Downtime

Mayor Bud

In Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, a French bulldog named Wilbur has won a heated race to be the town mayor.

Wilbur the dog standing on a plank of wood, with a VOTE sign in the background
Wilbur, the victorious French bulldog. Rabbit Hash Historical Society via Facebook

In the weeks before the election, my neighbors really got into the yard sign wars: Days after one house put out a Trump sign, the three houses surrounding theirs adorned their yards with multiple Black Lives Matter and Biden-Harris signs. Other neighbors went for a snarkier vibe: “Any Functioning Adult 2020” was a popular choice, as well as my personal favorite: “Dogs 2020.”

Luckily, some dreams still do come true. In Rabbit Hash, Kentucky—a town with 12 buildings and a handful of full-time residents—dogs did, indeed, win in 2020. Last night, the town’s ambassador, Lady Stone, a black-and-white border collie, announced the results of “the most important election that happened this year”: French bulldog Wilbur was elected the town mayor. (His stance on the issues? “Give me liberty or give me … milkbones.”)

Wilbur is officially the fifth Rabbit Hash dog mayor, running a tough race against incumbent Brynneth Pawltro, a smiley pitbull elected in 2016. Before Mayor Brynn, there was border collie Lucy Lou, elected the same day as Barack Obama (slogan: “the bitch you can count on”); black lab Junior; and the inaugural dog mayor, a mutt named Goofy (slogan: “if you can’t eat or fuck it, piss on it”). These elections have been a town tradition since Goofy became Rabbit Hash’s first-ever elected mayor of any species in 1998.

The “election” serves as a fundraiser for the town’s historical society, which maintains buildings and oversees town events. (The results are not, um, state-sanctioned.) But it’s also a political statement: Votes are a dollar each, which is just a more transparent way of representing political races, at least according to Bobbi Kayser, president of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society (and, perhaps just as important, Lucy Lou’s person). “We encourage multiple votes and we also encourage drinking at the polls, because people are a lot more free with their wallets,” she said.

It’s also a welcome distraction from the messiness of higher-profile elections for the greater area’s residents, whose beliefs span the political spectrum. Kentucky is solidly conservative—particularly areas outside its major cities, Louisville and Lexington—but Rabbit Hash is “an interesting little slice of America,” as Kayser put it. There are wealthy conservatives in the area, but also a vibrant arts community that leans liberal. Jordie Bamforth, outgoing Mayor Brynn’s person, says she was drawn to the town through its barn dances in the summer, a community belly dancing troupe, musical showcases outside the town’s general store, and a nearby winery. “It’s definitely a place where the black sheep congregate,” she said.

In my brief time in Rabbit Hash, those black sheep were some of the most gracious hosts. I ended up there on New Year’s Eve 2004, when a few friends and I ditched a party in suburban Louisville and decided to visit whichever Kentucky town had the best name. (The other contenders that night were Monkey’s Eyebrow and Big Beaver Lick.) When we rolled up to the Rabbit Hash barn, we weren’t sure how strange city teens might be received, but we were grateful to discover the small party we found was determined to show us a good time. Inside, a band covered the Grateful Dead, and our new friends Tom and Dwayne led us to the back porch where the Ohio River glinted in the moonlight. Around 3 a.m., they insisted on opening up the old general store so we could have a peek inside.

It wasn’t until we got home the next day that we learned the town was known for its dog mayors. (At the time, Junior was running the show.) Years later, that good hospitality—and notoriety for its lighthearted tradition—became good karma for the town. In February 2016, the old general store I had visited years ago was destroyed in a fire, and the folks who know and love Rabbit Hash pitched in more than $20,000 in donations to rebuild it. The building, which Bamforth called the town’s “heart and soul,” reopened in 2017, and still serves as a central depot for tourists, townsfolk, and official mayoral candidate photos alike.

This year, the Rabbit Hash elections raised another $22,985 for the historical society, with Wilbur bringing in more than $13,000 of the total. If this is all too pure for you and you need some low-stakes drama, big news broke on the eve of Election Day: Four contestants—a human, a dead cat, and two dogs—ceded their votes to Poppy, the general store owner’s dog. (The rules for candidacy, according to Kayser, allow for any biped or quadruped, as long as you can chase a rabbit from your residence to the center of Rabbit Hash in one hour’s time.) Other candidates included Smokey the Rooster and Higgins the jackass. At the time of publication, it appears Brynn has not yet officially conceded to Wilbur, but the town anticipates a peaceful transition of power.