State senate goes to the dogs
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State senate goes to the dogs

Date: April 29, 2010
By: Kiki Schmitz
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - If you wandered through the hallways of Missouri's statehouse around the Senate chamber this year, you might have thought your legislature had gone to the dogs -- litterally.

Two state senators are bringing their dogs to their Jefferson City offices. Besides providing their Senate masters with an excuse to get outside, they've also generated a lot of attention.


With four years experience in the statehouse, the veteran of the two canines is Winston.

He is not a pretty dog.

Winston is eighty pounds of fur, jowls and saliva resting on a relatively squat Old English Bull Dog frame.

In the office of the Senate's Republican leader, you often can find Winston pacing excitedly beyond a knee-level pet gate in the senator's office

"Winston has gas pretty much all the time," confessed Sen. Kevin Engler, a Republican from Farmington. "He sheds unbelievably. And he drools, he's gonna slobber all over, just watch."

Engler paused to evaluate the dog's full-body tail-wagging display, while Winston gnawed exuberantly on an already well-loved rawhide bone.

"He was cute as a puppy," Engler offered. "He still is. In a weird sort of way."

Winston, slobber and all, has accompanied Engler at work since puppy-hood, spending his days at the Capitol snoozing in a dog bed next to Engler's desk. Engler first spotted Winston, then still a puppy, while at a friend's party. The party hosts happened to be dog breeders, and Winston was looking for a home.

Although his wife protested, Engler eventually won her approval and Winston became a part of the family. For the past four and a half years, Winston has charmed security guards and befriended field trip groups. According to Engler, Winston is a crowd favorite with constituents.

"Everyone that writes me back wants to know about Winston," Engler said. "Sometimes, I'm pretty sure they like him more than me."

Winston shows his party allegiance with a Republican elephant-print collar, but according to Engler's executive assistant Karen Jacquin, Winston is politically "pretty neutral." Yet when it comes to meals, Winston isn't afraid to speak up.

"He's pretty vocal at dinnertime," Jacquin said.

On busy days, when Engler can't accompany Winston on his outdoor excursions, an intern takes over dog-walking duty. Most days though, Engler walks Winston himself, claiming to "use Winston as an excuse to get outside."

Toenails clicking on the marble floor, Winston waited patiently to board an elevator, rode to the basement parking garage, and trotted ahead of Engler on his way outside. Still chewing that rawhide bone, Winston plopped down at Engler's feet the second the legislator settled onto a park bench.

Although keeping a four-legged companion is far from Senate norm, Engler said Winston provides comic relief and unconditional love, two entities rarely associated with politics.

It's not fun here all by yourself," Engler said. "And besides, Winston likes me no matter what."


Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, calls it love at first sight.

"I took one look at Kaci and said, 'we'll take her,'" Ridgeway said, as she stroked the brown and white terrier mix settled comfortably in her lap. Resting her chin on Ridgeway's knee, Kaci surveyed the room with big brown eyes.

"Kaci is my therapy," Ridgeway explained. "She helps me sleep at night."

Ridgeway found Kaci on, a website that connects potential owners with adoptable pets in their area. This led her to the local shelter from which she eventually adopted Kaci.

"I've rescued my last two dogs," Ridgeway said, gesturing to a framed picture of Katy, Kaci's recently deceased predecessor. Katy was also a Senate regular.

"They're pound puppies," Ridgeway said.

According to Ridgeway, the two and a half year old mixed-breed is generally well-behaved at the Capitol.

"I mean, she is a hunter and a terrier, so sometimes she gets a little rowdy," Ridgeway said. "And she sheds a bit. There's a plethora of dog lint rollers in this office."

Ridgeway's Chief of Staff, Mike Morris, recalled a time when Kaci escaped from Ridgeway's office, and ran five doors down to the Govenor's office before Ridgeway could retrieve her.

"That's about the time we put a gate up," Morris said.

Ridgeway takes Kaci on walks around the Capitol grounds, where she can climb up rocks, visit monuments, and make new friends.

"Kaci has breaks at 10, 2 and 4, like Dr. Pepper," Ridgeway said, Kaci now dozing in her lap. "We like to visit Lewis and Clark. Kaci is particularly a Sacajawea fan. And she knows her way around the building, she's even met Durango, the K9 Capitol police dog."

Ridgeway said Kaci loves long runs, chicken jerky treats, and former State Rep. Cathy Enz.

At the mention of a meaty reward, Kaci jumped from her perch on Ridgeway's lap and looked up expectantly, leaning back on her hind legs, front paws drawn up in a begging position. Ridgeway took the opportunity to let Kaci show off a bit, and retrieved a resealable bag of dog treats. Kaci's trick repertoire includes sit and crawl, along with the more advanced "be cute" and "show me your belly."

Ridgeway coaxed Kaci to roll over, and once successful, showered her with praise.

"I do tricks that Winston doesn't do, right?" she prompted, smiling and scratching the dog's stomach.