Many responsible fanciers and breeders are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of public understanding about canine legislation and dog breeding and ownership. While clubs and dog breeders will often communicate among themselves on these issues, they do not always take the initiative to talk with the general public.
Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper is a great way to reach your community and start educating them about canine legislation. A letter to the editor allows your neighbors and local lawmakers to directly hear from you – a fellow neighbor, voter, dog expert, and member of the community – about dog issues.
While it may seem a bit daunting at first, remembering a few simple steps can help you write an effective letter.
Learn the Newspaper’s Guidelines – Every newspaper has rules regarding letters to the editor, and making sure you know the guidelines will help get your letter published. In fact, many newspapers will disregard any letters that do not follow their specific rules. Questions to ask include: Is there a length (or word count) limit? Is there a deadline for submissions? Is there specific information that must be included with the letter (i.e. your name and city)? How can letters be submitted?
This information can usually be found on the newspaper’s web site (click on “opinions” or search for “letters to the editor”) or by contacting the newspaper directly.
Use Proper Grammar – Just as an employer is likely to ignore a cover letter with typos, a newspaper editor is not likely to print a letter that is difficult to understand and full of misspelled words. Make sure to write in complete sentences, and refrain from writing in all capital letters. Take the time to use the spell and grammar checks in your word processing program, and/or have a friend or family member review your letter before you submit it.
State Your Purpose in the First Sentence – Newspaper staff will be reviewing letters quickly to decide what to publish, and readers may not finish your letter if they do not know what it is about. If you are responding to an editorial or article or about a specific legislative issue, be sure to state that. For example: “As a responsible dog breeder in this state, I am very concerned about House Bill 123”.
Be Succinct – Letters to the editor are meant to be brief and to the point. State your purpose. Back it up with two or three facts or points, and make a conclusion. Remember- most newspapers have a word count limit, so this is not the place to relay a long story! Furthermore, letters with concise, clear messages are more likely to be published.
Be Polite – Remember your purpose and audience: Letters to the editor are an opportunity to educate your neighbors and lawmakers about issues important to you. While you can express disappointment, for example, in the way a vote went, refrain from offensive, threatening language. Not only will it help your chances for publication, it will also go far in creating a positive image for responsible dog owners and breeders.
Be Positive – This is your opportunity to educate! When explaining your position, let them know why your position benefits the community. For example, “As a responsible breeder, I make sure that my puppies are all placed in safe loving homes. Limiting animal ownership will force me to give dogs up to the shelter rather than find them good homes…”
Sign Your Letter – Few (if any) newspapers will print anonymous letters. Most will also require that you at least provide the city you live in, as they prefer to print letters from those who live in the region where the newspaper is distributed. It is fine to sign the letter with the name of your club or organization instead of a specific name, but some identification must be provided.
Don’t Get Discouraged – Since all newspapers have a limited amount of space, your letter may not be published on the day you expected (or not at all). Don’t get discouraged! Other letters not published in the print edition of the newspaper may still be published online, so be sure to check there as well. In addition, some papers will publish letters a few days later when they have the print space available. Feel free after a few days to write another letter or consider submitting your letter to a smaller neighborhood newspaper.
Here is an example of an effective letter to the editor, written by our Missouri federation (reprinted with permission):
Karen Strange, Missouri Federation of Dog Clubs
If you’re struggling with how to frame your message, make sure to visit the AKC Government Relations Toolbox, which is filled with talking points and facts designed to help you be an effective communicator on canine legislation.