The majority of state legislatures are out of session, which means most lawmakers are home in their districts – and available to meet with constituents. Recently, members of the Belle-City Kennel Club in Illinois took advantage of this to introduce their club to their state representative.
“We consider ourselves the best-kept secret in Illinois,” said Michele Kasten, Belle-City Kennel Club board member and Vice President of the Illinois Federation of Dog Clubs and Owners. “For years, we were content to focus on breeding, training, and serving the community… But now that there have been unfair accusations against breeders and hobbyists, and legislation [impacting our way of life], we knew we needed to make ourselves known and share more about our expertise.”
Kasten joined club president Carole Wilson and fellow club board member Rob Hilgenbrink in the meeting on behalf of the club’s 60 members. Kasten shared several tips that made this a successful meeting and can help other clubs also reach out to their lawmakers:
- If possible, meet when they are not in session. Belle-City Kennel Club chose to meet with their State Representative now rather than during their state’s legislative session. This enabled them to get more time for the meeting than if they had been competing with committee meetings and other urgent matters that arise during a legislative session. Additionally, keep the meeting focused. While Belle-City members discussed some general legislative matters, the first meeting was primarily an introduction. This way, the representative will know to talk with them when issues arise during the session.
- Go back to basics. It’s important to remember that your club may be the first introduction the lawmaker has had to kennel clubs and shows. The Belle-City Kennel Club members were surprised to learn that the representative had not heard of the American Kennel Club and had no idea what AKC or local clubs did. In fact, the representative thought that the club was literally a local kennel that was breeding and selling dogs as a business! “We went back to preschool – told him the very basics about who we are,” Kasten said. Members provided him information on the history of the club and all they do in the community, as well as a very brief, basic overview of AKC.
- Demonstrate your expertise. One of the key purposes of the meeting was to let the lawmaker know that if he is interested in canine legislative issues, he doesn’t need to talk to animal rights groups. He has experts with a wealth of knowledge right in his own district. “I kept emphasizing that we have actual animal expertise, they only have theory,” Kasten stated.
The club members in the meeting also provided the lawmaker with a list of all they do in the community, including dog training classes for the public. They also explained that their members breed, show, and rescue dogs – and have been doing so for many years.
- Numbers matter. The club members found that providing data and numbers resonated the most with the lawmaker. They gave him AKC’s handout on the economic impact of AKC and shows on the state, “(and) his eyes got huge! He had no idea all the positive things AKC and clubs were doing for dogs in the state,” Kasten explained.
The club also used numbers to re-emphasize their expertise. To demonstrate this, they took the median number of years each of their 60 members had in dog ownership, training, breeding and rescue (25 years). As such, they explained, he has a club in his district with over 1,500 combined years of “actual hands-on dog experience.”
- Follow up. The club members ended the meeting by inviting the representative to a local show so he could learn more about the club, breed enthusiasts, and purebred dogs. Club members are following up with his office to provide details, including offering a tour from and potentially an opportunity to present the best in show award.
They also provided him their contact information and encouraged him to reach out when he hears of issues impacting dogs and dog owners. In addition, they asked him to share the best ways to contact him so that when legislative issues arise, they can reach out.
“Our club has been making an impact in our community for over 50 years, yet our local lawmaker was not aware of our existence,” Michele Kasten said. “As a result of this meeting, he now not only knows about the Belle-City Kennel Club and the federation, but has a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of AKC and our club, and most importantly, our expertise. We look forward to continuing to work with him to promote sound canine policy in our district.”
Visit the AKC Legislative Action Center (www.akcgr.org) for resources you can download and share with your local lawmakers. For assistance in preparing for meetings with local lawmakers, contact AKC Government Relations at email@example.com.