Paws lighten tension of governing in Congress

Monday, June 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:39 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 28, 2010
In this photo taken May 12, Rep. Linda Sanchez, right, D-Calif., plays with Chavo, a male beagle adopted from a shelter, as he sits at his favorite spot on the couch during a meeting at the congresswoman's office in Washington. Like several other lawmakers, Chavez brings her dog to the office every day which tends to lighten up what can be an intense environment on the Hill.

WASHINGTON — They are the ultimate Capitol Hill insiders, privy to high-powered meetings between lawmakers and lobbyists, able to just saunter into congressional offices — no appointment necessary.

We're talking about dogs. A couple dozen roam the halls of power in the Capitol every day.

"Treat time! Treat time!" said Sen. KitBond, R-Mo., from behind his desk. As vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bond was about to go on television to talk about terrorism, but first it was time for Tiger. Now you might think an expert on national security would have a noble German shepherd or a muscular Doberman, and Bond is sure to mention that he grew up with Labrador retrievers, hunting dogs and beagles. But Tiger is a 2-year-old Havanese, a cuddly toy breed that looks like a gray baby Wookiee.

"This is the first time I've had a fufu dog," Bond said.

And his colleagues don't let him forget it. When Tiger was a puppy and weighed only 5 pounds, Bond took her outside with a pink leash and collar and someone said, "Didn't you used to be Kit Bond?"

It was noon, and Tiger had her eyes locked on Bond's container of yellow dog treats. Next to Tiger sat Pooley, a Chihuahua mix who belongs to Shana Marchio, Bond's communications director.

"I think they can tell time because they always know when it's treat time," the senator said.

Tiger is named after the University of Missouri mascot. She likes to lie on her bed under Bond's desk and destroy University of Kansas Jayhawks toys, Bond said. Tiger's school spirit once led to an embarrassing situation, Bond said. She wouldn't stop barking at Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila C. Bair. Bair has two degrees from the University of Kansas and "I think she sniffed it out," Bond said.

Many congressional dogs have names relevant to their home states. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., rescued a Labrador mix from the side of Interstate 64 in West Virginia and named her Julep after his state's signature cocktail. Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., owns a dachshund named Cali, and Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., has a bichon frise/poodle mix named Bruin, after the UCLA mascot.

While Bruin makes the weekly trip from D.C. to California with Lewis, Cali lives in D.C. with his owner. A couple of years ago before he owned Cali,  Calvert decided that his schedule was too hectic for him to own a dog. His communications director, Rebecca Rudman, offered to take care of the dog if she could bring the dog to work every day. Rudman and Calvert picked out Cali on a Sunday and she came to work Monday morning. Visitors can see faint outlines of Cali's messes on the carpet before she was housebroken — or, House broken, in this case.

Cali has made herself at home on Captiol Hill, swimming in the fountain outside the Rayburn House Office Building, snagging a treat from the Capitol Police every morning on her way in and playing with her best friend, the Chihuahua in the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform office.

Congress has a long history of lawmakers bringing their dogs to work, Senate historian Donald Ritchie said. In the 19th century, John Randolph of Virginia often strode into the Senate chamber with his hunting hounds at his heels. The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., was known for walking his Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Splash, in the grassy area next to the Russell Senate Office Building.

"Usually aides walk the dogs, but Kennedy always did it himself," Ritchie said.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., is one of Congress' most famous dog lovers. He often praised his Maltese Billy during floor speeches. Soon after Billy's passing in 2002 at age 15, the senator's granddaughters surprised him and his wife with a new puppy.

"It was a little ball of white fur in the guise of a Shih Tzu," Byrd, 92, said via e-mail. "My wife took one look and said, 'Here comes Trouble.'"

Although many people call the dog Trouble, the senator calls her Baby "because she has a baby face," he said.

He used to bring Baby to work every day, but she started putting on weight from all the treats, so now she only goes to Capitol Hill occasionally.

Ritchie doesn't know of any rules on the books concerning dogs: "Senators can pretty much do what they want."

In addition to Julep, Whitfield also owns a Scottish terrier named Bosley and a Jack Russell terrier named Nigel. Nigel has to come to work with the congressman every day "because our dog walker can't really deal with him," Whitfield said.

Whitfield's wife, Connie Harriman-Whitfield, is the Humane Society's senior adviser for presidential initiatives, and she helped organize a dog contest last year called the Congressional Canine Honors. Two of the six awards given in a photo contest went to Whitfield's staffers' dogs — including "rising political star" and "elder statesdog" — causing whispers that Whitfield's Humane Society connections gave him an unfair advantage. ("Not true," he said.)

But it was Bosley who caused the most trouble back in 2002 when he escaped from the Cannon House Office Building and took off running down Independence Avenue SE. Members of Whitfield's staff and a policeman chased him all the way to the Capitol.

The benefits of having Julep, Nigel and Bosley underfoot outweigh their rare disruptions.

"I think the atmosphere is better because it's hard to be very formal when you have a dog jumping around the office," Whitfield said.

You might say dogs are the antidote to life on the Hill: simple when governing is complicated, silly when legislation is serious.

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