Do pets belong in politics?
Gov. Jim Justice seems to think so as he barnstorms around West Virginia with his bulldog, battling against a constitutional amendment affecting personal property taxes.
The governor has hit at least 25 communities around the state to try to win friends and influence people. His constant ally has been Man’s Best Friend.
Babydog, age 3, is now a veteran of the spotlight.
As the governor notes while regaling crowds with Babydog’s origin story, some of the bulldog’s first moments in the public eye took place during the covid-19 pandemic while the governor was trying to boost West Virginia’s spirits.
The governor declared in those days, “Do it for Babydog: Save a Life, Change Your Life.” The morale boost was a shot in the arm for West Virginians.
The bulldog might look dour, but as the governor has often said, “She makes you smile.”
The dog’s persona took on new dimensions at the end of the governor’s 2022 State of the State speech, when Justice held her aloft and turned her ample posterior outward in response to a Hollywood actress’s insulting comments.
It was pop culture, politics and poo.
Babydog’s latest turn is not just as loyal companion. Justice has ramped up the politics with his pooch’s participation.
On stops around the state, there are two chairs – one for the governor and one for the guest of honor. Signs opposed to the amendment indicate paws down.
Crowds clamor for the dog, and at the end of each appearance the governor invites people to interact with who they actually came to see.
Of course, plenty of chief executives have enjoyed dogs. CNN says more than 100 dogs have lived at the White House. Herbert Hoover had the most, 15. Teddy Roosevelt and family had a zebra, parrot, bears, a lion, a hyena, a coyote, rates and a one-legged rooster.
Maybe our political leaders feel less stressed because of their pets. Psychology Today says interacting with a friendly animal lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate and has a positive effect on stress-modulating hormones.
But can a pet lower the temperature of our politics?
Yes, animals can humanize public figures. It suggests they are “just like us.” Babydog makes the governor and those who surround him smile and laugh, even though the bulldog’s expression may be sour.
Babydog runs the risk of overexposure. And, boy, she brought new meaning to overexposure when her rear got flashed.
But usually the dog’s appearance with the governor is a treat. Babydog is a welcome distraction from the heavy affairs of the state. Good girl.