Dogged Dedication and Other Capitol Hill Fly-In Impressions
A first-timer’s perspective of a day showing elected officials the power of pets.
Despite a lengthy career in the greater Washington, D.C., area working for organizations for whom the decisions of elected officials often have a major impact, I had never participated in a Capitol Hill Fly-In. On Sept. 18, I joined my first, PIJAC’s Pet Care Community DC Fly-In.
Accompanied by pet care professionals from around the country, I met with Members of Congress and their staff to deliver the message that pets are important for human health and quality of life. The day turned out to be quite a learning experience, with some unexpected and important takeaways.
The first eye-opener was realizing just how fierce the competition for the attention of lawmakers and their staff is. There were groups just like ours all over Capitol Hill that day. From airline pilots in uniform to groups sporting colorful Puerto Rico-emblazoned lanyards, all day long we crossed paths with people on the same mission as we were—to urge lawmakers to pay attention to the issues that are important to us.
Our groups had just 20 minutes in each office, and the schedules are tightly held. Especially when we were meeting with the actual Member of Congress, one of their staff either popped their head in the room or stood up precisely when the meeting was supposed to end.
With such limited time, I saw how important it was to have specific and impactful points to make—and our pet care community groups were prepared. PIJAC had created talking points on four key issues: supporting veteran access to service animals, expanding funding for animals in education, the impact of Chinese tariffs on pet care items and pet ownership, and improving animal importation oversight to protect pet and public health.
The diversity, dedication and passion of the pet care community was the second eye-opener. I visited lawmakers’ offices with foundation and trade association leaders, veterinarians, scientists, pet store owners, groomers, product manufacturers and distributors, and more. Everyone had taken time away from their own businesses or organizations and spent money to come to Washington, D.C. because of their dedication to the future of pets and pet ownership.
I went on a few office visits with Bill Trufant, owner of B & B Pet Stop, Inc., in Mobile, Ala., who was participating in his second Pet Care Fly-In.
“I feel that it is so important to have our industry represented so professionally at the Fly-In,” he told me. “The pet industry has fed my family for almost four decades now so I am happy to have the opportunity to give something back!”
Jackie King, executive director of The Pet Care Trust, which operates the Pets in the Classroom grant program, also felt that the value of the facetime was critical.
“This event allowed us to make personal connections with legislators’ staff and help them understand more about the economic and social impact the pet and animal care community has on their constituents,” she said.
My third takeaway from the day was the power of a personal story. In every meeting, the Member of Congress or their staffer nodded their heads at the facts and statistics that were shared, but what really got their attention was when a Fly-In participant spoke about how the particular issue being discussed impacted their business, their family or their community.
One of the most moving moments came during the luncheon program, which focused on improving veterans’ access to service animals, when my PIJAC colleague Bob Likins spoke about his military career.
“As an Army captain, I commanded 154 soldiers on a remote base in Iraq,” he said. “Nothing tore me apart more than hearing that one of them had survived their deployment only to take their own life after they became a veteran.”
Elena Bicker, executive director of Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, also created an emotional connection with the audience when she showed a video featuring success stories from ARF’s Pets for Vets program, which matches veterans with service dogs from shelters.
With over 80 pet care community professionals visiting the offices of over 100 Members of Congress, it’s safe to say we were successful in showing those elected representatives the true scope and positive impact of pet ownership, and made progress towards securing their awareness and support.
But, seeing the wide variety of issues and interests represented by the groups that filed through those Congressional office doors all day long, I know the pet care community needs to continue to build, and nurture, relationships with lawmakers all levels of government throughout the year. PIJAC can help you. Join us at pijac.org/join to stay informed and add your support as we work to protect and strengthen the pet care community. PB
Gwyn Donohue is the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs.