California State Senate President pro Tempore
California State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins grew up surrounded by animals with a strong sense of compassion. She shared with us how her furry friends have shaped her life over the years, including her current dogs and how they keep her centered.
When did your love of animals begin?
I grew up in rural Virginia, so animals, both domestic and livestock, were integral to daily life. Our bird dog, Kaw Liga, was a hunting dog, but we made him our family pet. And I loved our hogs! My sister and I had the daily chore of feeding them (“slopping the hogs,” as we used to say). And we also had a pony that my dad rescued.
And growing up around so many animals, have any made a lasting impact on your life?
Shiloh changed my life. He was my first long-term dog. I got him as a puppy and had him for 17 years. I learned the valuable lesson of saying goodbye and having to decide to let him go when it was his time.
Then there was Haley, our standard poodle who was the absolute sweetest dog. I learned – from Shiloh – not to take for granted the special moments and time I had with her. I rescued her after she lived in a previous home where she just wasn’t loved. She taught me a different lesson of how much our pets give to us in their early years, and what a true gift it is to love and care for them. And as they age, they depend on us to care for them, and to ensure a quality end of life.
And now, what pets are part of your life and how do they fit into your life?
I have 1 year-old Mia and 9 year-old Joey. We rescued our dog Joey after we found him on the streets. There are so many great animals that need love and companionship and in return, provide us with the same incredible gift. You just need to look into their eyes and see the love they have to give.
My dogs are a part of my healthy lifestyle. They motivate me to find time every day to exercise. We walk up to four miles a day, together. And no matter what my day is like, when I walk through the door, those first few moments at home are the happiest of the day. The pure joy and love in a greeting from Mia and Joey reminds me to stop and savor it. To be in the moment.
Have the dogs been able to join in the world of politics?
Joey had the honor of serving as First Dog TWICE when I served as acting Governor in July 2014 and again in October 2019. It was on October 12, 2019 that Joey and I declared the day as Free Senior Pet Adoption Day at the San Diego Humane Society. It’s was a special day for us both.
How are you making a difference for animals in your personal life and in your career?
I am committed to being a part of local, national and international organizations that advocate, care for and support all animals, including the San Diego Humane Society. It is also important to support conservation efforts that protect natural habitats and protect endangered species.
I also have been fortunate to be in a leadership role that allows me to sponsor legislation to protect animals. While I was in the Assembly, I authored Assembly Bill 96, which strengthens enforcement against the illegal ivory trade in California, bolstering our state’s fight against the illegal slaughter of elephants and rhinos.
Published: March 15, 2021