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Forget the border, party leaders' liking for cats or dogs is big issue on doorsteps

By Rebecca Black

Published 02/05/2016

Martin McGuinness’s dog Buttons
Martin McGuinness’s dog Buttons
First Minister Arlene Foster with her cat Fluffy
Martin McGuinness’s dog Buttons roams around on Derry’s Walls
Mike Nesbitt feeding his chickens
Jim Allister’s dog Flint

With the Stormont election just days away, a new question has exposed the deep divisions that run through politics in Northern Ireland - cats or dogs?

The national question has paled into insignificance, as the would-be MLAs have found themselves quizzed on their first preference pets.

It's not so much their position on the border that counts on the doorsteps, but whether they would prefer a border collie - or a Celtic 'Tiger'.

The debate was sparked after Arlene Foster revealed in a Sunday Times magazine interview that when it comes to canvassing, the First Minister is a pussy cat. She has cast her vote for cats - finding the attention of dogs "a challenge".

The DUP leader's interview described how the normally-unflappable politician suddenly appeared perturbed by the attention of one canine while canvassing.

"At one door, a yappy, enraged little dog suddenly races out at her like an electrified Toto. Foster instinctively recoils, composes herself, walks swiftly to the gate, and then - with the bristling creature snapping at her hand - leans in and dutifully locks the garden gate before walking off.

"It's a small masterclass in keeping your head."

But the First Minister has moved swiftly to diplomatically quash any suggestion that she is anti-dog.

Mrs Foster revealed how a large German Shepherd dog played a big role in her childhood after IRA gunmen attempted to murder her father at their rural Fermanagh farmhouse.

"I grew up on a farm but didn't initially have a dog," she said. "It was only after the Provos tried to shoot daddy that we got a police dog.

"It was a German Shepherd called Sammy. It was our protector. It alerted us when anyone was around. I wouldn't say I have a fear of dogs, but I am more of a cat person."

These days, Mrs Foster and her family enjoy spending time with their pet cat Fluffy.

"Fluffy has been in our home for a number of years," she said.

"She gets to stay in the house when we're at home, but then spends the rest of the time outside or in the garage. It wouldn't be uncommon to come home and find a field mouse at the back door. She likes to explore." On the other side of the fence, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is known to be a dog lover, regularly tweeting pictures of his pet poodle.

Buttons has featured in selfies, been pictured walking the famous Walls of Derry, and even chilling out on the siege cannon known as Roaring Meg.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alliance has a foot in both camps - leader David Ford being a cat man while his deputy Naomi Long is more fond of dogs.

"My family and I own a number of cats, while Naomi Long is a well-known dog owner," Mr Ford said. "I guess the differences in the leadership team on the animal front show Alliance truly is for everyone."

For TUV leader Jim Allister the subject is a poignant one - his beloved dog died last year during the Westminster election campaign.

Golden Retriever Flint had been ill and it was recommended that he be put down at the age of 14. Flint had even starred in TUV election literature and a Christmas card.

And like the election, there are other choices to be made.

While the SDLP and Ulster Unionists declined to respond to our pets poll, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt will no doubt be hoping that the voters flock to him the way his chickens do.

Belfast Telegraph

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