What's in a Name Can Hurt You
Canine Legislation, and What You and AKC Can Do About It
It’s hard to be a breeder or an AKC club member without hearing warnings – at least occasionally – about the vast amount of canine legislation introduced throughout the country each year. So far in 2011, the AKC Government Relations team (AKC GR) is tracking over 1,000 legislative proposals, and over one-third of them directly impact those who breed dogs.
For hobby breeders, one of the most significant new trends – and threats – are bills that define all breeders as commercial enterprises. For many, the concept of being a “commercial” or “high-volume” breeder sounds so foreign that it’s hard to imagine such legislation could impact them. But the truth is, commercial breeder legislation can impact anyone who keeps intact dogs, and especially anyone who has ever bred – or may breed a dog.
Even when the stated purpose of legislation is to regulate commercial breeding operations, it’s important to look at how the term “commercial breeder” is defined, as many bills seek to heavily regulate so-called “commercial breeders” based on the number of dogs owned, not on the “commerce” actually conducted.
The AKC respects the important role high-quality professional breeders play in meeting the demand for quality pets. These breeders provide beloved pets and they deserve recognition for the good job they do. Far too often, the creation of restrictive new laws – rather than the enforcement of existing negligence/cruelty laws – to crack down on a few bad actors ends up missing the intended mark. Instead, it targets small hobby breeders who hand-raise puppies and requires them to obtain new commercial licenses, be subject to inappropriate inspections, or comply with facilities requirements designed for large commercial kennels.
One of the most significant and easily overlooked issues is the impact that changing the official categorization of a home-based/hobby enterprise to a commercial operation can have. In many cases, this may actually jeopardize a person’s home! Someone who has lived their entire lives in a residential community may suddenly find they are in violation of local zoning laws, even though nothing they do has changed.
Legislation requiring small breeders to comply with regulations designed for large commercial operations can result in unintended consequences, including:
• Placing so many demands on breeders that they can no longer breed at all
• Forcing breeders to change from a small home-based model to a larger commercial-style model that they don’t have the resources or the desire to operate, or worst of all
• Forcing breeders into a situation where they may be violating the letter of the law merely by providing the best possible care for their dogs.
For any hobby breeder who has ever thought that commercial-breeder legislation does not impact you, consider this:
The current definition of “commercial breeder” in Nebraska includes anyone who owns four or more intact females intended for breeding. This definition illustrates several common issues. Even if there is no intention to breed the dog, the burden of proof is on the owner to prove a negative. Under this law–regardless of whether you have actually bred a dog – you are technically considered to be a commercial breeder. And once you are designated by the state to be “commercial,” you can then easily run afoul of local zoning or other ordinances.
Legislation currently before Congress (S. 707/H.R. 835, known as “PUPS”) would require anyone who owns or co-owns dogs that produce more than 50 puppies that are sold in a single year to be regulated in the same manner as a USDA puppy dealer (wholesaler). Legislation sounds benevolent enough, but consider this: If you co-own several dogs bred just a few times in a single year, this could include you. Even if you never whelp a single litter, or see a single puppy, you could be subject to licensing and inspection as a commercial breeder.
What is AKC doing about it?
With so many purebred dog owners and breeders under legislative attack, it’s not surprising, that one of the most common questions we hear is, “What’s the AKC doing about canine legislation?”
AKC GR is charged with addressing issues on a daily basis that impact the rights of responsible dog breeders and all dog owners. Advocacy works best when those directly affected by it take the lead in working with legislators. For this reason, AKC GR does not regularly send staffers out to legislative trouble spots, but instead provides educational, informational, and training resources that enable the residents of a community – those most affected by the laws – to take the lead in working for policies that best address their needs.
Some of the department’s work is conducted outside the public eye. While it may sometimes appear that the AKC is not actively involved in the legislative process, this is not the case. Some of AKC GR’s greatest successes are the bills you never hear about – those that have never been formally introduced or have never made it past committee hearings.
Other times, legislation and legislative issues are best addressed by public input. This is when AKC GR issues Legislative Alerts or news items and provides constituents with sample letters and talking points. In some cases, staff may conduct legislative training sessions or lobby days.
AKC GR provides a wide variety of resources to support clubs, federations, breeders and individuals in protecting their rights, including:
• AKC GR staff ready to work with you one-on-one and address your concerns
• A growing list of AKC state federations – coalitions of breeders and fanciers on the ground at state capitols and local communities working together on legislative issues
• A contracted federal lobbying team in Washington, D.C.
• The ability to send targeted e-mails to specific states or communities facing legislative battles
• AKC GR’s online toolbox – a one-stop shop for data, talking points and other resources to help fight bad legislation
• An online legislation tracking system, providing up-to-date information on state-level bills in all 50 states
In 2011, AKC GR has already made thousands of contacts with legislators and posted scores of Legislative Alerts both online and to targeted areas. With our federations, AKC has been on the front lines of successful legislative battles in 2011 from Hawaii to Mississippi, Virginia, Colorado, and Wyoming, just to name a few.
What You Can Do
As an AKC breeder, you are an acknowledged expert in your breed, and dogs in general. You have a unique opportunity and responsibility to make your voice heard–especially when faced with issues that may adversely impact responsible dog owners in your community.
Most politicians know very little about dogs and even less about breeding and showing.
Educating your legislators–especially before an issue ever comes up – is one of the most important things you can do to ensure dog owners and breeders interests are served when canine legislation is introduced. Consider scheduling a 10-minute appointment with your local representatives. Introduce yourself and offer to provide insight on dog issues. This will give you access if canine legislation is introduced in the future.
Here are a few suggestions on other ways to get involved:
• Make sure your clubs have Legislative Liaisons and work within a state federation. AKC GR depends on liaisons and federations as two-way information channels to learn about possible local ordinances and to get the word out about new legislation. If we don’t hear about an issue, we can’t help. Likewise, if clubs and individuals do not get our information, they can’t respond to it.
• Support the AKC Political Action Committee (PAC). The AKC PAC accepts contributions from individual AKC club members and uses 100 percent of those funds to support the campaigns of breeder-friendly candidates for political office. For more information, visit akc.org/pac
• Support – and encourage your club to support – the AKC Canine Legislative Support Fund (CLSF). These donations support advocacy efforts around the country, including legislative empowerment seminars at national specialties and all-breed shows, statewide lobby days, and the development of advocacy training programs.