Writing Effective Letters to Officials
One of the most difficult things for those new to fighting BSL is expressing your feelings to the legislators and/or other officials who have proposed it. There are some very important things to remember when communicating with officials:
First and foremost, ALWAYS BE POLITE AND RESPECTFUL in all your communications with officials. Don’t be combative or argumentative regardless of the difference between your point of view and theirs. Our dogs are worth putting your personal feelings of anger aside in order to communicate effectively.
Stick to the facts. Try to avoid being emotional. It is a given that you love your dogs or you wouldn’t be fighting for them. The simple truth is, the officials do not care how much we love our dogs — they care about the safety of their constituents and their community. To that end, the facts related to the inefficiency of breed specific legislation and the integral part that irresponsible owners play in dog attacks are important facts to get across to them.
Below are some talking points that you can use in conjunction with your own words when writing letters to officials. The talking points hit on important flaws of breed specific legislation, and should give you good groundwork to customize and build your own letter.
The Cost of BSL. One thing that always catches the ear of any official is the cost or potential cost to his or her constituents. Reinforce the fact that breed specific laws cost a lot of money – additional animal control, shelters fees, vetting, litigation, etc. The bottom line is simple… BSL costs tax payers A LOT of money!
Breed Identification. Another important flaw with breed specific laws is breed identification. There are a minimum of twenty (20) dog breeds that possess the physical traits of ‘pit bulls.’ The “Find the Pit Bull” game is an excellent tool to demonstrate the difficulty of identifying ‘pit bulls.”
Most animal control and/or law enforcement officers are not able to identify specific breeds of dogs with any degree of accuracy because the commonly stated physical characteristics are similar in many breeds.
Breed bans carry with them too much potential for arbitrary or improper enforcement: inaccurate breed identification by officials and difficulty enforcing breed bans against mixed-breed.
Because breed identification by animal control officers is subjective and/or arbitrary, it opens the city to liability and litigation issues in the event of mistaken identification.
Failure to Address Irresponsible Owners. Perhaps the most compelling argument with respect to why breed specific legislation fails is that it simply does not address the issue of irresponsible dog ownership. BSL places all the blame on the dogs and removes the responsibilty from the dog owner. Dog ownership is a responsibility, and dog owners must be held accountable for the actions of their dogs.
Restricting breeds of dogs does not address the real issue of irresponsible owners. Only when such owners are held accountable for the actions of their dogs, will adverse dog incidents be reduced.
Because breed specific legislation fails to address irresponsible dog owners, many areas that have enacted breed regulations have actually experienced an increse in dog bite/attack incidents of the dog breeds NOT covered by the breed specific law.
Only when you see more owners committed to providing the proper training, care, socialization and supervision for their dogs will dog bite incidents be reduced significantly.
Owners should be held accountable in the judicial system for the actions of their dogs, not the other way around. Only then will you see owners committed to providing the proper training, care socialization and supervision that every dog requires – regardless of breed.
Disputing the CDC Report. Proponents of breed specific legislation routinely rely on the CDC report to support their arguments in favor of breed bans. However, it should be noted that information contained in the CDC report was gathered via media outlets thus rendering it an unreliable source to base legislative decisions regarding animal control. It is not based on statistics, and the CDC has acknowledged this fact by premising the report with a similar statement. For an excellent summary of the flaws of the CDC report, please visit http://www.understand-a-bull.com.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that their data is inaccurate and not supported by any scientific evidence. Their data was based on newspaper articles and has been found to be unsubstantiated. Moreover, the CDC no longer makes referece to breed in their data and has indicated that others should do likewise.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) there is no individual breed of dog that is responsible for a greater number of bites. In fact, both respected organizations support responsible dog ownership as the kety factor in reducing dog bites.
General Talking Points:
Any legislation that targets specific breeds of dogs is ineffective, costly to the community, and a poor alternative to a generic dangerous dog ordinance which encompasses all breeds and places irresponsible dog owners accountable for the actions of their dogs.
Restricting breeds of dogs does little, if anything, to protect citizens in the community. Moreover, breed bans perpetuate the myth that certain breeds are inherently bad. It also indemnifies all of the unnamed breeds as being safe by exclusion. In doing so, breed specific legisiation promotes a false send of security for the public.
The lack of enforcement of existing laws is the primary contributing factor to dog bites – not specific breeds of dogs. Every area should have strictly enforced leash laws since dogs at large are the primary source of the problem.
It has been found that breed restrictions are by far and large, unenforceable, and unfairly penalize responsible dog owners who properly train, socialize, care for and supervise their dogs.
Closing Talking Points:
An effective solution is not to make more laws that punish responsible owners and entire breeds, but to enforce existing leash laws and enact generic dangerous dog laws that are not breed specific and punish the irresponsible owners.
I trust that you will take into consideration the position of many well known, major organizations such as the American Kennel Club, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Animal Control Association, and the National Canine Research Council who do not support legislation that targets any specific breed of dog.
I ask that you oppose this proposal because any such law that is specific to breed does not address the real problem, which is that of irresponsible owners.
Finally, you may want to add alternatives to BSL in your letters as potential alternatives for the officials to consider.
General letter writing tips:
It is not necessary to type your letter. In fact, a handwritten letter has a tremendous impact. (As long as its legible!) Even a postcard is fine, as long as it’s nott the pre-printed “form” card.
Be brief and to the point. Try to limit your letter to one or two subjects. Include all bill titles and numbers whenever possible.
Send your letter as soon as you hear about an issue or bill. If it comes up again later in the session, you can always write again or make a phone call.
During the legislative session, send letters to the State Capitol building. During the interim, send letters to the legislators’ home addresses.
Below is a form letter which opposes BSL that you can modify to fit your current situation and send to officials. While the form letter is included for your guidance, I suggest you write your own letter by combining some of the above talking points with your own thoughts.
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Letter Writing 101
If you still have trouble putting together your own letter, below is a sample letter to use as a guideline when writing letters to officials. This is simply suggested language that can and should be modified to fit the situation at hand. I do encourage you to customoze your own letter by combining some of the points above and your own words, as well.
The Honorable John Q. Smith
City of Springfield
123 Main Street
Springfield, State ZIP Code
Re: Proposed ordinance banning pit bulls
Dear Mayor Smith:
I am writing to you about the recently proposed ordinance that would ban pit bulls from Springfield. Passage of this ordinance will not address the root cause of the problem, and it will have a negative impact on responsible, law abiding dog owners, while those who do not abide by the law will simply continue to do so. I am strongly opposed to this ordinance, and I ask that you vote against it for the following reasons:
[INSERT TALKING POINTS HERE]
A much better alternative to breed-specific legislation is to support reasonable, enforceable, non-discriminatory laws to govern the ownership of dogs and to hold irresponsible dog owners to a higher accountability.
I ask that you oppose this proposal because any such law that is specific to breed does not address the real problem, which is that of irresponsible dog owners.