2014 Year in Review
The past year was another busy one for AKC Government Relations (GR) and for dog owners throughout the United States. There were many challenges, but there were also many successes as well. Many of the successes and advances made in 2014 can be attributed to outreach by representatives of AKC clubs and federations, owners, breeders and exhibitors who worked to establish relationships with their local, state, and federal lawmakers.
The AKC salutes the dedicated dog lovers and volunteers whose letters, phone calls, educational outreach, and advocacy have made a difference to the future of dogs!
When a bill to regulate dog breeders and hobbyists was considered in a New York County, the County Executive told AKC GR that he was astonished at the effective, efficient grassroots efforts that were made. Local clubs and breeders received AKC GR’s legislative alert, forwarded it to colleagues, and took the time to contact the county legislature and executive and tell their story about how the proposal would impact them and their dogs. This resulted in the bill being rejected in its entirety and the AKC and local clubs receiving an invitation to work with the county to write a better, more effective law.
Similar efforts were made all over the United States in 2014, resulting in numerous successes. This included assistance from key members of Congress in getting amendments to the USDA APHIS breeder/retail pet seller regulations into the 2013/2014 US Agricultural Authorization bill (the “Farm Bill”) and its manager’s report to help protect breeders who only occasionally ship a puppy, and also to help clarify how exactly a “breeding female” should be defined. These changes are currently under review by USDA APHIS.
Egregious bills that would have overregulated breeders in several states were defeated thanks to clubs, federations and coalitions working tirelessly in their states. This includes bills in North Carolina, Iowa, Hawaii, and Michigan. Many of the proposed breeder restrictions would have created impossible standards for breeders, and defined a commercial breeder based on the number of intact dogs owned — regardless of whether or not the dogs were actively part of a breeding program.
2014 also saw significant steps forward in the area of breed-specific legislation, with several localities rejecting breed-specific proposals. In addition, Maryland passed legislation to overturn a controversial court ruling that declared all “pit bulls” as inherently dangerous. In 2014, South Dakota and Utah became the 17th and 18th states to adopt legislation that specifically prohibits local governments from passing breed-specific laws.
View a list of highlights of canine legislative successes across the United States on the AKC GR website.
State Trends and Highlights
More than 1,600 bills with the potential to impact dog owners, breeders, and others who work with dogs were introduced or carried over in state legislatures across the United States in 2014. These bills covered a wide range of topics and included measures that AKC supported, measures that AKC opposed, and others that AKC GR simply monitored. AKC’s position and commentary on individual bills varies on a case-by-case basis, but AKC always researches and chooses its position carefully, and acts in accordance with AKC position statements and what is in the best interest of dogs.
The wide variety of dog-related bills introduced each year demonstrates that animal issues continue to be a hot topic in state legislatures.
Nearly 300 bills dealt with animal cruelty and/or dog fighting. The AKC takes a strong line on animal cruelty and believes that no dog should be kept in a situation where its basic needs are not met. The problem with some of the bills, however, is that they may create “one size fits all” standards that are not in the best interest of all dogs, and in a few cases, standards that target accepted, humane practices of animal husbandry such as dewclaw removal, ear cropping, tail docking, and debarking.
AKC also saw an increased activity on the state level in dangerous dog legislation. Much of the interest in these bills came from high-profile dog attacks in local communities that generated a call for action. There were some positive steps forward. Several states considered and advanced legislation prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against owners of specific breeds. While none of these ultimately passed, several, including bills in New York and Connecticut, went further in the legislative process than ever before and have been reintroduced for 2015.
For the second year in a row, AKC monitored a large number of bills that had the potential to impact those who hunt with dogs or participate in field trials. Some, such as Pennsylvania House Bill 1068 (which was introduced in 2013 and carried over to 2014) provided new protections for working, hunting and field trial dogs. Pennsylvania HB 1068 would have made it unlawful for anyone to intentionally injure or interfere with a dog in a designated dog training area, and this bill has been reintroduced for 2015. AKC will continue to monitor this type of legislation and work with like-minded groups to ensure the rights of sportsmen are protected.
Local governments considered a broad range of issues in 2014. In the past breed-specific legislation has been the most prominent local issue. In 2014, AKC GR observed an increase in local bill introductions to regulate or restrict dog breeding. Local bills designed to impact breeding operations typically take the form of kennel licensing laws, mandatory spay/neuter, and zoning code changes. However, in states where restrictive breeder regulation has recently failed at the state level, it is increasingly common to see proponents of those measures attempt to advance them at the county or city levels, with the goal of accomplishing the same essential outcome, but on a county-by county basis.
AKC GR also observed an increase in mandatory spay/neuter proposals, particularly in the second half of 2014. Measures included requiring sterilization of all dogs unless an intact animal permit was purchased, and in some cases, such as Madison, Wisconsin, inspections of all home-based breeders. A measure passed by the New York City Council and enacted in January 2015 mandates the sterilization of all dogs sold at pet shops or by breeders who sell more than 25 pets a year—regardless of the age or health status of that animal!
The New York City measure was one of many introduced across the United States to place regulations on pet sellers. Numerous local ordinances were proposed in Florida, California, Illinois and Wisconsin (just to name a few) that would prohibit pet stores from selling pets that were not obtained from shelters or rescues. In many cases, the term “pet store” included both brick-and-mortar retailers and breeders. This is of particular concern because small local breeders cannot produce all the pets desired by the public, and such measures limit the opportunity for families and individuals to obtain a purebred pet that is an appropriate choice for their lifestyle. Families should have the right to choose the right pet for their situation, whether it comes from a small local breeder, a regulated professional breeder/pet store, a rescue, shelter or other source.
The continued increase in local measures impacting dog owners and sellers demonstrates the reason it is imperative that clubs, dog owners and breeders pay attention to animal-related proposals in their local communities.
The AKC urges all dog enthusiasts to watch the media for stories relating to dogs that may result in a county or city desiring to take action. Take the time to reach out to your local lawmakers. Let them know what you, your clubs, and fellow breeders do on behalf of dogs and dog owners, and attend council hearings when issues arise. This approach works. Elected officials want to hear from their constituents on issues that impact them. For example, in October 2014, a small town in Arizona was considering numerous changes to its animal control laws. A number of local dog clubs and breeders learned about the ordinance and reached out to town leaders. As a result, the town agreed to hold an informal meeting to discuss the changes with them. The meetings were so packed that two subsequent meetings have been held. Local breeders and owners made it clear to the town that there are many in the community who care deeply about dogs and want to see fair, reasonable laws enacted—and the elected officials responded.
The majority of states and many local governments held elections in 2014. There are many new lawmakers throughout the country, as well as lawmakers in new leadership roles. Animal rights and activist groups are already hard at work to push their agenda in several states. It is essential that our lawmakers know there are dog owners, breeders and clubs in their constituency who pay attention to legislation and are the true dog experts! Consider inviting them to dog shows, to a club meeting, or for a tour of your kennel. Let your representatives know about the expertise you and your club have to offer and the positive role that breeders and responsible dog owners play in the community.
And remember, AKC Government Relations is here to help you! We have talking points, suggested legislation, and materials to assist you with canine legislation issues that may arise in your community or state. AKC GR staff members are also available to help analyze legislation and connect you with others in your area who will help you communicate with lawmakers.
Finally, we encourage you to consider joining your state federation and becoming part of a coalition of constituents in your state dedicated to protecting the rights of dog owners and breeders. If your state does not currently have a federation, AKC can assist you in forming one and connecting you with others in your area interested in taking an active role in canine legislation.
For questions on legislation, please do not hesitate to contact the AKC GR Department at (919) 816-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are dedicated to continue to partner with you to protect your rights and promote responsible dog ownership throughout the United States.