In January, AKC Government Relations held its first in-person legislative conference since the covid outbreak.
Approximately 50 legislative liaisons, federation leaders, AKC club members, trainers, dog owners and advocates from across the United States traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the event.
The 2-day conference was designed to update attendees on trends in canine legislation and animal extremism; empower attendees with tools, resources, and information to be effective advocates for dogs in their local communities; and to promote networking and sharing of ideas and experiences.
Saturday January 21, featured a full day of educational, advocacy and networking activities, with many of the AKC Government Relations team members on hand to share their expertise.
The event began with an overview of AKC’s public policy efforts and an introduction to AKC GR team members. A presentation by Sheila Goffe, Vice President, Government Relations, illustrated how AKC staff, club members and concerned dog owners can effectively work together to fight anti-dog and anti-breeder legislation. Updates on recent legislative issues, along with new tools, tips and resources rounded out the discussion.
Robert Sexton of RTS Strategies followed with Legislation 101, a discussion of policy and process basics, along with effective advocacy strategies, and how strategies can be tailored to meet a variety of challenges and opportunities.
In Advocacy 201: Effective In-Person Advocacy with Lawmakers, Jennifer Clark, Director of Legislative Outreach; Charley Hall, Legislative Analyst/ Community Outreach Coordinator (LACOC) for the Mid-Atlantic States; and Jacob Hupp, LACOC for Texas/ Plains States offered an entertaining and interactive panel on how to conduct successful in-person meetings with lawmakers and their staff.
Saturday afternoon panels included a presentation by owners of an independent, family-owned pet store on Rewriting the Animal Rights Narrative in Your State and Community. Bree Maestas and Dustin Haworth of Colorado Springs discussed the challenges their business has faced from animal extremists, and how they have developed relationships with their community and lawmakers through strong advocacy and transparency.
Retired Tennessee Senator Mike Bell provided a lawmaker’s perspective on the value of constituent engagement on animal issues. Sen. Bell urged all club members and dog owners to get to know their elected representatives. He commented that lawmakers hear far more often from animal extremists than from club members, enthusiasts or responsible breeders. “Lawmakers must hear from their constituents if they are going to know how to represent them,” he said.
Dr. Jennifer MacLeay, Chief Scientific Officer for the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) spoke about exciting advances in canine health that CHF has funded by bringing scientists and dog lovers together. She provided updates on recent CHF-funded peer-review health research and discussed the intersection between canine health and public policy issues.
Patty Van Sicklen, Southeast Regional Manager for AKC GR, concluded the day’s events with an interactive presentation on simple actions that clubs can take today to engage and educate the communities they serve, fight the threat of animal extremism, and serve as a resource for all dog lovers.
Day two of the conference started with an update on 2023 federal policy priorities from Sheila Goffe and Mike Williams, AKC’s federal advocate. The duo stressed the importance of the 2023 federal Farm Bill, which re-authorizes funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and related animal programs every five years. They also discussed the new congressional leadership structure, AKC federal priorities, and problematic legislation likely to be introduced in the coming year.
Gail LaBerge and David McDonald, of Georgia and Iowa respectively, shared their experiences and perspectives in building community outreach, grassroots networks and federations to push back against anti-dog and anti-breeder legislation. The team noted that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for state organizations. Instead, they shared tips and lessons about the value in working across clubs and communities to share workload and leverage different skills and experiences.
Long-time breeder and advocate Cindy Stansell shared updates on the international animal rights movement and how policy incrementalism overseas has dramatically reduced breeders’ freedoms. She shared updates and information on how similar efforts are underway in the United States.
The program concluded with a book signing and workshop by Col. Carla Bass (ret.) on writing to influence and maximize impact. Col. Bass worked with attendees to streamline their communications, develop communications and writing skills that influence opinions, and to practice their new skills for effective canine advocacy.
“It was wonderful to gather in person for this year’s AKC National Legislative Conference. AKC legislative conferences offer a fun and unique opportunity for dog enthusiasts from across the country to learn new skills in advocating for dogs and responsible dog ownership, and to share ideas and experiences with others facing similar challenges around the country,” said Sheila Goffe. “We truly appreciate all our speakers and attendees who made this such a dynamic event, and we look forward to continuing our work together to protect the future of our dogs, breeding programs and our sport.”