Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Voting Gone to the Dogs

My latest in Chapel Hill News:
“Can you bring your dogs up on campus to help bring out the vote?” asked our friend Chris.
My partner and I were confused at first, muttering to ourselves, “Our dogs? The vote?” What would Lil (our queen-like, 12-year old yellow Lab) and Toby (our overly rambunctious, 11 year-old chocolate Lab) do in order to help bring out the vote against Amendment One on the UNC campus? Simply wag a tail, convince students they’d love to be their best friend as they are gently nuzzled, told, “Aren’t you a pretty pup?!” and someone directs them to the voting booth a few yards away.
As so many dog owners know, dogs have a way of making us feel like we are “Number One” in a world regardless of what others say. There’s simply nothing like coming home at the end of the day and being greeted by dogs that seem to say, “Where have you been? We’ve missed you! Now come and play with us, OK?” as their tail wags their bodies in an overly exuberant sign of welcome. There is a certain attraction that is undeniable between humans and these furry bundles of love and drool.
The dogs and I found Chris and her crew of volunteers working against Amendment One, planting signs to “VOTE!” with red, white, and blue balloons tied onto the signs on a lovely Friday in April. They greeted the dogs with warmth and joy, placed a kiss on the wet nose of each dog, a bowl of cold water (ice included!), and a treat or two for each pup (the dogs were in their idea of heaven).
Without needing to say a thing, or advertise with a sign, “Dogs here to pet,” the magic took place: students simply started coming up to the dogs, like iron filings to a magnet. They pet their head with the accompanying, “Ah, aren’t you cute?! What’s your name?” Within minutes, Chris placed a thin scarf of an American flag around each dogs neck with a teal blue button pinned on simply stating: “Vote Against Amendment One!” The dogs didn’t mind the scarves one bit. After all, their attention was on marking out the new surroundings, their respective noses in the air catching aromatic whiffs of food near by.
More students, and then a faculty or staff member, slowed down from their brisk walk between the dining hall and the next appointment or rush to study. There it was again: without a cue they petted a dog, scratched under their chin, rubbed the area behind their ears, and spoke baby talk to them, “Hi sweetie!” Chris and her merry band of volunteers dove in and invited students, faculty, and staff alike to vote against Amendment One inside UNC’s Chase Hall, only a few feet away from dog-petting central.
For six hours the dogs did their best impersonation of being, well, dogs, and the voter numbers grew throughout the day. Needless to say, the dogs were exhausted by the end of the day, heavy panting out of both of them, and from their deep snores I knew they slept well that night.
In hindsight, I get it: voting is stressful work. The right to vote comes with a sense of gravitas. Years ago I was in the Dominican Republic during a tense election day, with police posted outside of voting areas for fear of violence as people put their lives on the line simply to vote. Sadly, many adults here do not take the opportunity to vote. They find it easier to grouse about the poor economy or get angry with a new law passed rather than taking a few minutes to stop, vote, and make a difference.
Elections matter. Who we elect changes the course of our collective history.
With all the seriousness of doing our duty as citizens of this country, it is great to have a dog outside of the voting booth to simply cut down the stress all sides feel during an election. Dogs are a welcoming presence, great stress relievers, reminding us that we did the right thing.
If the person we voted for and our fight against the Amendment wins, we will celebrate with our dogs (extra treats!)
And if we lose? With a dog to accompany us, we move forward, working anew to make a better change for our future.

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