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Monday, June 21, 2010

For Beloved Dog Maggie, and for All Animals, Rep. Hare Goes Above and Beyond

Saturday’s Washington Post included a story by Rachel Saslow about the growing number of dogs roaming the halls of Congress, and the accompanying photo gallery by Linda Davidson is a real treat. It was timely for me, as I had just had the opportunity to sit down with U.S. Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) in his Capitol Hill office and talk to him about the dogs in his life.

Hare and his wife, Beckie, have had dogs throughout their 38-year marriage. He told me their first dog, Benji, was from a puppy mill, “so we had a lot of troubles,” and since then they’ve adopted their dogs from animal shelters and breed rescue groups. Over the years, there were Casey and Hubert, both cocker spaniels, and Humphrey, a 105-pound Labrador/St. Bernard mix, whom Hare calls “a big-headed Lab with a kind of St. Bernard mug on him.”

Maggie, dog of U.S. Rep. Phil Hare

Today, the Hares live with Maggie and Lucy, two English cocker spaniels. It was 12-year-old Maggie’s story that was the focus of our conversation, as she has quite a story to tell. In January 2009, Hare was on the House floor getting ready to speak on two bills, when he received an urgent phone call from his wife: She had taken Maggie to the vet for a routine teeth cleaning, and they discovered melanoma in the dog’s mouth. The prognosis was that Maggie would live for only two to three months, and they would have to remove part of her jaw to improve her chances.

The congressman was heartbroken, and said, “No, I won’t accept that…I’m not going to let her go yet. I’m not going to have them take her jaw off. She’s been through enough.” He conducted his own research online and spoke with experts in the field. After contacting the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he learned of an experimental treatment that had been successful in treating cats with melanoma, and a new trial study to do the same for dogs. He paid thousands of dollars to enter Maggie into the study, and it has been remarkably successful for her. A dog who was expected to live two or three months is doing remarkably well a year and a half later—running, eating, and exhibiting no signs of illness.

Hare urges people who are ready to bring a dog into their lives to “go to the nearest humane society. I think you can pick up wonderful pets there, and you can get a great animal.” He believes it’s an especially important time for animal shelters, and for campaigns such as The Shelter Pet Project: “The economy being down, you see a lot of shelters are really getting a lot of animals and it’s because people just can’t afford to keep them, which is a shame.” He notes that it’s not the animal’s fault he or she ended up at the shelter: “You don’t know why they’re there…but you can save a life.”

Of course, in return, we get unconditional love and all the benefits that come with the celebration of the human-animal bond. Hare says, “They give you so much love when other people don’t like you. You can have a bad day, and Lord knows I’ve had a few of those, that I go home and my dogs are there.” The congressman adds that animal protection matters to his constituents, whether it’s a local cruelty case in the district or a national policy issue: “The largest number of calls I received was on horse slaughter—more than health care, more than anything. And that’s amazing. This is an issue that resonates among Democrats, Republicans, Independents, left, center, right.”

Hare has gone above and beyond to help his pets like Maggie, and that same spirit has made him a leading advocate for animal protection policies in Congress, supporting a raft of measures on horse slaughter, fur labeling, the use of chimps in research, and much more. I asked him how the human-animal bond should be reflected in our laws, and he replied, “When you abuse them or when you use them for something or you don’t take care of them, I think we have a moral obligation to step in. I mean, these are God’s creatures, too…I just think there’s a better way.”


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