Meet Legislative Legend & Lobbyist
BOB KANE, SAOVA
I’m tempted to answer Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), but in fact the Sportsmen’s and Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance (SAOVA) was initially formed to respond to general animal rightists threats to hunting dog owners. SAOVA’s interests have grown to encompass all sportsmen, pet owners and livestock producers. We’re natural allies in this struggle against a common adversary. SAOVA operates in all 50 states, relies heavily on Internet communications, and is currently evaluating and endorsing political candidates for election on November 7, 2006.
Tell us who you are and how you got involved with SAOVA?
I retired from federal affairs consulting in 1995 and planned to enjoy my grandchildren, travel, field trialing, hunting and fishing. When animal rightists attempted to ban field dog events from public lands in the late 1990’s, I began pro bono advocacy to protect those interests. I formed a nationwide ad-hoc coalition of field trialers called the Pittman-Robertson Working Group and we intensely lobbied Congress and the Department of Interior. Many sportsmen contributed; we made good progress on the Hill and achieved an unprecedented agency decision reversal in August 2001. I concluded during that extended fight that we needed a stronger, permanent organization and much better grassroots outreach. SAOVA and the Virginia Hunting Dog Owners’ Association (VHDOA) were the result. Some of our named and unidentified volunteers at http://saova.org/members.html have been together since 1999.
It’s been said you can be single-minded, unbending, even unpleasant when it comes to legislation. Is that true and if so, do you consider those descriptions insulting or complimentary?
There’s no question that I’m very focused and intense. I have ruffled a few feathers and been called “not nice” by some fanciers. Coworkers frequently take the edge off my hotter posts. I find that I have less patience as I’ve grown older, the anti’s gain ground and pet owners refuse to recognize or act on that threat. The Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) have been a real strain in that regard. The anti’s have taken direct aim at pet owners and had their most success improperly regulating us at the local level.
My approach is patterned after the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) take no prisoners advocacy of gun owners. SAOVA does its homework on legislation and candidates. We’re professional, knowledgeable and try to be thorough. I can be the best friend or worst enemy you ever had in a political fight. Richmond and Washington legislators know that well. What sets SAOVA and VHDOA apart from the NRA is that we're nonpartisan, much smaller and composed of volunteers.
Our remarkable success is owed in large measure to our extensive grassroots e-list network and relationships with hunter's rights groups, sportsmen and pet owner organizations, farmers, wildlife professionals and press contacts, with whom we cooperate, share intelligence, data and compare notes. Critics often snipe at us and may claim credit for our wins, but that’s life.
What did you do before SAOVA?
By training, I’m a petroleum/chemical engineer. During the Arab Oil Embargo in 1974, I was “drafted” to work at the Department of Energy. After a short stint there, I joined a trade association and eventually began representing small refining companies’ interests in Washington. Most of my clients were owned by farm cooperatives. That agriculture connection and my experience as a cattleman have helped broaden our perspective and made a material difference in lobbying PAWS before the Senate Agriculture Committee. Few dog owners or animal rightists expected the PAWS opposition support that we received from the farm community. Politicians and staff change over time, but there are constants in effective lobbying: never lie to a legislator; work as part of a coalition, if possible; respect confidences and return all phone calls.
Do you have dogs? Do you hunt?
I’ve had Brittanies since 1970 and bird hunted over much of the East Coast and the plains states. I got my first dog when we lived in New Jersey. I joined the American Brittany Club and started field trialing shortly thereafter. I’ve been a regional club officer, event chairman, field trial and hunt test judge and titled some outstanding dogs. I bred a few litters many years ago. Hunting dogs are my passion.
Everyone takes credit for “helping” defeat bad legislation. SAOVA has an interesting list of “Animal Rightist Voting Legislators” that were defeated or won their seats back.
Very rarely does any single group kill a bill, but you’re right, success has many fathers. Insiders know the players and the pretenders. It’s extremely difficult to defeat incumbent politicians. The advantages of incumbency are enormous and very few seats are party-competitive. Moreover, most citizens haven’t a clue how their representatives vote. That’s why SAOVA works extra hard to identify the best candidates running for open seats. We also support our friends. That’s simply smart business.
Does SAOVA get involved in fighting specific legislative initiatives or does it deal mostly with defining and providing information on candidates?
Both, you can’t separate the two. All effective advocacy groups AMA, NRA, realtors, teachers and farmers both lobby bills and endorse candidates. One activity makes the other stronger. SAOVA’s political profile is very low, in part because we lack an expensive political action committee (PAC). Instead, we try to educate folks about candidates and encourage them to donate directly during election years. SAOVA’s volunteers are asked to send $100 to the candidate of their choice. We are also involved in local Virginia and New Jersey elections, which are offset from most. The rest of the time, SAOVA monitors and works on bills.
Can you tell us briefly about some particular bills your organization has helped defeat?
Since its founding, SAOVA has actively lobbied in Washington, in eleven state legislatures and at the county level. I’m personally very active in Richmond during January-March. PETA is headquartered in Norfolk, while HSUS and DDAL tend to use Virginia as a laboratory and training ground. In the last session, we had twenty-two (22) bills on our plate, mandatory spay-neuter, breeder licensing, higher fees, dangerous dogs, “potentially dangerous” dogs, hunting dog prohibitions, the whole gamut. http://vhdoa.uplandbirddog.com/staterk.html (sorry this page has moved or is outdated) This is a war and it’s a triage-type situation. The anti’s are everywhere and we try to stop the worst bleeding. SAOVA’s also worked bills in Sacramento, Austin, Baton Rogue, Raleigh, Springfield, Annapolis, Trenton, Albany, etc.
Our most important historical Washington victory was in 2003, when the sportsmen’s groups combined and turned back HSUS’s effort to federally dictate hunting regulations to the states. http://vhdoa.uplandbirddog.com/federal6.html Our worst defeat was this year in Richmond, when HSUS, its allies and misguided fanciers managed to pass the first state law in the U.S. requiring veterinarians to supply dog owner information to local authorities. In turn, they must make the data publicly available to insurance companies, other commercial interests, activists and curious busybodies. This licensing database enforcement mechanism has already spread to Sacramento where it’s proposed to be used to require all dog owners to microchip their animals, sterilize them or buy $150 intact tags.
TheDogPress feels you have been largely responsible for stalling PAWS. We hope it is defeated. Are we wrong on this?
Thanks, BJ. I’ve worked extremely hard to oppose S1139 and so have many others. This effort gave SAOVA the opportunity to expand its outreach to pet owners well outside our normal comfort zone. That’s crucial to extending and strengthening our defense of responsible sportsmen and animal owners. Many more AKC club presidents, delegates and judges now receive our alerts and updates.
As to PAWS, it’s not wise to say never in politics, but I don’t believe S1139/HR2669 is much of a threat this Congress. SAOVA’s NO PAWS Honor Roll list of 390 organizations hasn’t wavered. http://saova.org/1139opponents.html HSUS has other priorities. Doris Day Animal League’s still opposed. AKC remains confused, and Sen. Santorum’s desperately trying to get reelected.
Do you know of any national organization that has been as effective as SAOVA?
There are numerous effective hunter advocacy organizations. They compete for support and donations, but their leaderships cooperate and pull together when faced by anti-hunter’s threats. That’s somewhat the case with cat owner groups, but not at all true of dog owners.
What prompted you to take on Santorum and the AKC?
SAOVA/VHDOA lobbied against the Santorum-Whitfield 2001 Puppy Protection Act in a modest way, so that I had that background and some warning vibes regarding AKC’s negotiating strategy with HSUS/DDAL. Having AKC and HSUS announce their support for PAWS the same day caught my attention, to say the least. In addition, my 1999-2001 experience with AKC management during field trialer vs. animal rightist fight was that it was a significant hindrance, not a help. Not having Dennis Sprung or Ronald Menaker answer my personal emails or phone calls about PAWS convinced me that AKC didn’t know what it was doing and was in over its head.
Which do you think was the catalyst for PAWS?
All the PAWS supporters had different motives. HSUS’s courtship of DDAL was certainly a factor. AKC’s registrations are at a 40-year low, event entries are dropping and it’s desperately trying to recover lost market share. Its management received horrendous political advice about the inevitability of PAWS’s passage and saw the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over other canine registries, despite the bill’s devastating impact on individual dog owners. Fascination with playing the political “insider game” may also have been a personal factor for some.
Which do you think had the most to gain?
Unquestionably HSUS. It saw the opportunity to further consolidate its power in Washington, while possibly capturing hobby breeders and hunting dog owners in a net of federal regulation. To have both the AKC and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) assist it was an incredible coup.
Do you think it is over with?
Something like PAWS may resurface in the future. What’s more a concern to me is the anti’s continuing infiltration and conversion of the AKC and AVMA managements. The defeat of PAWS is a wonderful victory for animal owners. However, there are significant incentives and pressures for AKC and AVMA to set aside their customers interests and pursue accommodation with aggressive animal rightist groups. No, it’s not over. The battle’s barely begun.
Bob Kane firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Mr. Kane. Our readers realize that you don't do interviews and they especially appreciate knowing that this conversation will be continued. An expanded look at these complex areas and advice on how show breeders and their clubs can become better organized is anticipated. This is a lot to digest but it's imperative that we remain vigilant.