In July, the Ohio General Assembly approved an amendment to confirm that breeders should not be regulated as retail pet stores. This brief amendment, buried on page 328 of the Ohio general operating budget, represents the culmination of years of work – both publicly and behind the scenes – to ensure comprehensive, reasonable, and effective laws regulating those who breed and sell dogs in Ohio.
The story of this latest amendment to Ohio code illustrates the value of employing a variety of tactics in order to achieve legislative success. There is often an assumption that legislative action only means alerts, phone calls, and other public communications (and that lack of public communication means a lack of concern or effort on the part of AKC). During the process in Ohio, there was certainly a time for public alerts, and calls to action, but there were also times when it was critical for AKC to work “behind the scenes” and not make all activities public.
To fully understand the process that led to the latest legislative victory in Ohio, it’s important to start back in 2017, when HSUS began collecting signatures for a petition to put a measure on the 2018 ballot that would place arbitrary and restrictive breeder and kennel regulations into the state constitution. In response to this, AKC encouraged local clubs and dog owners to educate their colleagues and friends to not sign the petition. Shareable alerts, handouts, and Facebook posts were created by AKC and concerned dog owners to help spread the word.
At the same time, the AKC was quietly meeting with a broad coalition of stakeholders, including sportsmen, breeders, veterinarians, and key legislators to develop a comprehensive new breeder regulations bill to be introduced during the 2018 Ohio General Assembly session. Most of the negotiation on this bill was made in meetings and one-on-one conversations with legislators; however, at key points, the AKC issued legislative alerts to let clubs and breeders know when to contact their legislators and to provide the legislators with positive support.
This two-pronged approach was designed to stop the momentum and prevent petition gatherers from collecting signatures, and also to demonstrate that the appropriate way to change dog laws is through an open legislative process, not a slick PR campaign and constitutional ballot measure. Ultimately, thanks to this strategy, the ballot measure was abandoned and a compromise breeder law was passed in July 2018 that included many provisions recommended by the AKC.
After the legislative session, the AKC thanked the key legislators who worked with us throughout this process. Some were presented with AKC Legislator of the Year awards.
In late 2018, it once again became imperative for AKC clubs and breeders to speak out, as new leadership at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) decided to re-interpret a nearly 10-year-old definition of “pet store” to include anyone selling a dog in Ohio. AKC and its federation, Ohio Valley Dog Owners, mobilized local clubs and breeders to attend local ODA meetings and express concerns. Ohioans also called their legislators to let them know their concerns and how this new interpretation would impact hobbyists. AKC also sent an open letter to ODA urging them to cease this interpretation and enforcement.
As a result, many of the legislative leaders with whom the AKC had worked on the breeder legislation held a meeting in early 2019 with the AKC, ODA, and many of the same stakeholders who worked together on the 2018 legislation to discuss a solution. They had gotten the message loud and clear from their constituents and were ready to move forward. ODA agreed to cease taking action on their interpretation pending action from the General Assembly.
After additional private communications with the AKC and AKC’s Ohio representative counsel, as well as other stakeholders, it was agreed that an amendment would be drafted and quietly placed within another bill – likely the state budget. At this point, the best thing AKC and its clubs could do was stay silent and trust that all the work and relationship building that had been done over the past year had been effective.
Key legislative leaders were already on board with the strategy and committed to shepherding the amendment through the process. Per their request, it was best that additional public communications not be made. The more attention that was drawn to it, the more opportunity there was for pressure for unfriendly amendments and tactics.
In July 2019, after a few months of waiting, the state budget was passed and it indeed included the amendment addressing the ODA’s reinterpretation – just as legislative leadership had promised the AKC during the spring meetings.
The clear lessons from Ohio are that patience, perseverance, and a willingness to employ a variety of legislative strategies are key in obtaining ultimate success. AKC appreciates that when alerts were issued, clubs and breeders were willing to take the initiative and take action. We also appreciate the patience shown when AKC went seemingly silent and stopped making public statements. Even then, AKC was working behind the scenes to ensure success – and trusting the legislators with whom the AKC had developed relationships and had the best interest of dog owners and hobbyists in mind.
If you have questions or concerns about a legislative issue in your area, please reach out to us! The experts in AKC Government Relations are always happy to talk with you, and even if we can’t always reveal the full strategy – as was the case in Ohio – we can reassure you that we are being tireless in our fight to protect the rights of responsible dog owners and breeders.