originally published April 7, 2013
It’s time that we, as a nation, ask not what our country can do for us, but what our pets can do for our country.
This might be the perfect solution for you. Maybe you really want to get involved in politics, but you don’t want to put a dent in your free time, or put in the actual effort required to become ‘involved’ in politics. Perhaps you have convinced yourself that a barnyard animal could do a better job than the yutz your district has elected to represent you. Perhaps you’d be right.
Animals have a long and rich history of stepping up to be among the invaluable cogs and gears of our democratic system. They appear on ballots – usually as a joke, but sometimes the joke goes beyond the punchline of seeing a paw-print on a campaign sign. Some of these animals actually have something to say.
Well, not literally. No talking animals on this list, unfortunately.
Roman emperor Caligula, who was known as one of the more creative minds in political history, may have been the first to introduce a non-human type to the fast-paced, high-octane world of government. The final word on this weird sliver of history is not 100% supported by verifiable fact, but the rumor is that Caligula appointed Incitatus, his favorite horse, as a consul. The horse allegedly invited (through Caligula) dignitaries to dine with him in a special house constructed specifically for these events.
Some historians believe that later Roman chroniclers made up the ridiculous Incitatus stories to discredit Caligula in the record of history. Others think the stories may have been true, but that the emperor was simply taking a cheap shot at his senators, asserting that their jobs could be undertaken with equal aplomb by a simple horse. The other possibility is that Caligula was just insane. I think all three theories have a shot at being true.
You might not remember this, but in 1958 political corruption in Brazil was at an all-time high. As a protest, someone put forward Carareco, the rhinoceros at the São Paulo zoo, as a candidate for City Council. Electoral officials did a quick background check (at the very least on the candidate’s species), and refused to make the candidacy official. Good thing, because Carareco received around 100,000 votes, more than any other party in the race.
Thirty years later, an ornery chimp named Tião was a candidate to be mayor of Rio de Janeiro. He even had a slogan: “Vote Monkey – Get Monkey.” This message hit home, as Rio’s voting public was tired of electing officials, only to see them drop their campaign promises or even switch platforms completely after getting elected. Tião wasn’t actually on the ballot (and the write-ins were nixed), but it’s estimated he pulled in over 400,000 votes, which would have put him in third. He might have scored higher, but perhaps his slogan made voters suspicious since monkeys and chimps are not the same thing.
Back in the 80’s, Morris the Cat was about as massive a feline star as any pre-Internet-Meme cat could ever hope to be. He was the spokescat for 9Lives cat food, he had appeared opposite Elliott Gould and Burt Reynolds in a couple of successful films, and had authored three books on responsible pet ownership. No seriously, I’m not making any of that up. Apparently he also ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States in 1988 and 1992.
Twenty years before Morris there was Pigasus. Nominated as a candidate for the Youth International Party (also known as the Yippies) by counterculture icons Jerry Rubin, Dennis Dalrymple and Abbie Hoffman, this porcine politico might have ended up a more respectable world leader than the guy who actually won the US Presidency in 1968. It was a media circus when Pigasus, along with seven leaders of the Yippie movement, were arrested at the Chicago Civic Center on the day he was to announce his candidacy. The humans were released after posting a $25 bond. The pig was reportedly turned into bacon.
In 2012, a 13-year-old boy from Milton, Washington took control of and stopped a school bus when its driver appeared to have had a heart attack. Prior to that, Milton was known for having elected Boston Curtis, a brown mule, as a precinct committeeman for the Republican Party in 1938. Not sure who he ran against, but Boston Curtis won unanimously, 52 votes to zero.
Hank the Cat made a run for a seat in the US Senate in Virginia last year, coming in a respectable third place with around 7300 votes. His platform was limited to campaign reform, animal rescue, and spay & neuter programs – perhaps if Hank had procured a more thorough understanding of domestic and foreign policy matters he might have edged a little closer to a win. His candidacy wound up raising $60,000 though, all of which was donated to animal charities. Hank did more for his community than a lot of human politicians who actually win elections.
Everyone running for mayor of Halifax, Nova Scotia last fall received a bit of a shock when CNN’s Anderson Cooper unexpectedly placed his official endorsement on one of the candidates. That lucky aspiring do-gooder was none other than Tuxedo Stan, whose platform was to improve conditions for the exploding cat population of the city. To be clear – that’s a figurative explosion, meaning there was an unreasonable excess of homeless cats in the city. No cats actually exploded, to my knowledge.
Over in the small town of Sunol, California, residents elected a Labrador retriever named Bosco to be their mayor for ten years until Bosco’s death in office in 1990. Other towns who have had animal leaders – well, unincorporated census areas really, not places with functioning governments – include Rabbit Hash, Kentucky (Junior Cochran, a black lab) and Lajitas, Texas (a beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry III).
As long as politicians keep disappointing voters, voters will probably continue to respond satirically by putting animals up against them in hopes of making a statement. I fully endorse this practice. I honestly believe that three of my four bulldogs would do a finer job running the Province of Alberta than the confused creatures in charge right now. Maybe it’s time to turn the living room into a campaign office.