Donkeys? Elephants? Nah. This campaign pits dogs and hedgehogs

Boomer, a golden retriever who is in the running for cutest pet on Capitol Hill, back home in Arizona where he belongs to Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson. (Photo courtesy Rep. Martha McSally’s office)

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who has entered her dog, Boomer, into a Cutest Pet on Capitol Hill contest. Like many owners of rescue animals, she asks, “Who rescued whom?” (Photo courtesy Rep. Martha McSally’s office)

WASHINGTON – It’s a classic Washington rags-to-riches story. Born in tough conditions, he made his way to Capitol Hill, where he’s now running in an election against tough odds. But this is not a typical politician.

Meet Boomer, the golden retriever of Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who entered the dog in the Cutest Pet on Capitol Hill election.

“He’s amazing, honestly,” McSally said of the rescue dog. “I mean, anybody who has an animal knows. The human/animal bond and what they do for your, just for your emotional support and, you know, the unconditional love.”

McSally said she got Boomer a little more than three years ago, when he was just over 10 months old.

“As a rescue, he’s been a little mischievous,” McSally said. “We started seeing things disappearing early on in having Boomer in our lives, and we discovered he likes to bury things.”

That did not stop her from entering Boomer in the Cutest Pets on Capitol Hill Contest, an event that has been put on annually by the Animal Health Institute since 2009. Animals compete in three categories: dogs, cats and exotics, which includes rabbits, turtles and a hedgehog.

Boomer has already survived the first round of the election, making the cut from the original field of more than 200 pets to a final round of 22. More than 1,700 votes had been cast by Friday, and voting continues through this weekend before the “cutest” title is awarded Monday.

-Cronkite News video by Trevor Fay

The cutest pets contest is only open to members of Congress and their staff, said Trudy Boyd, a consultant for Animal Health Institute.

“We’re communicating with Congress about issues throughout the year, and we noticed a lot of members of Congress take their pets to work with them, and their staff do too,” Boyd said. “We thought it was a fun way to show that there are pets on the House side and pets on the Senate side and then showcase those pets.”

Boyd said a group of judges selects the finalists, and then open voting to the public. This year’s voting concludes Sunday, with winners expected to be announced Monday.

Boomer’s done well so far in the contest, despite behavior that might be frowned upon in another candidate.

McSally said he has buried everything from a neighbor’s baseball hat to her own mother’s pajamas.

“Sometimes, months later, he will choose to unearth what he has chosen to bury,” McSally said. “Sometimes the things that we find are a little decomposed because they’ve been underground for awhile. It’s usually mostly clothing.”

He also seems to have an affinity for couch pillows.

“Every time I leave the house, he’s taking couch pillows out the doggy door and over to my neighbor’s house,” she said. “I would come home when I first got him, he’d just kind of be out around the house, and then … he would be lying down on the dining room table.”

McSally said she has since trained Boomer and now he’s a bit better behaved than he was when she first got him.

“He’s just a very funny personality. He makes everybody laugh,” she said.

“I am just grateful to have Boomer in my life,” McSally said. “Those of us who have rescues always say, ‘Who rescued who?’ right? And, I mean, he is such an important part of my life. I just love him so much.”