- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Few can muzzle this message: Dogs may be a candidate's best friend.
Dogs billboard dogs, that is will soon bear the tidings of select politicians who plan to hit the campaign trail with some canine cachet.
"We're not at liberty to say which senators have contracted for our services. But around September, our dogs will be out there at political rallies, campaign appearances, on the National Mall," said Mark Vinci, founder of K9 Billboards in Rochester, N.Y.
It is just as it sounds.
For a fee, the company's easygoing pack of dogs wear little harnesses with small fabric billboards imprinted with the marketing mottoes of publishers, banks, retailers and manufacturers, softening up their crass commercial message with a wag and a woof.
The dogs have already appeared in 17 American cities and will soon be seen at the Indianapolis 500 and several major sporting events. They may be a dream come true for every frantic politician who ever kissed a baby or held forth at a town meeting.
"It's better than kissing a baby," Mr. Vinci said. "Friendly, wholesome, nonthreatening dogs are political naturals who put everybody at ease. Politicians, in fact, were some of the first clients to contact us."
President Bush's dog, Barney a black Scottie gets great press wherever he goes, Mr. Vinci said.
"The president gets off the helicopter with Barney, the cameras go off. Everybody loves that dog," he said. "Maybe he'd consider using our dogs if he runs again."
That might make sense. Slogans of every persuasion now appear in fortune cookies, on sidewalks and even apples in grocery stores so why not a dog? But not every dog can be a billboard dog.
The company locally recruits trained, medium- and large-sized working breeds who are calm and sociable. Labrador retrievers, Dalmatians, chows and Akitas are on the payroll, along with "therapy" dogs who work with disabled children or the elderly.
"And we've gotten calls for Jack Russell terriers and Chihuahuas," Mr. Vinci said. "Hey, they may not be able to carry a big sign, but they can still carry a big message."
In this case, the medium is very much the message. The company does not hire pit bulls, Rottweilers or other dogs with fearsome reputations. They also steer clear of cats, mice or larger critters that might require a special permit.
"But llamas," Mr. Vinci mused. "Maybe we'll do llamas one day."
The company (www.k9billboards.com) has already patented its "ad-harness system" and offers light-up versions for nighttime and investment opportunities for those who really believe in dog power.
But at $500 per day, per animal, these canines aren't working for dog biscuits.
Each has a handler, who must also be calm and sociable. While accompanying their dog stars through crowds or perhaps on a whistle-stop tour, handlers dole out product samples, product literature and soon political ephemera.
The company is also negotiating with the National Association of Service Dogs with the idea that guide dogs for the visually or hearing impaired could tote an ad or two.
"It would be one way to offset the huge costs of training these dogs," Mr. Vinci said.

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