According to several state legislators: “We don’t hear from you. We hear from the animal rights lobbyists, but we don’t hear from you. We want your input.”
When was the last time you spoke with, emailed, or sent a handwritten note to an elected official? For a few people who are active on legislative issues, the answer is, “Every day!” But for far too many dog owners, breeders, exhibitors, and AKC club members, the answer is, “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t know how.”
And consider this, if you needed to send a fast message to your legislators, how long would it take to locate email addresses or phone numbers? Contact info for federal and state elected officials is available at www.akcgr.org. However, emails and direct phone numbers for your local officials can be elusive.
Here are two things your AKC club can do to improve your club’s and your members’ outreach to lawmakers—your elected officials who pass (or don’t pass) laws that affect your dogs and your rights as dog owners.
First, appoint a club Legislator Contact Committee to compile and annually update a list of contact information for your county and city elected officials—council members, aldermen, board members, or whatever titles are used in communities where your club members reside. Maintain this information on your club’s website, Facebook page, or other club communication site.
Please note that some government websites “hide” email addresses behind an online contact form. If that’s true for any of your communities, the Legislator Contact Committee can call lawmakers or their staff at the city and county offices and politely request a direct email address for either the elected official or the staff member who forwards important communications. Also, make notes on whether any online contact forms accept limited messages (for example, no more than 1,000 characters) or if they allow documents to be attached to messages.
For parent clubs that cover the entire U.S., it is too big a task to keep lists of local legislators in all communities where your members live. Parent clubs are urged to make sure their Legislative Liaisons have up-to-date club member contact information so they can pass along legislative alerts received from AKC Government Relations to members who live where state and local legislation is pending. Those alerts often include local legislator contact info.
Second, get to know your elected officials. Make it a club project to meet your lawmakers, invite them to your events, and to remind them that the vast majority of the 80 million owned dogs in the U.S.—and the dogs that live in their districts—are well-loved and receive excellent care.
How do you and your club accomplish this outreach? It’s extremely simple. Make appointments. Go. Bring photos of your dogs and your events. Take an inexperienced or shy club member with you. This should not be limited to a one-time visit; instead, the goal is to establish ongoing communication.
Challenge each club member to make personal contact with the elected officials who represent their city and county districts, their state representative, and state senator(s). When possible, expand this outreach to include your representatives in Washington D.C.—your Congressman/woman and Senators. Federal lawmakers usually have district offices in their states, so start there when trying to make appointments.
Please read the message at the top again— our legislators have stated, “We don’t hear from you.” When they only hear from proponents of problematic laws, they hear only one viewpoint. Establishing ongoing outreach with our lawmakers is essential to help ensure that canine legislation is fair, based on sound science, and does not compromise the rights of dog owners, exhibitors, and breeders.
Let’s recap nine steps your AKC club can take TODAY to stay informed, form alliances, share information, and communicate with lawmakers about issues that affect our dogs and our rights.
2. Update your club’s officer list and contact information at firstname.lastname@example.org..
3. Let AKC Government Relations know if your club officers and Legislative Liaison are not getting AKC legislative alerts by sending a message to email@example.com.
4. Quickly advise AKC Government Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org when local canine legislation is discussed or introduced in your county or city.
5. Identify your allies and form strategic alliances with like-minded groups, those who face similar challenges, and those who share common ideologies.
Share mutually relevant communication with your allies and include them in your grassroots outreach. When appropriate, reciprocate and support your allies on their issues.
7. Compile contact information for your elected officials and make it available to your members.
8. Get to know your elected officials—as a constituent and as an AKC club.
For assistance, information, and to share your great ideas, please contact AKC Government Relations at email@example.com or 919-816-3720.