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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Trading in the Briefcase for Biscuits on the Campaign Trail

When candidates are stumping on the campaign trail, it’s not uncommon for them to show up at a county fair, a parade, or any other event where people are gathered. They often make the rounds to meet with interest groups, whether it’s the realtors or the Teamsters, a women’s group or a gun club. You might run into a candidate at the YMCA, at your place of worship, or at the local feed store.

But what about animal welfare groups? There are millions of animal advocates in the country, and we rarely hear about a candidate making a major speech on animal protection or paying a visit to a local humane society. There are about 4,000 animal shelters in the United States—an average of nine in each congressional district and eighty in each state—yet the people who work and volunteer at these facilities rarely see a candidate or lawmaker walk through the front door.

Larocco That’s why I was especially pleased to learn that a candidate for U.S. Senate has not forgotten about the importance of his state’s animal shelters. Former Congressman Larry LaRocco, the Democratic nominee to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, spent last Friday working at the Idaho Falls city animal shelter—cleaning the kennels, feeding the dogs, and interacting with the animals and staff.

LaRocco’s volunteerism was part of a series of events in which he is learning about the work of Idahoans around the state. His visit sent the message that animal shelters are important institutions in our communities, and the story was covered by local journalists such as Ty Brennan at Channel 6 and Aman Chabra at Channel 8.

What better way for policymakers to learn about the issues facing animals than to work directly with the people who are on the front lines and are often the best judges of how public policies could help address problems in their communities? Would a spay and neuter bill reduce the number of unwanted pets euthanized in local shelters? Is dogfighting on the rise and are tougher penalties needed? Would restrictions on the private ownership of exotic wildlife make the community safer?

Bravo to LaRocco for making the animal shelter part of his campaign itinerary. It may be a small thing in the scheme of a Senate race, but it sends a big message to voters who care about animals, and who value the hard work of the dedicated shelter staff, humane officers, rescuers, and volunteers who make the world a safer place for dogs and cats every day.

Every community has one of these local shelters, and every candidate should take the opportunity to stop by and visit. They can celebrate the places where lucky animals get a second chance, and the caring people who make it happen. Let's also hope Barack Obama and John McCain put these community institutions on their schedules, too.

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