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Taking Command March 2015

Tales from the Trenches: Help Prevent Bad Dog Law

Guest columnist Patricia Johnson has bred, handled, and owned Best In Show Boston Terriers for 35 years. She is an AKC Breeder of Merit, an “AKC Gazette” breed columnist for Boston Terriers, served on her local animal advisory board for 9 years, and authored a pet disaster plan for her city. She owns Pat’s Grooming & Boarding Kennel in Siler City, N.C. The following suggestions are from her article, “How to Prevent Bad Dog Laws”.

It’s not an easy task to influence public opinion about proper dog care and responsible breeding when the media so often focus on animal abusers. In truth, most dogs in the U.S. live great lives and most U.S. dog breeders do a wonderful job of caring for their pets. But that doesn’t make a “news at 5” headline. So, how can we, as responsible dog owners, help educate lawmakers, citizens’ committees, and the public about good policy for dogs and dog owners?  How can we work together against bad dog legislation?

The first thing we need to do is take a hard look at ourselves. Are we—and our dogs—good citizens of the community?  Make sure dog-related problems don’t start in our own backyards. A neighbor with a new baby is not likely to have much patience with a barking dog. Lead by example.

The next thing we must do is educate others. There is a lot of false information out there that will continue to be passed around unless we roll up our sleeves, challenge the falsehoods, and provide the truth. We must be as passionate in our communication as animal rights extremists are in promoting their causes. We must help others see and know the truth.

Third, know what you’re up against by interacting with those with different views.

And most importantly, participate in public events and attend public meetings where dog policy is discussed before new laws are proposed. Volunteer to serve on an animal control or animal advisory board. If you have a grooming business, donate free grooming for law enforcement dogs. If I can do these things in Chatham County, North Carolina, you can do it in your community. Here are some ways I’ve worked to make a difference.

I’ve owned Pat’s Grooming & Boarding Kennel in Siler City, NC, for 35 years and experienced every kind of person imaginable. To succeed in this business, one has to abide by a wide range of rules, regulations and laws. When I built my kennel, I invited Department of Agriculture representatives, Health Department personnel, and veterinarians to help me make decisions on what was needed and required. Believe me, it helped me save money and make new friends, too. By working in the spirit of cooperation, I learned that some of the people you think will make things difficult are really there to help.

I continued to ensure I met all requirements by earning a K-Pesticide state license which is required by the state agriculture department when applying pesticides on animals and spraying kennel areas. Only 54 groomers in NC have this license. Then I wrote articles published in the NC Department of Agriculture’s “Pesticide Update” newsletter to share my knowledge with other animal professionals—information that could make a difference to the safety of animals.

You too can use your knowledge to make a difference. Responsible dog breeders are a great source of valid and valuable information about dog care, training, breeding, puppy care, and matching the right dog with the right home. When there are events in the community where you can rent a booth, do it. Invite others who deal with animals to help.

I invited a variety of dog- and animal-related groups and professionals to participate in a booth at “Farm Day”, an agricultural event. Members of one group, who evidently didn’t understand the value of responsible breeders, objected and didn’t want to participate. I gave them the option of joining with our group of great people who care about animals, or they could have a separate booth outside where it might rain. They chose to set up inside with us. They were happy to find homes for the pets they brought, and it turned out to be fun day with everyone working together to teach about animals.

To avoid duplication—and conflicts—at the event, I asked each participant to address a specific topic. One veterinarian presented information about heartworms. A vet from a different practice discussed spay/neuter. Animal control personnel talked about the transmission of rabies in wild animal populations and how to protect domestic animals. Students and instructors from a local dog training school performed a dog play. Two AKC judges shared their expertise. I had planned to teach about grooming, but was so busy making sure everything ran smoothly that didn’t have time. Everyone contributed good ideas, and working cooperatively made it a very rewarding day.

Dog events are newsworthy and offer great photo ops. Invite the local media. And make it a year-round effort to share positive messages about responsible dog ownership and responsible breeders with your local newspapers, TV stations, and through social media. There are lots of handouts and materials on the AKC Government Relations website that will help you develop your messaging.

Even some veterinarians may benefit from information from responsible dog breeders. It’s not unusual for the good breeders in a community to give their business to a vet who has demonstrated skill in dealing with animal fertility issues, pregnancy, whelping, and puppy care. But what about other vets and newly-graduated vets who may not have good breeders as clients?  Consider the vets who primarily deal with inexperienced dog owners and unplanned litters. Those vets may not be familiar with the depth of knowledge found among good breeders and the excellent care they give their dogs. Reach out to them with positive messages.

Some veterinarians are asked to serve on special government committees and advisory boards that address animal issues at the state and local levels. These committees and boards may propose new laws or even establish regulations for dog owners and breeders. We need to fill seats on these committees with knowledgeable, responsible dog owners, breeders, trainers, exhibitors and sportsmen. Contact your city or county representative to find out about opportunities to serve on a committee or board. Volunteer, or ask to be appointed. If you are able to travel to where state-level meetings are held, ask about serving on state boards and committees.

I served on the Health Department animal control advisory committee in my county for nine years. I am proud to say I had an impact on changes to the animal ordinances. It’s not an easy board to be on, but it is where the ideas start and most of the bad dog laws come from. Think how many regulations might have been better for dogs if knowledgeable breeders served on the committees that write the rules.

If you cannot serve on a committee, you can still influence the outcome of canine legislation. When you learn that new laws or regulations are being discussed in your community or state, take action immediately. Advise the AKC Government Relations staff, particularly about pending city/county legislation. Contact your elected officials to express your opinions and state your concerns at the start of the lawmaking process. Network with other dog owners and work together to stop bad laws before they get started.

Be respectful and earn respect. One person can make a difference. Together, we can accomplish great things.