Who Said You Can’t Fight City Hall?
By: Lyn Kalinoski Date: 01/10/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation |
Fighting any type of restrictive dog legislation is not an easy task, but dog fanciers in Toledo, Ohio, managed to defeat a five dog limit recently, thanks to some hard work and developing political strategy. We hope our experience will help other groups facing similar challenges.
In April, the mayor of Toledo announced that he would propose a limit on dog ownership that would allow no more than five dogs per household. Several well-known kennels had operated within city limits over the past 100 years, and complaints to the health department were few.
The mayor's proposal caught the Toledo Kennel Club by surprise. The club's legislative committee was active in the 1980s but had dwindled away, and club members did not suspect that dog ownership would be threatened. The city had encouraged us to move our two large all-breed shows to the convention center downtown, so the mayor's pronouncements at a press conference caught us by surprise.
The club quickly re-established a dog legislation committee and asked me to chair it. Several of us wrote letters to the mayor, city council, and the local newspaper about the limit bill.
I called the mayor to discover what the proposal would include. He was affable but inflexible: "no one needs to own more than five dogs." He promised to send a copy of the legislation to our committee before it went to council, a promise he did not keep.
We heard nothing for a couple of months. We contacted several individuals who own multiple dogs, and when news reports indicated the mayor's bill would go to council in July, we were ready.
I called the health department and reminded them of the mayor's promise. The bill that arrived in the mail was draconian. It was tied to a revision of the city's vicious dog ordinance and was to be enacted as an emergency measure, which would put it into effect immediately upon passage. The bill banned ownership of more than five dogs in a single family house or duplex house. Exceptions would be made only if the owner had an additional 5000 square feet of property for each additional dog. There was no grandfather clause, no grace period, and no provision for rescue organizations, breeders, dog show exhibitors, or sportsmen.
In the meanwhile, I contacted other area dog clubs and some national and regional organizations, so we had several people in place for a letter-writing campaign. We bombarded city hall with letters and faxes. Our points were simple: there was no increase of complaints about dogs and the proposed law was an ex post facto law which unfairly and unconstitutionally restricted the rights of law-abiding citizens. We strongly urged the city to deal with dog problems by enforcing existing laws and asked for a list of complaints filed over a three-year span.
We also wrote that many reputable breeders would be affected by the proposal, that no complaints had been lodged against these breeders, that rescue groups would be affected, and that many pets would die because shelters had no space for an influx of animals.
We delivered bright-colored flyers to feed stores, grooming shops, veterinary clinics, and dog clubs. We used the acronym FIDO - Fighting Idiotic Dog Ordinances. The flyers listed the names and contact numbers of all councilmen and asked all dog owners to call or write their councilmen. Our catch-phrase was "a government that says how many dogs you can own can just as easily say you can have none!"
We publicized the time and date of council hearings and urged people to attend. Of all the people affected, only a handful attended council meetings or hearings along with some of us were not affected by the proposal. We had no support from local media, which tacitly supported the mayor. Only two letters opposing the legislation were published right after the mayor's press conference. Local television stations publicized an example of a dog owners whose neighbors had complained, but did not provide airtime for our side. However, our letter-writing campaign was effective.
We contacted the American Dog Owner's Association, the American Kennel Club, Ohio Valley Dog Owners Inc., and rescue groups and publicized the proposal on Internet e-mail lists devoted to dogs. These contacts resulted in many letters that were seriously considered by city council.
Legislation by personal belief
The council sent the bill back to the mayor without hearings or comment, but the mayor stood firm and convinced a councilwoman who opposed it to re-introduce it. We learned that the mayor makes his legislative decisions based on personal beliefs, and he firmly believed that no one should own more than five pets. Meanwhile, some councilmen learned that similar ordinances had been declared unconstitutional and that the prospect of a lengthy and expensive court battle loomed if the bill passed.
Council first read the proposed ordinance August 31. The bill could become law in as little as two weeks as no hearing was requested. Several councilmen said that the bill had no chance of passage, but we weren't taking any chances: we sent new flyers and urged people to continue to call. We wanted council to see that we were serious and weren't going to disappear.
On September 14, the council chamber was packed. It helped us that many people attended to protest a gun ordinance also on the agenda. Many of the gun owners also owned dogs and agreed to hold some of our signs. We sat in the front rows and showed our signs whenever possible.
The mayor lobbied intensely; he cajoled, threatened, and promised long enough to delay the remainder of the agenda. He even called out a police SWAT team because of the large number of citizens present.
In the end, however, it was anti-climactic; council voted 11-1 against the proposal and several councilmen made pointed remarks about the flaws in the bill. The councilman who supported it explained his vote: he had received several complaints from constituents about one dog owner and felt he had to support their interests.
This type of effort requires that someone be available to field calls, design and distribute flyers, and organize a presence in the community. You must organize letter-writing and calling campaigns and leave nothing to chance. Politicians respond to pressure; the group that lobbies the most intensely or has the most potential votes against them is most likely to win.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Lyn Kalinoski |