Beasts of Burden

Tales from the Animal Senate

Chapter 1 — Julia Plat

It had been a trying day for Julia Plat. A trying day for democracy, and the rule of law. As a junior senator it was always a battle between idealism and pragmatism, and though Julia had been the senator of cats for three years now, she felt no closer to reaching a working dialog with the senators of the wildlife representation party.

An animal senator’s job as is likely true for all senators, is a labor intensive one. Every day is filled with dialog, and compromise, argument and rebuttal. Emotions run rampant and deep, and depending on the representative you might even swear that these people were the very animals they’d been elected to represent. Instead of bringing the civility and wisdom of our genetic heritage to the discussion certain representatives would color their positions with mistrust and rhetoric. On days like today, it made Julia sick.

Today’s vote on collar material safety should have been a relatively simple matter, but thanks to the short sightedness of certain wildlife senators the bill was defeated outright.

“I can’t believe after all that work, that we couldn’t even get the votes.” said Julia.

Paul sat down next to her with a defeated look. Paul was the senator of fish, and while his charges included wildlife and domestic fish he had a very balanced stance on the treatment of land animals. Julia considered him to be one of her closest friends in the senate.

“Some people just don’t understand the plight of domestics.” said Paul. “And the lobbies behind some of the material manufactures pushed hard to defeat us. It’s a sad state when doing the right thing for both animals and humans falls silent to overwhelming avarice.”

“Is it always like this Paul? Do I have the rest of my life to look forward to battling special interests for every inch of progress?” said Julia.

“Well, you don’t have to. You could always go back to the private sector when your term is up. This whole thing is totally voluntary.”

For a brief moment Julia allowed her mind to wander. Returning to the private sector would mean going back to a life working with shelter animals and feeling completely incapable of making change. She’d worked so hard to make it this far, to make a difference. But here, in the highest appointment possible for someone with her aspirations, it still seemed like ignorance and pigheadedness were in abundance.

“No” said Julia, sounding equally defeated by that reality. “I can’t just quit after all I’ve done to get here.” She lifted her head, stood up, and straightened her suit coat. “I’ll just have to step up my game.”

“That’s the spirit!” replied Paul. “Just remember. You’re doing it for the animals. They need you.”

“I will.” said Julia, picking up her briefcase. “And Paul, thanks for all your support. I don’t know how I’d have gotten this far without you.”

“Don’t mention it. I was a junior senator once. I’ve been there. Some of these guys seem to have forgotten why they’re here, and it’s all just a game to them now. So we visionaries have to stick together.” he said, with a cheeky wink, which was the hallmark of Paul’s disarming demeanor.

They said their goodbyes and Julia made her way back to the office. Fortunately for her she had an office in the Hart building, which was just across the street from the senate. It was a good day for a walk anyhow, and the light warm breeze filled Julia with a calming disposition.

The vote was a disappointment to be sure, but Julia knew that this wasn’t the last time she’d be able to propose legislation like this. She’d just have to work harder to get the support she needed. Being an animal senator was sometimes a thankless job. Without the benefit of vocal constituents one had to survive on the support of the various groups and interests that helped you get elected, but Julia hoped that even though today’s bill was voted down that she would still have the respect of the cats she served. Even if they didn’t know how to show it. Julia turned a final corner and walked somberly into her office.

“Oh Ms. Plat, I heard and I’m so sorry.” said Stacey, who hurried over with a cup of tea. She was always good like that and knew just what it took to cheer Julia up. Stacey had been her assistant for two years now, after her last assistant Frank had left to become a writer.

“Oh Stacey, it’s ok. Thank you.” said Julia, taking the tea and sitting down on the couch in her office. “I just wish it had been more balanced, instead of a complete disaster. I mean, what a waste of time and money, if I can’t even get the votes needed to make sure collars aren’t made of out harmful materials.”

“You’ll find a way to make it work out eventually.” said Stacey, reassuringly. “Drink your tea and let me see if I can find Mr. Noodles.”

Mr. Noodles was a grey tabby that Julia had rescued a few years back, when she was the vice president of the San Francisco SPCA. He’d been her constant companion ever since, and often accompanied her to the office. Julia was happy that she had the privilege to have Mr. Noodles in the office with her, unlike some of her wildlife counterparts, she had a constant reminder of the plight of these creatures, and how every issue mattered.

“Here he is.” said Stacey, coming back into the room “He was napping under your desk like always. I think he just loves that heating vent down there. It’s his bestest friend in the whole world, isn’t it?” she said, as she held Mr. Noodles up to her face. Mr. Noodles, as his name implied had a tendency to go completely slack when he was picked up. So his response to Stacey was his standard ambivalent look. Stacey plopped Mr. Noodles down on Julia’s lap, and he swiftly head-butt her in the stomach. A sure sign he was ready to receive attention.

“Ok. Ok. One second” said Julia, putting down her tea and beginning her usual cuddling routine. Mr. Noodles purred and circled Julia’s lap before finally curling up and closing his eyes. “I can always count on you to have my back no matter what”. Julia sighed. She picked up her tea and sipped it, while continuing liberal petting with the other hand.

“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you Ms. Plat, your brother called while you were in session. He said to remind you that your niece’s birthday is…”

“this weekend” Julia finished. “I didn’t forget.” she said with a smile. “You did send off that gift like I asked right?”

“Of course Ms. Last week. It should be there in time for the party.” said Stacey.

“Well I hope that’s enough. I mean honestly, how much does a seven year old really need?” replied Julia, taking another sip of her tea. As she did there was a knock on the door, heavy and loud. Mr. Noodles sprang up and ran for the other room, almost making Julia spill her tea. He was sometimes a skittish one.

“Oh Noodles.” said Julia, only mildly annoyed. “Come in!” she said, quickly wiping what hair she could off her pants.

As the door swung open the doorway was immediate filled by the body of a tall bearded lumberjack of a man in a brown suit, that Julia immediately recognized as Carl, the senator of bears. Carl was a methodical but aloof senator, whose domain made him hard to predict, but his brusk yet friendly personality made it all seem bearable. Julia grinned at her own pun.

“Julia, I just wanted to pop in and make sure there are no hard feelings about today’s vote” said Carl.

“Oh, no well I just…” Julia began to reply.

“Cause I just want you to know that we wildlife senators have to weigh every issue carefully, as I’m sure you understand.” Carl said, oblivious to having just cut Julia off. “There’s only so much we can do to support the domestic agenda you see. Especially if it’ll distract from the needs of us all.”

Julia could tell Carl was trying to placate her, which was particularly annoying as he was one of the wildlife senators to abstain from today’s vote. It was easy for him to say he didn’t actively vote against her bill, while at the same time being equally responsible for it not passing. So trying to make nice after standing by and watching his colleagues trash her bill was aggravating. But this was the way the senate ran. This was the politics she was becoming accustomed to. Even at this low moment, she had to play the game.

“Well, don’t worry Carl. Everything is fine. You can go back to your friends and reassure them that the ‘Senator of Cats’ (she emphasized with a raised finger) appreciates their votes, regardless of the outcome. It is after all part of the process, and just means I need to do a better job of making my case.”

Carl smiled broadly. “Glad to hear it. Listen there’s a committee coming together soon to address air quality near national refugees, maybe we can add your bill in as a rider, eh? You just think on it now. We’ll be in touch.” He waved and shut the door behind him.

This was how the system worked, and it pissed Julia off. She’d spent months writing a material safety bill that was clean of all riders and provisions outside its mandate for just this reason. The internal politics of congress seemed totally unwilling to let any bill through that didn’t scratch the backs of several interests along the way, and Julia just refused to play that game. That’s why she was so unpopular amongst her counterparts.

“I’ve gotta find a way to get around these obstructions” said Julia calmly into her tea. “I can’t just sit by and let every effort I try to spearhead get waylaid by these jerks.”

With a slight smirk Stacey put an arm around Julia. “Every jerk has their weakness. We’ll just have to find theirs.”

Julia turned, a gleam and smile growing on her face. “You know, you’re a little too good at this sometimes.”

Stacey chuckled. “I’ve been in DC a long time dearie. I’ve seen the best and worst of this place, and you’ve got heart and a passion for progress. Why do you think I took this job?”

“You mean it wasn’t because I’ve got the cuddliest constituents?” said Julia, playfully.

“Well, ok. That too.” replied Stacey, and they both had a giggle.

Julia took a long drink from her tea, and set her cup down on the coffee table with a resolute thump, and said “Ok. Let’s get started!”

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