Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)
May 29, 2011
KEN HART: A dog of an office
ASHLAND — For some reason — maybe it had something to do with the recent blink-and-you-missed-it primary election, I’m not sure — I found myself wondering about the origin of a particular phrase one often hears repeated during political seasons.
And that phrase is: “I wouldn’t vote for (insert candidate’s name here) if he/she was running for dog catcher.”
I always thought this phrase was a bit insulting to dog catchers, or animal control officers, to use more politically correct terminology, because it implies rounding up stray canines is a piece-of-cake job that any hack can do. In fact, most municipal animal control officers are highly trained professionals.
What I learned through a bit of research — well, actually through a link to an article on Slate.com posted by my brother on my Facebook wall — is that the dog catcher insult apparently originated in 1889, and in Kentucky, no less. The genesis of the phrase was an article in Louisville’s Weekly Courier Journal stating that then-President Grover Cleveland was “so unpopular in Washington that he could not be elected dog catcher for the district.”
Also, about a year later, a letter appeared in the New York Times attacking a politician who the writer said “could not get elected on his own popularity and without the aid of his ‘machine’ to the office of dog catcher were it an elective one,” according to the article.
Interesting. But still, I wondered: are there actually any municipalities in this great land of ours in which the position of dog catcher is an elected one?
And the answer to that is yep, there is at least one.
That would be the town of Duxbury, Vt., a hamlet located in the northwest portion of the state.
Duxbury, in fact, claims to be the only city in America that has an elected position of dog catcher. According to the town’s official website, the current office-holder is a gentleman by the name of Zeb Towne, whose term runs through next year. (Do suppose the campaigning for the position begins in August? That would seem appropriate, since those are the dog days of summer.)
I also learned from the Duxbury website that, in addition to dog catcher, the town has a boatload of other elected positions — way more than one would expect to find in a city that had a population of just under 1,300, according to the 2000 Census.
In addition to dog catcher, Duxbury residents also elect three listers (I have no idea what their duties are), four Budget Committee members, three members of a Cemetery Commission, a delinquent tax collector, an agent to prosecute and defend suits (I’m guessing that may be what we call a city attorney) and seven, count ‘em, seven justices of the peace. Of course, all those are in ad
dition to the town’s elected selectboard and school board members.
Overall, it would seem to me that Duxbury has enough elected positions for just about every man and woman in town who wants one to have one.
In fact, if you’ve ever wanted to run for office and hedge your chances of winning, here’s your town. And, of course, if you’ve ever had an interest in running for dog catcher, you’d need to establish residency in Duxbury as well.
I’ll bet that position produces some interesting campaign debates, too.
“My opponent, he’s all bark and no bite!”
“Yeah, well, you don’t have a dog in this fight!”
And so forth and so on.
I bet the candidates don’t get asked about their views on abortion and gun control very often, though.
However, if they’re crooked, they might be dogged by allegations of corruption.
OK, I’ll stop now.
KENNETH HART can be reached at email@example.com