Tips for Attending Meetings on BDL

June 10, 2013  

Ten Tips for Attending a City Council Meeting or Public Hearing Where Discriminatory Dog Laws are Being Discussed

Reprinted with permission from If Dogs Could Talk

(1) Stay for the entire meeting. I recently attended a public hearing in Middletown, New York, where a new dog ordinance was first on the agenda for discussion. After the dog discussion ended, the dozens of advocates in attendance left the hearing; I was one of two people who stayed put. Several of the council members voiced disgust over this. One said, “These dog lovers claim to care about the community, but they leave after their issue is finished. How can they say they care about the community?”

(2) Dress to impress. There’s a time and a place for our doggie t-shirts and sweatshirts; a formal political meeting is not it. We’ll be taken more seriously if our attire conveys professionalism and respect. And if you’re like me, your dog/advocacy paraphenalia is ragged from wear and tear. Politicians are not impressed by this. They wear formal ”work” clothes to these things, and so should we.

(3) Avoid the “isms.” It’s tempting to compare discriminatory dog laws to racism, the holocaust, fascism, and other social atrocities. Don’t. It especially insults people who have experienced those “isms” firsthand, and your legislators could be one of them. A Washington Post column noted, “Nazi comparisons are the most extreme form of political speech; once one ties his political opponents to the most deplorable chapter in human history, all reasoned argument ceases.” In an Ohio hearing to discuss the repeal of state-wide breed specific legislation (BSL), one committee member was so offended by a comparison of BSL to racism that she walked out of the room. You want/need them to stay in the room.

(4) Don’t come empty handed. When you speak, it’s important to present the facts, studies, and research to demonstrate that discriminatory dog laws have never resulted in increased public safety. But don’t expect the legislators to remember everything you said. Instead, present them each with hard copies of what you cited. Having one printed copy per legislator shows respect and makes it easier for them to digest everything. They probably received countless emails on the topic, so delivering these materials in person increases the chances they’ll really read it. It might not save the trees, but it could save the dogs.

(5) Propose a solution. There’s a good chance you’ll convince legislators that discriminatory dog laws are not effective, but don’t forget the most important part: the solution. A small town Mayor once told a room full of dog advocates, “You all say that our proposed ordinance is not the answer, but none of you has proposed an alternative plan.” Once an elected official proposes legislation, it’s hard to go back on the promise to take action; even though their opinions may change, they still feel the need to “do something.” Propose that something. It can be as simple (and effective!) as enforcing existing leash laws, fining owners who don’t license their dogs, or partnering with community groups to offer low-cost vaccination and microchip clinics. If the legislator can claim this as his own idea/solution, even better! But spell this out for them, so they can take action.

(6) Focus on public safety for people. Legislators are interested, first and foremost, in ensuring public safety for their voting constituents. So frame your arguments in ways that appeal to their goal. They may or may not care how much you love your dog, and sadly, they may or may not care about the plight of dogs in your community. But they will always care about public safety to people. Fortunately, effective dog laws also enhance public safety for people. These are the points you want to stress. Help legislators understand that this is not a zero-sum game; the existence of your dog does not come at the expense of humans’ wellbeing.

(7) Share your stories strategically. Telling legislators how much you love your dog doesn’t always change minds, especially if they mistakenly believe your dogs exist at the expense of public safety. Instead, tell stories of how your dogs have benefited the community. Is your dog a therapy dog? Describe how he’s enhanced the lives of vulnerable people in your community (e.g., isolated seniors, children with special needs). Do you spend money on your dog? State the dollar amount you pay annually to local business owners (e.g., veterinarians, pet food stores, dogwalkers, trainers) because of your dog.

(8) Practice your poker face. This is a tough one, especially when emotions run high. But the dogs are counting on you to be polite and in control of your words. There’s a good possibility that a legislator (or another audience member) will say something hurtful and offensive about you and/or your dogs. Don’t let this catch you off guard; get a friend to practice insulting you (for real!) and test out your poker face. If you can’t stay collected after hearing these insults, better to find out now rather than in public and on record. Also, don’t moan-and-groan, roll your eyes, whisper to the person next to you, or tsk-tsk when someone says something offensive. Reacting that way will hurt, not help, your case.

(9) Introduce yourself to legislators after the meeting. When the meeting is over (and you’ve stayed to the end, of course!), kindly introduce yourself to the legislators – even the ones on the other team. Shake their hand. Look them in the eye. All of this puts a human face on the issue, and those simple interactions can go a long way in humanizing the issue. And it’s a good business practice.

(10) Say thank you. When you’re shaking hands, thank the legislators for being concerned about public safety. In doing so, you can reiterate that you share this goal.

For more information on challenging discriminatory dog laws, visit Stop BSL, Bless the Bullies, the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club, or the National Canine Research Council.

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13 Responses to “Tips for Attending Meetings on BDL
  1. This is awesome, thank you for sharing!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @theprettychic You’re welcome Kelli, there’s a handy PDF to download and take with you too!

  2. Erin K says:

    This is great information. It is so easy to show up to a city council meeting or other political meeting and become, not just ineffective, but counter productive to your own cause. “Pit Bull people” have a general physical stereotype in the layperson’s mind (much like the label “crazy cat lady”). We have to be able to get people to see past our exteriors, whatever they are. At my own City Commission meeting the commissioners gave me twice as much time at the podium as other citizens because I was well researched. I provided facts, from reputable organizations like the ATTS, the CDC and local agencies. As well as played the “Find the Pit Bull” game with them right off the bat. They thanked me afterward for giving them research, visuals and statistics, not anecdotes. I realized at that point, very solidly, how important it is for me to be “detached” from the statistics. I make no apologies for having a Pit Bull mix, and I never will. I will continue to have Bully Breeds for the rest of my life, and I will continue to fight for them! Education and respect gets you everywhere. even when you disagree… 

    • StubbyDog says:

       @Erin K Good points Erin, we all have to keep our cool to be as effective as possible.

  3. mcgaelicgal3 says:

    EXCELLENT info, thank you!!

  4. CindyMcLain says:

    wonderful information.. thank you!

  5. sandersagility says:

    Great tips!   A couple years ago Montana voted down a BSL in the state legislature, but NOT due to the “help” of many pit bull advocates who showed up at the capitol with ill-behaved dogs wearing spiked collars, and the people themselves looking and acting like motorcycle gang refugees.  This is NOT the image we want to project, and yet it is what helps perpetuate the whole pit bull hysteria because the media loves it.  Like stereotyping every gun owner as a drawling, tobacco-spittin’ good old boy.  The media SEEKS THESE INDIVIDUALS OUT to feature and interview because that is the image the media wants to project.  I love this forum and organization, but I hope and pray we’re not just preaching to the choir.  Anyway, thank you!

    • StubbyDog says:

       @sandersagility You’re very welcome, we need to show the right images to change perceptions, it’s sometimes a struggle, but we can do it.

  6. Nurse Connie says:

    Excellent and sensible article. This could and should apply to every issue in politics. We would all do well to listen to both sides of an issue and then try to reach solutions together. Thank-you so much. I am printing this and folding it up in my purse. 

  7. Twinhulls says:

    Good advice.

  8. jamieb says:

    To the author, BSL with certain end results are almost EXACTLY like Nazism and like racism.

    Let me paint the picture, men in uniforms, show up, take a loved one, to a gas chamber, based on his DNA.

    Racism. People judge other people and their loved ones based on DNA.

    The parallels are undeniable. Fine if you want to decry the people walking out of the community meeting after the “dog stuff is over” then you cannot use a woman walking out of a city council meeting when someone brings up racism, as proof it is not effective and is wrong. One you should say this person in power should be held to higher standards, and if she walks out, then it means SHE does not care about the community, and should not be in a position of power.

    More to the point of racism, we are in a point in our development as a nation where people who are not even racists can be called racists, and then ruined. Do not let the antis define the argument and get to set the parameters. Just curious can other people in other walks of life escape charges of racism in the public eye by leaving the room in a huff? Do you recognize that as debate, or problem solving?

    The proper word for that council woman is bigot.

    via wiki: Bigotry is the state of mind of a bigot: someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats other people with hatred, contempt, and intolerance on the basis of a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, language, socioeconomic status, or other status.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. described bigotry in the following quotation: “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract.

    No amount of suits or pamphlets can convince this woman that all dogs are the same, in the same way that all people are the same. You cannot believe one, and not believe the other.

    BSL is just like pre-emptive arrests for certain ethnic groups, for the great good. You know, before they become inevitable criminals.

    If you do not do as I am saying, you are LITERALLY handing the opposition victory. If you let them define the argument, and the parameters, you will lose every time. That is the reason they are trying to set the parameters, and define the argument.

    If you do not use logic, and more importantly THEIR logic against them, you will have the same rate of success as convincing me my favorite flavor of ice cream is wrong, and yours is right.

    They are emotional, you cant overcome that. You have to use their logic, and science against them, and publicly shame them into submission.