Well-groomed, ears back and tails wagging, a determined doggy dozen stormed Capitol Hill on Monday, seeking support for a Senate bill that would bitter the taste of engine coolant and antifreeze in hopes of protecting the 10,000 dogs killed and 1,400 children sickened by the tasty toxin each year.
In a town that thrives on access, this unusual band of Washington power brokers -- including a cocker spaniel, a dachshund, a golden retriever and four Capitol Hill Police K-9 German shepherds -- didn't pound the pavement for days or even hours, hoping to attract support for S. 1110, the "Engine Coolant and Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2005," they simply walked in the front doors of Congress and stayed.
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Product Safety and Insurance, and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., a co-sponsor of the legislation, came promptly, canoodling with the canines as the television cameras captured every roll, bark and whimper.
In the historic Russell Senate Office Building, in which hearings into the Titanic, the mafia and Watergate have been held, the dogs, several outfitted with matching scarves from the Doris Day Animal League, lined up for a solidarity march down the hall for a hearing on their bill.
Although the line weaved at times, the message was clear: these dogs know they cannot resist the surprisingly appealing soda pop taste of engine coolant and antifreeze spilled in garages and on driveways across the country; they need the big dog -- the federal government -- to step in.
"We hope antifreeze becomes unpalatable to animals and children," Allen proclaimed at the onset of the 54-minute hearing on the subject.
Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-N.M., who lost her golden retriever Cujo after the family pet accidentally ingested antifreeze, testified in support of adding denatonium benzoate, or DB, an extremely bitter-tasting but non-toxic substance, to antifreeze and engine coolant sold in the United States.
She has already pushed her state Legislature to require that DB be added to toxic products such as antifreeze. California and Oregon have also adopted similar laws.
"For many of us, losing a pet is like losing a member of the family," said McCoy, recalling the golden she lost 20 years ago after a week of seizures, trembling and permanent kidney damage.
DB alters the taste, but not the effectiveness, of products such as antifreeze and engine coolant, according to Jacqueline Elder of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Jeff Bye, vice president of Prestone, the largest manufacturer of antifreeze in the United States, testified that antifreeze containing DB costs "less than 3 cents per gallon."
He said the antifreeze industry was ready to support the legislation, provided the companies would only be liable for problems arising from their product and not the DB. The substance has been found to be "readily biodegrad(able)" and virtually harmless to humans in small doses and the test cases in California, Oregon and New Mexico have been largely successful.
The full Senate has yet to take formal action on the bittering legislation, although the bill has attracted six, bipartisan co-sponsors. There is an identical measure in the House sponsored by 40 members.