New York, NY - Engaged as we all are in the world of purebred dogs, it is often easy to forget that legislators¾whom we must call on to help us protect our rights as dog owners and breeders and to ensure the continuation of our sport¾may know little about the AKC and the fancy beyond the conformation shows they see on TV. They are often unaware of the economic benefits our events bring to their states, the success of our public education programs, and other important details of our constituency.
It is vitally important for us to build relationships with elected officials at all levels, and the Canine Legislation department works with a strong network of Legislative Liaisons from affiliated clubs across the country to do just that. We want legislators to understand our concerns, programs and services and to think of us as the primary resource on all dog legislation issues. More importantly, we want to establish good contacts before problems arise, so we know whom we can call on to vote in our favor or to introduce legislation on our behalf.
This year, the AKC has put a special emphasis on federal legislation, seeking to increase the fancy's presence in Washington, DC. Reaching out to Members of Congress, the Canine Legislation department was recently involved in two exciting events that brought us closer to that goal: Pet Night Reception on Capitol Hill and AKC Lobby Day.
Organized by the Animal Health Institute and co-sponsored by AKC and other animal organizations, Pet Night is a formal reception held for Congressional Members and their staff. The event focuses on the human/animal bond and represents a unique opportunity for AKC staff to meet and greet key elected officials. Pet Night has grown to be one of the most popular receptions on Capitol Hill¾over 700 people attended this year, walking away with "goodie" bags that included brochures and responsible dog ownership leashes from AKC. More importantly, groundwork was laid that will help the fancy advance its federal legislative agenda.
Following Pet Night, AKC took a bold new step with its legislative program when it hosted its first-ever Lobby Day, also in Washington, DC. Key Legislative Liaisons from across the country were welcomed by the Canine Legislation department for a day of education and mentoring, to be followed by visits to their own Members of Congress where they would discuss AKC's current issues. Undeterred by a pending hurricane, participants heard presentations by AKC staff and its government relations consultants. Here they became more familiar with our federal initiatives, including our support of stronger enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, and our desire to protect owners' ability to transport dogs by air. They also had an opportunity to share strategies and techniques for dealing with critical issues facing the fancy nationwide.
At the last minute, Lobby Day participants were unable to meet with their Members of Congress¾Hurricane Isabel prompted federal offices to close. Attendees were so eager to carry AKC's message to Capitol Hill, however, that all plan to reschedule their meetings with their legislators when they are home in their district offices.
Events like Pet Night and Lobby Day are invaluable to the fancy. The opportunity to put a personal face on our sport¾to show legislators who we are, what we do, and why we do it¾is essential if we are to be successful at protecting the rights of purebred dog owners. AKC is leading the way in Washington, and I encourage fanciers to emulate our model by similarly reaching out to federal, state and local elected officials.