AKC eNewsletter

Protect Yourself Against Unfair Legislation

By Stephanie Lane, former AKC Canine Legislation Director

Breeders who often have their hands full with a new set of pups or a pregnant bitch may feel they are simply too busy to get involved in canine legislation issues. However, as many veteran breeders will attest, being involved in the political arena is a critical component of any responsible breeding program. That’s because each year, numerous laws are passed that seek to regulate — or even eliminate — your right to breed. Without involvement from the breeding community, elected officials only hear one side of the issue. That can mean trouble for even the most conscientious breeder.

Purebred dog fanciers and breeders meet with a congressional aide during AKC’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.

“Legislation can negatively impact breeders in a variety of ways,” noted Sue Weiss, who has been breeding Welsh Terriers for more than 30 years. “Local restrictions may prevent you from breeding at all or regulate the way you sell your puppies. You could be limited in the number of times you can breed each year or required to obtain an expensive permit to do so. It’s important for breeders to be familiar with their laws but even more important that they have a voice in what those laws say.”

AKC’s Canine Legislation department was created more than 15 years ago to give responsible dog owners and breeders a voice and speak out on legislative issues in order to protect and preserve the breeding and sport of purebred dogs. Since its inception, the department has worked tirelessly to ensure that local, state and federal legislation dealing with dogs is reasonable, enforceable and non-discriminatory. By developing initiatives, monitoring and positively affecting proposed laws, and working with a nationwide network of concerned dog owners and breeders, the Canine Legislation department has posted an impressive success rate.

In fighting proposed breeding restrictions or laws limiting the number or breed of dogs one may own, success ultimately lies in how active resident owners and breeders become.

Elected officials want and need to hear from their own constituents, not just the American Kennel Club. While they may recognize AKC as a national organization with expertise on animal welfare issues, ultimately legislators want to hear from their voters.

Dr. Al Stinson, a Michigan veterinarian and long-time breeder of Labrador Retrievers, agreed.

“Breeders best understand the issues at hand. Who else can better speak to questions surrounding canine health and welfare, pet population concerns or responsible dog ownership? Legislators won’t know that, however, if we don’t make ourselves heard,” Stinson said. “To have political impact, we must organize ourselves and stand up against legislation that threatens our breeding programs.”

If you’re feeling a bit intimidated by talk of jumping into the political arena, don’t. You don’t have to be a lobbyist or even a good public speaker to have a voice in your government. Simply by being aware of current issues and monitoring your local community, you’ve already taken a first step toward protecting yourself against unfair legislation. That’s because it’s much easier to positively affect a proposed local ordinance or state bill before it becomes law. Once legislation is on the books, it’s often difficult to have it amended or repealed.

AKC’s Canine Legislation department has developed several tools to assist breeders in their efforts to impact legislation. For the latest information on “hot” issues that require immediate grassroots action, breeders can subscribe to an e-mail service that automatically notifies them when a new Legislative Alert is posted to AKC’s website. The department also publishes a monthly electronic newsletter, Taking Command, which covers legislative topics around the country and alerts breeders to pending positive or negative legislation that will affect them in their areas. Information packets with model laws, talking points and brochures on lobbying techniques are also available to concerned breeders as well as to interested legislators.

In addition to resources and materials, AKC supports and expands breeders’ legislative efforts in other ways.

“The AKC Canine Legislation department regularly sends letters of support or opposition to officials at all levels of government,” said Noreen Baxter, AKC vice president of Communications. “Department staff can help put breeders in touch with other groups or individuals who are working on an issue. That’s essential, because, while every voice is important, a group representing hundreds or even thousands of voices can have a much stronger impact.”

The department also retains a government relations consultant to represent AKC’s views in Washington, D.C., and holds a Lobby Day event in the Capitol each year where key fanciers receive a day of issue briefing and education followed by a morning of Capitol Hill visits with lawmakers.

Some breeders, sportsmen, dog clubs, and others in the dog community have created their own unique ways of reaching out to legislators by forming federations such as the Georgia Canine Coalition (GCC).

Dog clubs from all over the state come together under this organization to speak with one voice in their government. Their outreach goes far beyond weighing in on key bills, however. GCC member clubs regularly invite legislators to dog shows in their districts, send holiday cards each year on behalf of the federation and annually participate in Conservation Day at the state capitol. The Department of Agriculture-sponsored event allows GCC to network with legislators and hand out dog leashes with the group’s name and “I own a dog and I vote” slogan printed on it.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to answer questions and introduce legislators to our sport, as well as build name recognition for the Coalition,” explained Gail LaBerge, Legislative Liaison for the group and long-time Cardigan Welsh Corgi breeder. “With so much legislation aimed at breeders these days, from differential license fees to breeder and litter permits, it’s imperative that we get involved early on and build long-term relationships with elected officials. If we don’t educate them as to why some of these proposals are ineffective and detrimental to dog owners, we could see our sport begin to disappear in a few years.”

Clearly, there are many levels at which concerned breeders can get involved in legislation. Success in the legislative arena is not determined by whether you have a lobbyist, but in recognizing that your voice — your vote, your opinion, your input — is valuable. To preserve your right to breed, you need to be involved in politics, and AKC’s Canine Legislation department is here to support you in a host of ways. Find out more.

  Ronald N. Rella, director, Breeder Services
Theresa Shea, editor | Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
Customer Service | Phone: 919-233-9767 | Email: info@akc.org

© The American Kennel Club 2006