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Friday, August 22, 2008

Demo-cats and Re-pup-licans on the Campaign Trail

If there is any doubt that protecting animals is a bipartisan concern, just see how candidates from both parties in some of the hotly contested House races are incorporating animal issues into their campaigns.

Murphy Mary Ann Akers reported in The Sleuth on washingtonpost.com that Democratic candidate Mary Jo Kilroy, running for the open seat in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District vacated by retiring Republican Deb Pryce, has launched a new “Pets for Kilroy” website. The site features Kilroy’s three dogs—Murphy, Chase, and Dodger—and gives animal lovers in the district a fun opportunity to do one of the things they love the most—uploading and sharing photos of their own cats and dogs.

A press release announcing the launch of the website included some barks from Murphy: “Everyday thousands of humans are expressing why they are voting for Mary Jo, so we decided it would be a good time to show you why we support her.” Ella, the “spokescat” for Pets for Kilroy, meowed about Mary Jo: “She has a long record of keeping stray animals off our streets and then finding them loving homes, and this is a small way for supporters to say thank you.”

And when Republican candidate Darren White, running for the open seat in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District vacated by Republican Heather Wilson, was sidelined for a few weeks due to a back injury, he sent one of his best surrogates (or “furr-ogates”) on the campaign trail in his place. His rescued dog, Trixie, sent a note to supporters: “Darren’s back injury is a big problem even though he is now out of the hospital. First, he won’t be able to run around and play fetch with me for several weeks. Second, and almost as important, it means he can’t go walking door-to-door and meet voters for a few weeks. So I am pitching in.”

White, currently the sheriff of Bernalillo County, adopted Trixie after investigating and rescuing her from a shocking case of animal abuse. An Albuquerque couple was charged with animal cruelty for cutting off Trixie’s ears with scissors, when the pit bull puppy was just six weeks old. Now with her new family, Trixie has been a fixture on the campaign trail.

While websites for kitties and fundraising letters from pooches may be passed off as tongue-in-cheek campaign gimmicks, there is a much more serious aspect to how candidates can appeal to pet-loving swing voters. The Humane Society Legislative Fund encourages candidates and lawmakers to talk up their humane bona fides and make animal protection issues a meaningful part of their policy platforms.

There is an enormous, well-defined, and uncourted political constituency in America organized around the principle of animal protection. There are perhaps 20 million donors to animal protection organizations and there are approximately 10,000 animal protection groups that raise and spend more than $2 billion annually. 

Dog_and_cat2 Additionally, animals are a relevant and important part of our daily lives. Nearly two-thirds of American households have pets, and we spend $43 billion annually on pet care—more than we spend on movies, video games, and recorded music combined. In 2007, there were 272 million visitors to national parks and 157 million visitors to accredited zoos and aquariums, places where people go because, among other things, they want to see and be around animals.

The animal protection constituency is up for grabs because few candidates have developed strong outreach strategies to appeal to these voters. While Americans of all types favor animal protection, the most active participants and donors are suburban women, a key demographic for both political parties. Congressional candidates—especially those in swing districts—are positioned to attract the support of animal welfare advocates, with reinforcing messages connecting animal issues to other social concerns, such as violence in our communities, food safety, and public health.

We hope that more candidates will work to get out the dog and cat vote. Visit an animal shelter in your district and give a speech on animal welfare. Issue a position statement on your animal protection policies and let voters know where you stand on the humane treatment of pets, farm animals, and wildlife. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the right strategy for reaching voters who care about kindness and compassion toward our fellow creatures.

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