Heard on the Hill

This Bipartisan Holiday Party Was for the Dogs

Florida representatives dress up Congress’ furry friends for their second annual howliday bash

From left, Reps. Susan Wild, D-Pa., Mini Poodle, Zoey, Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Welsh Terrier, Riggins, Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and Mini Goldendoodle, Carmela, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and D.C. pound dog, Maya, pose for a picture at the Bipawtisan Howliday in Rayburn Building on December 10, 2018. Riggins is owned by Curbelo's communications director Joanna Rodriguez. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

For nearly 15 minutes, Riggins, a 3 1/2-year-old Welsh terrier, sat alone in his elf costume, surrounded by fawning Hill staffers. The House’s second annual Bipawtisan Howliday celebration was off to a slow start.

When another canine finally joined the party, Riggins couldn’t contain his excitement. The male dog mounted Carmela, a 1-year-old mini goldendoodle, and the human attendees erupted in laughter as the owners broke up the display of affection.

“That’s not the type of bipawtisan cooperation we envisioned,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo said. 

Riggins belongs to Curbelo’s communications director, Joanna Rodriguez. He was a regular visitor in the Florida lawmaker’s office this Congress until recently, when Curbelo, who lost his re-election bid, and his staff had to make way for a new member to move in.

“He said he wanted to go out with a bang,” Curbelo said.

The costume party was an idea that Curbelo and Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch came up with last year. About 20 dogs attended the 2017 celebration, but only four made it to the second iteration Monday afternoon in the Rayburn House Office Building. 

Curbelo hosted this year’s event with a different Florida Democrat, Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Carmela belongs to one of Murphy’s aides and is in her office most days serving in the role that Murphy calls “chief morale officer.”

While Curbelo won’t be in Congress next year, he hopes Murphy or others will continue to host the party and make sure to invite him.

“Hopefully it will become a nice tradition to bring staff and members together in advance of the holidays,” he said. “It just lightens the mood, and we could use a lot of that here.”

After Riggins and Carmela had settled down from their initial greeting, they posed for pictures in the hearing room where the event was held. As the lawmakers stood behind them, the dogs took a seat at the dais.

A dog party may seem a bit unconventional, but four-legged companions have become more commonplace in congressional offices in recent years. 

Maya, an 11-year-old mixed breed, has been coming into Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s office every day since her chief of staff Joshua Salpeter adopted her in 2007. 

As Ros-Lehtinen prepares to retire, Salpeter said many staff members and regular visitors to the office have commented, “It’s going to be sad to lose everyone here, but I’m really going to miss Maya.” 

While Riggins, Carmela and Maya are all dogs from Florida representatives’ offices, the fourth party attendee hails from the Keystone State. 

Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, who was recently sworn in to fill the seat vacated by former GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, stopped by the celebration with her dog, Zoey.

Zoey, a 7-year-old mini poodle, will be traveling back and forth with Wild between Pennsylvania and Washington. Wild said she wants Zoey to boost office morale, taking a page from Carmela’s book.

“She actually loves going into the office,” Wild said. “She loves the constant stream of people in an out. She loves after hours having a ball thrown down the marble hallways. She thinks that’s awesome.”

Dogs are a “great icebreaker” for members of Congress and their staffs to get to know one another, Wild said. 

“People bond over dogs, and it’s most definitely a bipartisan thing,” she said. “Anything that will help that cause is a good thing.” 

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