Dog days are over for Legislature

Citing damage control, legislative committee bans canine companions

Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2007

JUNEAU - No one wants to point fingers and no one will name names, but tightlipped employees at the state Capitol will allow that it was "a large dog," "a four-legged dog," who spoiled the party for everyone.

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Security cameras captured the dog, on its first - and last - visit to the Capitol, leaving a sizable deposit in front of the fourth floor elevators.

"We'd had several incidents through the interim and that was probably the icing on the cake," said building manager Don Johnston, who viewed the videotapes to identify the culprit.

A legislative committee last week banned dogs from the building, making the political atmosphere in Juneau a little less warm and fuzzy and a little more dog-eat-dog.

Citing the potential for damage to expensive new carpeting and for liability in the case of a dog bite, the committee made it a firing offense for legislative staff to bring in a pet. Service animals are exempt.

Lawmakers, who can only be fired by the folks back home, were threatened with a $25 fine.

Though he claims his dog, Izzy, an occasional visitor to the Capitol, is "better behaved than many of the people in the building," Sen. Kim Elton voted for the ban.

"Having dogs in the building bothered some people, I know some people have allergies, and not everybody's dog is a good citizen," said the Juneau Democrat.

Elton announced the ouster with a large X over Izzy's photo on his weekly newsletter to constituents, inadvertently spreading alarm among readers that the miniature Australian Shepherd was dead.

Izzy is just the tip of a long tale of dogs - with names like Louie, Milo, Jack, Pint, Rainy and Tuggy - frequenting the Capitol in a city that loves its dogs.

Perched on the waters of the Inside Passage and surrounded by national forest, Juneau boasts almost one dog for every three of its 30,000 residents. Issues like leash requirements on trails can pack the city assembly chambers with ardent and vocal dog-loving protesters.

That can be intimidating for critics of canines and their doting owners, said local humane society director Chava Lee.

Her office receives numerous complaints from the Capitol during the four-month legislative session, and the calls all have an eerie similarity.

"They begin like this: 'Hi, I don't want to give my name, and I want you to know that I love dogs, but ... ,"' Lee said. "There's always an 'I love dogs' and a 'but' and then you know."

The callers then go on to complain about dog hair, about dogs jumping on them, about "accidents." Some expect Lee to send over a team to inspect the mess and identify the dog. Others are just looking for advice.

Lee recommends they talk to the owner early on.

"If somebody just said something to them, most people would take responsibility. But usually, by the time someone does, they are so furious it becomes confrontational," Lee said.

But in the hot bed of Capitol politics, people tend to shy away from confrontations over dogs, particularly those dogs - er, dog owners - with clout.

Gov. Tony Knowles' black Labrador, Shadow, was a fixture on the third floor during his master's two terms in the executive branch.

Shadow had his share of accidents, said Gregg Erickson, a long time political observer and economist, but staffers were loath to complain to Knowles, a powerful Democrat who served from 1996-2004.

And late House Speaker Ramona Barnes, whose miniature Schnauzer rivaled its owner's blond beehive in size, also brought her dog to work.

The gritty, tough-talking Republican, who served from 1978-1998, expected her aides to take Muffin for walks.

"You'd also see other legislators being conned into walking her dog when she was house speaker," said Erickson who remembers an Anchorage senator admitting that it was one way to get his bill out of committee.

But the days of the dog wagging the system are over.

Lee said it's too bad a few bad dogs - and bad dog owners - can spoil it for the rest, but she understands why the ban was put it place.

There are often political messes in the Capitol, said Lee, "but people would like to keep it off the floors."

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