Working With Public Officials When Planning An Event During COVID-19

2020-08-28 | AKC Government Relations Department

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact virtually every aspect of our lives, and many clubs and exhibitors are seeking to inject some normalcy into everyday lives – including returning to organizing and participating in dog shows/events. 

The camaraderie, competition, and celebration of purebred dogs we find in dog shows exemplify the very best of the history and future of our dogs.  AKC joins with you in longing for a return to dog shows and events, but we want to make sure that they are conducted in a safe, reasonable manner, with proper protocols and compliance with state and local guidelines. 

We recognize the many frustrations and challenges facing those clubs seeking to still host their events during this time.  While there are no guarantees (and each locality is different), here are a few guidelines to consider when seeking approval to host shows and events in your area:

  • Reach out to local officials/public health departments– It is natural to want to reach out to the highest-level decision makers when seeking guidance on these issues.  However, it’s important to remember that in most cases, local authorities have the ultimate responsibility of enforcing current COVID regulations.  It is also more likely that you will get timely responses and guidance than by reaching out to governors, state health boards, etc., who receive thousands of inquiries and calls on a broad variety of issues throughout the state. 

    Consider reaching out to your local city council/county lawmakers, or state legislator (start with the ones who represent the exact area where the show will be held – AKC Government Relations can help you find their names and contact information if you need assistance) and ask them for guidance on how to proceed.  They may be able to provide you with ideas and guidance on how to go about getting approval, and information on who locally is making decisions on events and enforcement. 

    Some clubs have also had success in reaching out to their local county health department.  In many states, these local departments are working in tandem with lawmakers and other authorities to develop guidelines and ensure compliance with state and local protocols and rules. 

    In addition, it helps to also reach out to the venue where you wish to hold your show, if appropriate.  Many fairgrounds and other locations are becoming adept at working with various groups to help determine how events can be held at their venue.

  • Give officials time to respond – Be sure to contact officials with as much advance notice as possible to give them time to study the nature of your event and provide feedback.  Remember, they are balancing a number of requests and priorities on a broad range of issues and it may take some time for a response.  This will also give you enough time to make any modifications and contact exhibitors and judges. 
  • Understand state laws and local variances and work within those parameters – Each state has different rules and regulations for dealing with COVID, and in many states, localities may enact their own separate set of guidelines.  When developing a plan for your show, take the time to learn the key guidelines for your area.  Questions to consider may include (but aren’t limited to):

    - How many people are permitted in an indoor or outdoor area at one time?
    - Are there guidelines/restrictions/quarantines for those traveling from outside the area?
    - Does your preferred venue have additional guidelines?
    - If you are planning to have food and/or vendors, are there guidelines they need to follow?

    Once you understand these guidelines, you can modify your event plan to demonstrate compliance.  Be ready to share your plan with local officials in your initial contact with them.  Demonstrating your desire to work within their parameters from the beginning of your conversations sends a positive and significant message that you understand the importance of balancing your desire for hosting your event with the need to ensure the protection of public health. 

    Take a look as well to see if your state or county has specific guidelines for low-contact recreational activities/sporting events.  Some clubs have found that showing officials that their event can fit into parameters already laid out by the state/county can expedite discussions. 

    Contact AKC Club Development for some suggested guidelines for shows that you can use to help formulate your plan. 

  • Be respectful, patient, and flexible – Finally, when contacting officials, remember the cliché that we are living in unprecedented times.  Be patient and respectful, showing that you understand the numerous challenges that they are facing to balance allowing a return to some normalcy with a protection for public health.  If they are initially hesitant, or ask a number of questions, be willing to answer them honestly, thoroughly, and patiently. 

    When reaching out, briefly tell them about the event, your club, and how long you have been hosting the show/event in the community.  Let them know of your willingness to work within their parameters in order to allow the event to continue.  This sends the positive message of your ongoing commitment to the community.

    Also, if officials ask you for changes or modifications to your plan (including potentially a delay of your event date, limits on number of exhibitors, etc.), your willingness to be flexible and work with them may provide you with a better chance of success.  In addition, this will help develop invaluable relationships with these officials who in the future may be considering proposals and laws that could impact your ability to not just show, but breed and own dogs. 

  • Visit the AKC Legislative Action Center for the latest information – AKC Government Relations has developed a page devoted to issues relating to COVID-19.  This includes a resource updated regularly with the latest information for each state regarding executive orders and guidelines, along with helpful links to help you determine the rules for your area. 

    The site also has information on the status of each legislature, and applicable legislation, including further information and the status of bills protecting individuals and organizations from liability, which has been a concern for many clubs. 

It is important to note that these are simply guidelines and in these challenging times, there are no guarantees.  But working with local officials in an informed, respectful manner – and with more than a little patience and flexibility – will benefit your immediate efforts of hosting shows, and more importantly, develop a vital working relationship going forward that can protect not just our events, but our dogs for generations to come. 

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