Barking for Change 

Piedmont Pet Mayor contest supports wildlife fund one dollar at a time.

Whether it's a bid for the US presidency or a seat on the student council, political campaigns have a way of becoming dog-eat-dog competitions. Perhaps nowhere is the idiom truer than in Piedmont, where nine canine candidates are currently contending for the title of the city's inaugural pet mayor. The Pet Mayor of Piedmont Contest — a mock-political campaign designed to raise serious money for the Montclair-based nonprofit Pet & Wildlife Fund — is a dogged mayoral race that pits pet against pet for the prestigious two-year title of "ambassador of goodwill to all creatures in the community."

Started in Montclair in 2004 by the Montclair Village Association and the Montclair Veterinary Hospital, the race was moved to Piedmont this year to coincide with the recent grand opening of Holistic Veterinary Care on Piedmont Avenue. Lee Richter, the clinic's founder and CEO, also serves as the CEO of the Montclair Veterinary Hospital and the executive director of the Pet & Wildlife Fund, for which the annual mayoral race has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help care for injured wild animals. Organizers now plan to alternate elections yearly between Piedmont and Montclair.

Since September, each animal candidate has been racking up one vote for each dollar donation made in its name, both online and with the help of merchant sponsors in Piedmont and along the stretch of Piedmont Avenue that runs through Oakland. In true political spirit, each candidate's success is ultimately determined by how much money their sponsor drums up. Richter said that Montclair's 2008 pet mayor, a dog named Gracie, won the race after earning about $4,000 in donations, nearly one-fourth of the total brought in from that year's race.

Previous elections have drawn political hopefuls of all species, from geckos to miniature horses. Last year, a chicken named Penny was elected as the secretary of agriculture. But so far, dogs have been the only animals to take the mayor's seat. "Every year, a dog wins," Richter said. "I guess it's the American way. But clearly, in Oakland, the dog is the favorite." This year has proved no different. When the race began, the diverse group of twenty candidates included a hamster named Prince Bling Bling, but after the October primaries, the election went to the dogs.

Among the finalists is Zion, a one-year-old Yorkshire terrier sponsored by Fentons Creamery who has already garnered a few thousand dollars in votes through sales of a special ice cream sundae. The ice cream shop's manager, Jeffrey Unverferth (who's also the owner of the politically ambitious pooch), said it was just a year ago that Zion was found wandering aimless and ownerless around the Berkeley Marina. Perhaps the dog's inspiring rise from stray puppy to aspiring politician will resonate with constituents, though Unverferth is betting on the dog's youthful charisma (and ample sundae sales) for the win. "He's full of youthful energy, so I think that would be a nice, positive change for Oakland politics," Unverferth joked. And for those concerned about the party affiliation of Piedmont's future pet mayor, Zion reportedly reps the Green Party. "He likes green grass, that's for sure," Unverferth said.

Meet the candidates and cast your vote at Fentons Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave., Oakland) on Saturday, November 5 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The winner will be announced at Holistic Veterinary Care (4382 Piedmont Ave., Oakland) on Sunday, November 6, at 1 p.m. 510-339-2600 or PetandWildLifeFund.org/pet-mayor-of-piedmont

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