Posted: July 8, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Anyone who wandered into the state Senate during its last night could have thought the session had turned into a living, breathing shaggy-dog story.

It was dogs-this and dogs-that in an aimless array, as the evening of June 30 became the morning of July 1 and the Delaware General Assembly closed out its business for the year.

State Sen. Colin R.J. Bonini, a Dover Republican, was responsible for a lot of it but not all of it.

Bonini showed up with his beagles. At least, they were beagles before they became horses. Baskin and Robbins -- yes, those really are their names -- are a pudgy 37 pounds each. If they had done any running, it was only after an ice cream truck.

The beagles were in Legislative Hall in Dover for a reason, although it is going to take awhile to explain. Shaggy-dog story, you know.

Earlier in the year Bonini saw his 40th birthday coming, and it was leading with a double chin. He had to lose weight, easily a hundred pounds of it, or one of these days his name would have to be changed to Boninininini to accommodate all of him.

Bonini went public with his diet . . . and then some. He decided to do what politicians do best -- give other people's money to charity. He came up with "Pounds for Hounds," asking for pledges to the Kent County SPCA for every pound he lost from Feb. 1 until June 30.

Bonini also put politics aside to hook up with Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., the Democrat who presides over the state Senate, to sign up for the "Lt. Governor's Challenge," a fitness program, to help him forgo the feasts for the beasts.

Bonini has a special regard for the Kent SPCA because he got his beagles there in 1997. They are probably mother and daughter, probably 12 years old and 10 years old now. They were with him to celebrate his final weigh-in, which showed he had lost 40 pounds.

Bonini did a solid job with the pledges, raising more than $3,000. He even cajoled Senate President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Democrat who runs the chamber, into pledging. During the Senate session, Adams sat down at the desk assigned to state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, a Greenville Republican who sits next to Bonini in the back row, to write a check for $30.

People did not know what Adams was doing, and his appearance there startled them. Carney drolly asked from the podium whether Adams had changed parties, but there was not a chance of that. "I've only been a Republican for three minutes, and already I'm feeling a little uncomfortable," said Adams, who may be as conservative as any Republican but knows the majority is best.

Still, this canine camaraderie was not over so fast. Apropos of legislatively nothing, state Sen. Catherine L. Cloutier, a Brandywine Hundred Republican, sponsored a tribute to state Sen. Robert L. Venables Sr., a Laurel Democrat, in honor of "His Love of Dogs in General and his Resourcefulness and Quick Thinking."

This will bear some shaggy-dog telling, too.

It seems that Venables had gone fishing recently, standing at the water's edge in his hip boots, when a poodle named Misty, who belongs to his daughter's family, tried to come across a channel to be with him. The poodle, however, had never learned to swim, instead relying on bouncing through the water on its hind feet with its head high.

This time the water was too deep, probably about 12 feet to the bottom, and the poodle floundered and was in danger of drowning. Venables feared he would do the same if he tried to go after the dog in his hip boots, so he figured he would try to hook the poodle with his fishing rod, worrying about saving the dog first and extracting the hook later.

As Venables reeled in his line for a cast at the dog, a bass hooked on, and he had to change plans. He went into the water with his hip boots, after all, and although they did fill with water, it was not enough to pull him under or keep him from kick-stroking. Still holding his fishing rod with the bass on it, Venables reached the poodle, and . . . well, here is what the tribute said:

"The Senate joins the sponsor in recognizing the senator," it read. "The Senate recognizes as well a degree of angling prowess of such an extraordinarily high order as to allow him to accomplish the one-armed rescue of a large standard poodle with one arm while successfully retaining a fish on his line with the other. That is indeed a fish story worth repeating."

All the senators signed Venables' tribute. Even so, this puppy love could not last forever, not in a legislature where everyone wants to be one of the big dogs. There was a little barking when the budget bill came to the floor.

It is always a high point of the night, because it means the state government will not have to shut down -- "I feel like I should do like Tom Cruise and jump on the sofa or something," said state Sen. Nancy W. Cook, the Democratic co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee -- and it means that six Democratic and six Republican senators and representatives came together in the committee to get it done.

The praise ritually flows across the aisle, but Charlie Copeland, who has aspirations, would not play along. He made a grand stand to complain that the budget was growing year by year at a rate that was not sustainable, and state Sen. Harris B. McDowell III, the Democratic majority leader, went after Copeland and his aspirations.

"It's good material for a future gubernatorial campaign," McDowell gibed.

The budget passed, and so did the moment. The Senate was feeling so good about itself that state Sen. Anthony J. DeLuca, the Democratic majority whip, walked around with a big bag of red licorice sticks, offering it to senators on both sides of the aisle.

No dog biscuits, though.