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The Power of Rallying For Your Rights
Posted on 11/09/2012 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

While things are somewhat quieting down on the legislative front, I had an opportunity to check in on the opposition. Several groups here in Michigan, including Michigan Humane Society and HSUS, and led by Puppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan, hosted “Pups Parade” for what they proclaimed as Michigan Puppy Mill Awareness Day of 2012.

Two bills were filed in the past year in Michigan, one being a so-called lemon law or the “Puppy Warranty Act”, and the other the “Puppy Protection Act,” an anti-breeding bill. Neither of these bills has seen any action for months. When they first were getting legs, I had thought it would be a fantastic idea to have a sort of “dog day” at the Capitol to promote the responsible dog owners and breeders, and show the people who would really be harmed by these bills as currently written. I put the idea on the back burner when it seemed clear the bills weren’t going anywhere anytime soon; I felt it unnecessary to draw attention to them and bring them to light when they were being tabled. The Pups Parade attempted to do just that - remind legislators and the public that these bills are still sitting and urged them to take action to move them forward.

I decided I needed to go check out this rally for a couple of reasons. One, I really wanted to see how an event like this unfolds, in general. I had never attended a rally/demonstration like this, and certainly not one with dogs. Two, I really wanted to observe the “opposition” in person, and see what kind of turnout and support they had. Both purposes were very well served.

The groups lucked out and had perfect weather for their event: moderate fall temps and fairly clear skies. A central tent was erected near the Capitol steps that offered information for interested passersby and a central location for volunteers to gather. HSUS also had a presence in the tent. A clear schedule had been laid out beforehand on their website and also on their Facebook page. The event had been very well organized through social media, a very important and vital tool in grassroots organization. There were probably somewhere between 50 to 100 people in attendance, the majority with a dog in tow. Most were carrying signs, many that said “Adopt, don’t shop.” I found that motto interesting in light of the fact that the majority of the dogs appeared to be purebreds.

The rally was kicked off with a parade through the park-like setting around the Capitol, led by volunteers from the Puppy Mill Awareness group. Most of the volunteers were wearing matching shirts, and two were dressed as dogs. Once the parade was done, everyone regrouped on the lawn in front of the Capitol steps, and a table with a few volunteers was set up by the street. Volunteers were asking for signatures for their petition at both locations. The whole thing was definitely getting a lot of attention, and I would attribute that mostly to the dogs. It appeared many people became engaged in conversation over the presence of dogs, and then the conversation would turn to “puppy mills”. What average person you pull off the street would not be against “puppy mills”? Needless to say, it looked like they were getting a lot of signatures on their petition.

After the parade, some speakers stepped up to the podium to talk about what they were trying to accomplish. They mostly spoke about the Michigan Puppy Protection Act, the anti-breeding bill. To those who don’t know better, it sounds wonderful. A law to stop those awful “puppy mills”. Who doesn’t want that? Especially when you’re told that Michigan Humane Society went around the state and talked to tons of dog breeders and clubs and other dog breeding groups, and that there was overwhelming support for this law (which, in reality, is far from the truth). The repeated theme from the speakers was that this law contains only basic care requirements, and that those who speak out against the bill must have something to hide. Put in those terms, it sounds pretty black and white, especially to John Doe off the streets, and maybe legislators as well.

The event wrapped up with recognition of the groups present and photos on the Capitol steps. I left before I was recognized, but I am glad I went, and I did learn a lot. First, I really think many of the people in attendance were not crazy animal rights supporters. Rather, I would be willing to bet that most of them are pet owners who are only getting one side of the story, and have no inkling of the unintended consequences that will hurt dog breeders. Some may be driven to action by their own experience through either adopting a dog with “puppy mill” origins or purchasing a dog from a pet shop that later had complications and led the owner to education about “puppy mills”.

Either of those scenarios could understandably lead to passionate feelings on the issue, but do not make them animal rights supporters. They are most definitely being used by the animal rights movement, and are no less of a threat to animal owner rights, but I think it’s safe to say they are not themselves animal-rights crazies. One sure sign? They have dogs!

I also saw first-hand how effective a rally/demonstration such as this one truly is. The mere presence of dogs drew a ton of attention, much more so than had it been just people alone. It got many a conversation going, not just with people off the streets, but with plenty of legislators and their staff, as well. It’s just too bad they’re getting fed the wrong rhetoric. I believe that we, as responsible and active dog owners, could take this so much further and make more of an impression.

It would be ideal to get as many different groups and clubs involved as possible so you really have a wide cross-section represented. I’m talking everything from conformation to bird dogs to agility to mushing to hounds - all across the board. Registry or national club affiliation doesn’t matter; with something like this we need to reach across lines and come together. My vision is to have all of these groups form a unified front to put on a responsible dog owner/breeder day at their respective state capitols. I have a picture in my head of owners with beautiful purebred dogs in tow, and even having demos of some of their sports if permissible - mushers pulling rigs, agility demos, disc dogs, etc. The possibilities are endless!

State federations or similar dog owner rights clubs might be the best bet to lead the charge for an event like this. In Michigan, we have the Michigan Association of Purebred Dogs, a well-established group that has many other Michigan dog clubs affiliated with it. Even if your state doesn’t have any sort of federation or umbrella group, don’t despair! Start a group on Facebook to organize, and through that reach out to other groups and clubs throughout your state. If you have any legislation threatening your rights as a dog owner, this is one great way to combat it and to demonstrate publicly what responsible dog owners and breeders look like. I think with some good organization, the numbers of attendees would be far greater than this one, and some potential allies and supporters could be made in legislatures across the country.