Visitors to the Capitol this year might have noticed something furry amidst the legislative bustle. If the door was open into room 266, not far from the Senate and House Floors, a dog named Gary might have caught their eyes.
At least one person, lobbyist Lara Lee Hullinghorst, was seduced by his gaze.
While Gary is a companion to Sen. Kerry Donovan, he has a lot of friends. The Capitol, as it happens, can be a stress-inducing place. It’s four-leggers like Gary who help some maintain their sanity, especially this close to the end of the session.
Hullinghorst has spent a lot of time on the hill. Her mother is Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, Colorado’s second female Speaker of the House, so she spent years in the building before she worked there as a lobbyist. She is well acquainted with the Capitol’s chaos.
“I’ve been around this building forever,” Hullinghorst said. “It feels this year there is a particular lack of congeniality.”
Things are more heated than ever as the 2019 legislative session comes to a close. A controversial oil and gas bill was signed into law. Before that measure faced a Senate vote, the process was mired by Republican requests to have very long bills read in their entirety, then Democrat’s efforts to have them read very quickly by a machine, and then a lawsuit ruling the robot voice was not OK. There’s been controversy over immigration, rent control and vaccines, and a general sense of unease.
This is especially true, Hullinghorst added, in the last few weeks.
So, what could be better for stress management than a little slice of doggy paradise?
On Monday, the door to the shared offices of Senators Donovan, Winter and Lois Court was adorned with a sign reading, “Office Dogs At Play.”
Hullinghorst is not the only person in the building to seek out the room for a little respite.
Michael Templeton, Sen. Court’s aide, said a lot of people come by to pet soft heads. They’re usually looking for Gary, but sometimes Queso, Sen. Winter’s companion, is around to say hello. On this day, Templeton’s dogs Sven and Annabelle were also present.
“They hang out. They play with everyone that comes in,” he said. They’ve been well behaved. Lobbyists, lawmakers and assistants come by every day.
With a diffuser wafting sweet aromas and soft bossa nova playing in the background, it’s a fairly relaxed place amid the chaos outside. All one needs to do is step back into the hallway to appreciate the distinct change in mood. Out there, on the second floor, the high ceilings echo hundreds of voices chattering away in the name of democracy.
Templeton agreed that things in the Capitol can get heavy, one reason he’s happy for a “more free and fun work environment” inside the office.
“Particularly this time of year,” Hullinghorst said, “you look at that little guy and it’s very difficult to stay angry and unhappy. He just makes you want to throw a ball and give a big smile and remind ourselves that there’s a life outside this building.”
This story was going to be an intro to every dog we could meet at the Capitol, but we thought this was a more interesting angle. Good news if you want more dogs: Colorado Politics has a bigger list of Capitol canine companions.