The Canine Insiders on Capitol Hill

PHOTO: Kent Conrad and dog Dakota
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Congress really may be going to the dogs.

Every day dozens of dogs, the canine companions of members of Congress, are brought to the United States Capitol building to spend days alongside their masters.

The dogs have the ultimate inside look at politics on the Hill; they are let into secret meetings and to committee hearings, and they're allowed to roam around in the workplace some of the nation's most powerful people.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., brings his two dogs, "Tink" and "Monique," to Capitol Hill often.

"One time one of my dogs escaped and the chairman of my committee found the dog drinking out of his toilet, so he was walking down the hallway saying 'who's dog is this, who's dog is this.?'" Sensenbrenner laughed, recalling the episode. "I picked him up and said 'Mr. Chairman this is my dog and he loves you just as much as he loves me'."

Perhaps the most famous dog on Capitol Hill is a bichon frise named "Dakota," the faithful companion of Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, who represents North Dakota.

"We've even gotten to the point when senators, when I'm going to meetings, call up and ask if I can bring Dakota along with me," Conrad said. "So he has become a celebrity up here."

Back in Conrad's office, Dakota tends to take over the place.

Conrad's office is filled with dog bowls, doggie beds, and pictures of Dakota. A pale yellow formal arm chair originally intended for guests has turned into Dakota's bed, where she likes to recline while her owner works nearby.

There's even a framed photograph of Bo Obama, the first family's dog, addressed to "Dakota,'' and signed with a paw print drawn by President Obama himself.

"It does change the atmosphere in the office, it's clearly good for morale," Conrad says, "you can just tell it kind of warms up in the office, as I say, it kind of humanizes things."

Congressman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., walks his dog Bruin from his home to his nearby Capitol Hill office every morning.

"When he arrives he kind of takes over the place. Wanders from room to room, says 'hello' to his friends," Lewis says. "Often (he) lies out in the couch in the living, in the front office."

Lewis' dog's fluffy toys are scattered all around the Congressman's office and he has a bed in two of rooms, including one underneath the senator's desk.

The congressman says when constituents or other members of Congress come in and see his dog in the office it indicates a "very human side" to what is otherwise a very serious business.

"No doubt that an animal like this tends to calm people," he said. "The real world is that we deal with intense challenges all the time but it's awfully important to keep somewhat in perspective."

"Whenever I am frustrated about how to figure out what are the questions to be asked," said Lewis, "well, I just look at Bruin and he says 'take it easy dad, no big problem'."

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., is regularly seen walking his two small dogs, "Snuggles" and "Koda," around the Capitol Building and his Dirksen Senate office. He says Koda has been able to ease the tension in meetings on Capitol Hill.

"There have been times when people have a very serious issue and they are ready to rip my head off, and I walk in, you know, with Koda, and they say 'oh we can't yell at him because Koda will get mad'," Brown says.

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