence our lawmakers—we need as a community of dog fanciers to help our side fight. One entry fee from each one of us combined would be a huge help to them in this war.

One final point. Many dog breeders and owners are scared. I had friends unfriend me on Facebook when I was fighting the ordinance and legislation because they were afraid someone would come after them. At the AKC conference, a speaker noted that we are being bullied. We, combined with the other animal groups, have numbers.

How do you stop being bullied? By standing up to them. If they don’t have the public, they don’t really have the numbers. We need to band together and fight as a group. Numbers speak.

The AKC government relations department and your club’s legislative liaisons cannot fight the hundreds of bills alone. We can’t change the public’s perception and minds alone. It will take all of us to turn the tide and take back the conversation.

The AKC government relations page has great resources for your use as well as suggestions on things you and your club can do. Go to https://www.akc.org/clubs-delegates/government-relations/.

We couldn’t find the bus and we walked a lot of miles, but I left Washington DC feeling motivated, informed and yes, exhausted. I am very happy I attended and I feel hope. 

About the Author

Susan’s first dog show was May 13, 1978. She showed Cockers and English Cockers for nearly 20 years until a move to Florida in the 1990s, a third child and a full-time job convinced her that she wanted out of coated breeds. Earlier, in 1983, Susan was introduced to Vizslas and she finished her first Vizsla Champion at the AKC Centennial show in 1984. Susan’s show career includes several years of showing overseas when Steve, her military husband, was stationed in Europe and they flew 8 dogs over. Highlights there for all three breeds `include FCI International and various countries’ National Championships, Best in Shows and meeting Prince Ranier’s sister when Susan’s Vizsla, Secret, won a group in Monaco.

Susan’s first champion toy was a Japanese Chin in the 1990s. When she and her husband decided to retire from Vizslas and segue into a toy breed a few years ago, they discovered Toy Fox Terriers. Susan has shown her Toy Fox Terriers to multiple specialty wins, BOS at the National Specialty three times, BOB and three BOS at the Eukanuba/Royal Canin AKC Championship Shows and many other show awards.

Susan is a current member and past board member with the Central Florida Toy Fox Terrier Club and is an ATFTC board member. She is the current Judges’ Education Chair, administers the AFTFC Facebook page and is the club’s committee chair for Meet The Breeds. A current Board Director for the Brevard Kennel Club, Susan has been president and board member of an obedience club, and stewards for two stewards’ associations. She taught obedience for 25 years and still teaches handling classes.

Professionally, Susan Thibodeaux is a Vice President for a government services contractor. She holds an MBA and is a Certified Federal Contracts Manager.

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