Dog and Cat Mayors: Legal Myth or Legit?
Depending on the electoral rules of any constituency, non-human mayoral candidates may be banned or otherwise disqualified from running for office. But some towns have made the news for having four-legged leaders — what does this really mean, legally?
As Long As There's No Rule Against It...
Any mayor or other local office-holder must be able to complete the duties of their position. In most localities, aspiring animal mayors will be unable to officially enter electoral races or be sworn into actual positions of authority.
Some municipalities, however, have found ways to circumvent such problems so that they can actually elect four-legged friends into office. In these cases, non-human mayors typically serve in a symbolic capacity, and their main duties may include publicity appearances at local events. The town will either have no official mayor or will appoint a human counterpart to their pet leader.
It's a Mayor-Eat-Mayor World
Dog and cat mayors are often elected as purposeful PR stunts — or they aren't "elected" at all and are simply titled as mayors.
Stubbs the cat was known as the mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, for 20 years. Although a popular story states he won office in 1997 as a write-in candidate, this story was made up in order to draw publicity and visitorship to the town — which worked. Tourists came to visit the mayor's office, buy t-shirts, and even pet their favorite four-legged legislator.
Other small towns have also learned how to turn a pet mayor gimmick into a profitable practice. For over two decades, Rabbit Hash, Kentucky has been led by a series of dog mayors.
Notable non-human mayors include:
- Wilbur the dog, current mayor of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky
- Boston Curtis, a mule who served as the mayor of Milton, Washington in 1938
- Lincoln the goat used her hooves and a pad of ink in lieu of a signature when sworn in as mayor of Fair Haven, Vermont, in 2019
Besides publicity, animals have been nominated for office as symbols of protest on several occasions. In Brazil, a goat was elected to a city council in 1954 when the residents of a town came together to symbolically protest the incoming administration. Four years later, using an animal electoral candidate as a form of symbolic protest became known as a "Cacareco vote," named after a rhinoceros who received more votes than any other candidate in a Sao Paulo council election.
Technically, most animal mayors and council members hold as much authority as the humans around them grant. So if your small town (or large city) is deserving of its own four-legged leader, you know who to nominate for the next mayoral election!
- How to Run for Mayor (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Virginia Citizen Brings Charges Against Vice Mayor Who Supported Firing a Police Officer (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
- The Election That Just Won't Die (FindLaw's Legally Weird)
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