In One Kentucky Community, Dogs Rule—Literally

Wilbur garnered the most votes in the history of the Rabbit Hash mayoral contest, raising more than $13,000 for the nonprofit historical society.

Wilbur garnered the most votes in the history of the Rabbit Hash mayoral contest, raising more than $13,000 for the nonprofit historical society. Amy Noland

 

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Wilbur, a 6-month-old French bulldog, is the latest canine mayor of Rabbit Hash, an unincorporated community in Kentucky that's been led by dogs since the late 1990s.

Ballots are still being counted in some states, but in a mayoral race in a tiny Kentucky community, the people have spoken—decisively.

Or dog-cisively, you might say.

Wilbur, a 6-month-old French bulldog, was named mayor of Rabbit Hash, an unincorporated historic community in Boone County, just south of Cincinnati. The big-eared pup garnered 13,343 votes out of a total 22,985 ballots, both the highest totals ever recorded for the mayoral race, which serves as a fundraiser for the Rabbit Hash Historical Society and has placed a dog in office in every election since 1998.

Wilbur at the Rabbit Hash General Store (courtesy Amy Noland)

“When the historical society started this, they knew that in any election, whoever has the most money’s going to win—so they just decided to be completely up front and make people pay to vote,” said Bobbi Kayser, president of the nonprofit historical society, which owns and maintains all of the community’s 12 buildings. “It’s one dollar per vote, and we encourage voting often and voting early.”

Anyone—“biped, triped or quadruped”—can enter the mayoral race “as long as they can chase a rabbit from their home to the center of Rabbit Hash in one hour’s time,” Kayser said. Voters can cast ballots online or in person at local shops, and voting is open to anyone, anywhere, as long as they’re willing to pay a dollar. There’s no age limit or breed restrictions for candidates, though each mayor serves four years at a time, a change made after Goofy, Rabbit Hash’s first dog mayor, had to be put to sleep just three years into what was supposed to be a life term.

“We honestly thought we were going to start a worldwide trend of euthanizing public officials,” Kayser said. “We really aren’t sure why that didn’t take off.”

At just 6 months old, Wilbur is the youngest mayor in Rabbit Hash history, but is fully capable of fulfilling the duties of his elected office, according to Amy Noland, his owner and campaign manager.

“His duties are to nap, get belly rubs, and really just hang out in Rabbit Hash, especially during special events and on weekends,” she said. “He’ll continue to fundraise for the town as well.”

Noland, a lifelong Kentucky resident who lives about 6 miles from Rabbit Hash, decided to place Wilbur on the ballot after growing frustrated with the partisan sniping that dominated national politics while people struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. Dogs, she thought, could do this better than people.

“I just wanted to take the human element out of politics and make it fun,” she said. “I wanted it to be fun, and funny, and just positive. Wilbur is so cute and squishy, and I thought maybe he would be good at it.”

Wilbur’s platform centered on hearing the concerns of constituents. His campaign slogan was, “Vote For Wilbur: He’s All Ears,” because, as a French bulldog, “he has humongous ears,” Noland said. “We just wanted people to know that he’d listen to whatever they had to say, good or bad, and support them no matter what.”

Wilbur campaigned mainly on social media but also held a few socially distanced in-person rallies in Rabbit Hash, including a Jeep meet-up that drew about 50 cars. It was enough to push him to victory, unseating incumbent Mayor Brynneth Paltrow, a rescued pit bull, and at least 15 other candidates—12 dogs, one human, a dead cat, and a donkey. (Stella, the cat, was alive when the race started, Kayser said, while Higgins, the donkey, has run in every single election and believes he’s the incumbent.)

Paltrow has not formally conceded the race or issued a statement on her defeat, but unlike certain two-legged politicians, there’s no bad blood between the lame-duck mayor and the mayor-elect, Noland said.

“They’ve met several times, they are friends, so they don’t hold any grudges or anything like that,” she said. “They go to the same vet. They’re buddies.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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