When things are going to the dogs in politics, politicians go for the dogs
Peter MacKay pets a dog Jack, during a break from chores at home in Lorne, N.S. on Wednesday May 18, 2005. (CP / Andrew Vaughan)
Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, April 5, 2014 9:54AM EDT
OTTAWA -- Release the hounds!
When a photo of embattled MP Eve Adams and her freshly unemployed fiancee Dimitri Soudas, late of the helm of the Conservative Party of Canada, landed on the front page of a national newspaper this week, the two leashed pugs underfoot were no mere happenstance.
"Took our friends' dogs Boo and Chester for a walk w @MPEveAdams after a long day of work," Soudas posted on Twitter early Wednesday evening as the couple were in the eye of a self-created storm.
Took our friends' dogs Boo and Chester for a walk w @MPEveAdams after a long day of work.— Dimitri Soudas (@D_Soudas) April 2, 2014
The next day, a photo of the couple walking the dogs in a park in Oakville, Ont., was on the front page of the Globe and Mail, while the Toronto Star had another photo inside its front section.
Soudas had resigned from his high-profile party position last Sunday amid allegations of improper behaviour in helping Adams' sharp-elbowed nomination bid in a newly created Oakville riding.
According to someone close to the situation, with news photographers staking out their home, Soudas and Adams decided to fetch his friends' pugs and go for a stroll in order to feed the media beast and end the siege.
The person who spoke to The Canadian Press asked not to be identified for fear of inflaming an already hot topic, but said it was not the first time Soudas had walked the dogs.
When you want to humanize a politician, it seems, dogs are a go-to device.
A dog in the White House has been almost required kit since the days of Abe Lincoln. Presidential mutts have become household names, with the Obamas' Portuguese water dog Bo just the latest example.
Richard Nixon famously dug himself out of a hole in 1952 when a speech about his dog Checkers was attributed with smoothing Republican party concerns over $18,000 in questionable gifts.
In Canada, political pooches have a somewhat checkered history.
"This is the first I've heard that the dog is part of the Canadian political public consciousness. I don't get it, not in the slightest," Allan Bonner, a political communications consultant who has worked with a dozen premiers and scores of cabinet ministers, said in an interview.
Bonner said he's been involved in a great many photo shoots of politicians and has some common advice.
"It's very tempting to put the Christmas tree in the background or be out chopping down a Christmas tree or planting a garden or what have you. But if they don't really do that (activity normally), it's really dangerous."
"I think this rent-a-dog goes kind of beyond that."
Going to the dogs doesn't always pass the sniff test.
Canada's longest serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, eulogized his terrier Pat of 17 years in an unusually emotional 1944 speech that was broadcast on the radio.
"If I have been true to some of the great causes that I have sought to remain true to, it's been the example of that little fellow that has helped in many, many ways," King warbled.
But even introducing Canadians to his family dog Kyoto in 2008 wasn't enough to save Liberal leader Stephane Dion and his environmental campaign platform.
Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta's Wildrose Alliance, experienced the downside of animal photo-ops during the 2012 provincial campaign when her two family dogs engaged in some spirited bump-and-grind with news cameras on hand.
And current Justice Minister Peter MacKay caused a sensation back in 2005 when he arranged for a po-faced, farm photo-op with a borrowed Bernese mountain dog after his very public breakup with MP Belinda Stronach.
As Bonner, the communications expert, puts it: "The dog story is simply dangerous because it's inauthentic."
Curiously enough, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has gone against the grain by cultivating a public image as a cat person, with his office releasing a number of hand-outs involving the family pets.
"The cat image was kind of gutsy because it could have been 'You Tube cats' or 'soft, fuzzy cats,' whatever," said Bonner.
But in its own way, Harper's cat image works, he argued.