In the Trenches
Retailers who stand ready and willing to fight for the future of the pet industry can use this how-to guide on legislative battles.
Throughout 2017, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s (PIJAC) columns in the pages of this magazine have focused on how to get involved in the legislative process. For example, proactively engaging and educating lawmakers can pay dividends when issues arise, and coalitions can amplify the voice of the responsible pet trade. And no matter what happens with a particular bill or ordinance, PIJAC advises constant vigilance because no victory (or loss) is permanent.
In an ideal world, none of these columns would be necessary. Ethically run pet businesses would be able to focus on getting healthy pets to forever homes. Pet lovers would be the providers and recipients of the companion animal of their choice, working together to keep out bad actors.
That is not the reality we face, though. A few bad actors and many powerful opponents force businesspeople to double as citizen lobbyists, spending time, money and other resources engaging with lawmakers, the media and activists instead of running their companies.
So once a bill or ordinance has been introduced, what are the most effective ways to make your voice heard?
First, as always, we encourage responsible pet businesses to join PIJAC. We exist to take as much of the government engagement burden off of your shoulders as possible. Membership means you’ll be in the know on what’s going on with issues that affect you, and you’ll help PIJAC be even better at protecting you, your pets and your customers. And we’ll be able to work more effectively with you on legislative issues.
Whether you’re a member of PIJAC or not, we know you’ll fight to keep providing pets to your customers. Once a bill is introduced, you should ask those who have benefited from your business—your customers, employees and community allies—to support you. They can do so by writing letters to the editors of relevant media outlets, sharing their positive stories on social media, testifying on your behalf to lawmakers and simply telling their friends and family about the great work you do.
A Personal Approach
Public support is key, but so are personal relationships. This is where the aforementioned engagement with, and education of, lawmakers pays off. Set up meetings with as many relevant lawmakers and their staffs as possible. Remind them of who you are and what you do—that you’re a staple of your area’s business community, serving their constituents through strong business and personal ethics, and that you’ve worked with them in the past.
Once you’ve been heard, continue to stay in touch. Work with your fellow industry members—remember, you’ll already be part of a coalition—to bring the power of pets to lawmakers’ offices. Show that you, your customers and your employees are not the only ones affected by the ordinance or bill, and expand your coalition to include as many impacted individuals and groups as possible.
Reaching out directly to the media can also be effective, but it must be done both strategically and tactically. For example, going public too early could draw unwanted attention if a bill is brought forth by an ally. Conversely, being too publicly aggressive could turn a lawmaker against you.
Finding the right balance of both timing and tone takes time and experience. Existing relationships with relevant media outlets will help make these decisions easier, since you’ll be able to better control your message.
Once you’ve established your foundation with allies, it’s time to engage with those who may be on the fence or leaning toward opposing your position. Using fact-based, evidence-based arguments can often be very effective, especially when combined with support from other lawmakers and your community. Lawmakers often want to do what’s right, so showing them that they can do so without risking their seats makes your argument just that much more effective.
This may require you to be open with your records and other aspects of your business. Sometimes lawmakers are under pressure from animal rights activists, so proving that you act within the law and with best business practices will reassure them of your intentions. It may also defuse misleading rhetoric from your opponents.
All of these tactics entail risk—at the very least, they take you away from running your business. However, they may be a long-term strategy that favors your business’ ability to grow or even survive.
Another risk is that you may become a more obvious target for animal rights protests at your business, home or elsewhere. This is where becoming a PIJAC member may be beneficial; we can more easily bear the risks of public engagement—such as attacks by animal activists—while providing you with guidance on how to most effectively engage openly or behind the scenes.
No matter your tactics and strategies, working with your community, the industry, PIJAC and lawmakers to make sure your stakeholders are best represented in public policy is very important. We look forward to working with you. PB
Mike Bober is the president and CEO of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.