Author, special canine assistant and “First Dog of Montana,” Jag pricked up his ears at the sound of two sharp whistles from his owner, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, and stood to attention. Moments before, the three-year-old Border Collie and near-constant companion of the first-term governor had been at his appointed post, napping under the governor’s desk. In what was surely a dream about herding squirrels on the state capitol’s lawn, Jag’s legs twitched and the corner of his mouth rose. Now, recalled from such fantasies, it was time to put his paws to Senate Bill 22, an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program sponsored by Senator Dan Weinberg (D), of Whitefish, Mont. As members of both parties looked on, Jag draped his just slightly grass-stained paws over the bipartisan legislation and smiled.
Born April 7, 2004, on a remote ranch in Whitefish, Jag is a rising star in the Democratic Party. The last pup in a litter of eight, he moved to the state capital of Helena when the newly elected Schweitzer took office. Since then, Jag has gained the hearts and minds of liberals and conservatives alike, charming the historically red state with his one blue eye and one brown eye. Politically neutral (his main concern is preserving squirrel habitat) and socially liberal (he’s fixed), Jag stands high with the citizenry; a recent poll shows Jag’s approval rating at 80 percent—a howling ten points higher than Schweitzer’s—and he has name recognition that exceeds Montana’s lone congressman, Republican Dennis Rehberg.
With a Border Collie’s quick intelligence and a sharp nose for lobbyists, Jag has become a permanent fixture in the capitol building. He’s also “author” of the briskly selling book First Dog: Unleashed in the Montana Capital, a children’s book that explains the workings of government to future voters (ages seven to nine). Written by Jessica Solberg and illustrated by Robert Rath, the hardcover sold 1,000 copies in five days. “What I like most about the book,” says Schweitzer, “is the vision of all across Montana, in all the Republican homes, they’re tucking their nine-year-olds into bed, and the kids are saying, ‘Please, please, read me the story about Jag again.’”
The Political Rodeo
The sign on the door reads “Office of the Governor.” And below that, “Caution—Area Patrolled by Border Collie Security Co.”
Brian Schweitzer, “a member of my human family,” as he is called in the book, is the 23rd governor of Montana. He is the epitome of the straight-talking, straight-shooting, western Democrat; a blue jeans and bolo tie-wearing, six-foot-two, 205-pounder who isn’t afraid to drink cheap beer or good whiskey, or tell a ribald joke.
When Schweitzer showed up for his first day of work at the capital wearing jeans, with Jag trailing along behind, the Republicans tried to spin it as “disrespecting the office.” The strategy, predictably, backfired. In a lot of ways, Montana is a dog culture, a kind of exaggerated kennel—147,000 square miles where cattle outnumber people three to one and everyone has a dog. “To criticize a guy who wears jeans and brings his dog to work, I mean, in Montana? Not so smart,” Schweitzer quips.
Since the inaugural celebration, Jag has accompanied the governor nearly everywhere he goes, posing for photos with a cow dog’s exceptional dignity and calm. Jag’s only faux pa[w]s so far has been to leave a quick scent mark in a camera woman’s bag, “But that was just to show the other girls who was his favorite,” Schweitzer volunteers.
“He’s the one with the brains and good looks,” Schweitzer likes to say. “People ask for him. If I go places without him, people are disappointed. If I show up with him, he gets all the attention. I think he gets more Christmas presents than the entire staff put together, and I don’t even know if he’s a Christian. I mean, I think he is, but we haven’t had that conversation.”
More importantly, is Jag a Democrat? “Oh, he’s a Democrat,” Schweitzer says. “He’s a Democrat because (a) he’s very smart and (b) he’s a working dog.”