Sen. Ted Kennedy is remembered as a dog lover and animal advocate
Many around the country are mourning the death of "the lion of the Senate," Sen. Edward Kennedy. In the man's 77 years, he spearheaded efforts to advance a number of liberal causes, but he was remembered today as a lawmaker willing to cross the aisle in order to further legislation he believed in. One element of Kennedy's life that connected him with conservatives was his love of animals -- particularly his beloved Portuguese water dogs -- which, of course, have no party affiliation.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote today that Kennedy was "a stalwart ally over the years on a wide range of legislation to protect companion animals, farm animals, animals in research and wildlife," adding that the senator from Massachusetts was instrumental in the passage of animal welfare legislation including laws that cracked down on dogfighting and cockfighting, protected horses and other farm animals, and sent chimpanzees once used in medical research to sanctuaries.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund, which issues an annual report on the voting records of the nation's lawmakers on animal protection issues, gave Kennedy a score of 83 in its most recent "scorecard," noting that he was absent during a vote on one of the issues it used to determine its scores. (Among the issues at stake for the Legislative Fund were the Horse Slaughter Bill, the Downed Animal Enforcement Act and the Farm Bill, the latter being the issue on which Kennedy failed to vote.)
Of course, the animals closest to Kennedy's heart were his own dogs, Sunny and Splash. He noted in an interview with the Boston Globe that Splash had "met Elton John. He was in the Oval Office. He has a dog bone from President Bush. He gave me this rawhide dog bone and wrote on it, 'From Barney to Splash.' I take him to all the hearings; he always sits under the table. He goes to press conferences, to the Cape. He loves to take long trips in the boat. He could sail all day."
Kennedy's devotion to Splash was enough to spur him to author a book for children, making the dog its "narrator." The book, "My Senator and Me: A Dog's Eye View of Washington, D.C.," is an introduction to the political process aimed at elementary-aged kids. "This canine bundle of friendly, panting fun takes readers on a tour of monuments and then describes a typical day: staff discussion of an education bill, a ride in the underground tram between the Senate and the Capitol, a press conference, a committee meeting, and a floor vote," reads the School Library Journal's review. "Children will appreciate Splash's joy at the snacks and time for outdoor catch along the way, as well as the strategic Woof when the committee reaches an impasse on the bill."
More recently, Kennedy even helped to provide the Obamas with their own Portuguese water dog, Bo -- and we all have the now-departed lion of the Senate to thank for the tuxedo-clad, foot-biting bundle of friendly, panting fun now occupying the White House.
Say what you will about Sen. Ted Kennedy -- he certainly had his share of faults -- but the man sure did love animals. We're thinking today not just of the human family he left behind, but also of Sunny and Splash, who we're sure are among those who will grieve the most for their master.
-- Lindsay Barnett
Photo: Kennedy with wife Victoria Reggie Kennedy, walking with their dogs in 2008, shortly after Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Credit: Steven Senne / Associated Press