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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

By Their Pets Ye Shall Know Them

Undecided voters of Russia, some advice: Judge a presidential candidate by his pets.


Take Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party. Gruff, barrel-chested, tough-talking, he's a man few people can imagine owning any animal that can't maim on command or chew through brick. But in fact, Zyuganov has more of a taste for cuddling than most people think.


"Gennady Andreyevich has a perfectly adorable, fluffy, affectionate cat named Vasika," said Communist spokeswoman Irina Makayeva. "And he plays with it all the time."


Throughout history, pets have always reflected the personalities of their owners. 19th-century British artist William Hogarth, after completing an engraved self-portrait, was astonished to find that the face he'd drawn was identical to that of his French bulldog. And while Eva Braun only needed cyanide to die, Hitler's beloved German Shepherd Blondi, like the Fuhrer himself, resisted cyanide and had to be finished off in the surely stemmed from his love of dogs.


"Grigory Alexeyevich has two dogs, a mutt and a purebred German Shepherd," said a spokesman for Yabloko. "But he loves the mutt just as much as he loves the shepherd."


Not all candidates are so egalitarian in their affections, however. Retired General Alexander Lebed may recognize the political necessity of appealing to both cat and dog owners, but that doesn't mean he'll give up being a man's man for the sake of the polls.


"Alexander Ivanovich has an English Sheepdog named Chesvik. He does not hunt with Chesvik. He is also the owner of a small, attractive cat named Kuza," a Lebed spokesman announced officiously.


Does he love the dog more, or the cat?


"What, are you crazy? The dog, of course," the spokesman said.


Much like his campaign, the story of Mikhail Gorbachev's pet ownership is a tale of pathos and sentimentality. Gorbachev is the proud owner of Daisy, an "apricot-colored poodle" whom he sees mostly on weekends, as the dog spends most of his time with Gorbachev's daughter Irina.


The ex-president may not win the election, his spokesmen say, but he is at the very least a dog owner at last


"Of course, like everyone else, Mikhail Sergeyevich had dogs as a child," said Viktor Valikov of the Gorbachev Fund. "But as general secretary, you understand -- there's just wasn't the time. Now, however..."


Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's pet history is likewise a tale of triumph over adversity.


"He had a dog, but it perished," said Liberal Democratic Party spokesman Viktor Filatov in a hushed voice, declining to elaborate. "Now he has a majestic horse."


How often does he ride?


"Every day," said Filatov. "You know how it is. You come home from work, you get on, you ride."


When tragedy and deep personal ties are lacking between a man and his pet, a master can always resort to sheer resolute acquisitiveness to fill the void in his home life. Vladimir Bryntsalov's handlers needed a half hour to research the full extent of their leader's pet ownership, but when the list was finally faxed from the Bryntsalov home, it read like the menu of a Gogolian landowner:


"His pets are: one red Persian cat named Bazlilio, an adult Rottweiler, an adult Caucasian Shepherd, a Caucasian Shepherd puppy, seven hens, one rooster, rabbits (undetermined number), guinea pigs and crickets," read a Bryntsalov spokeswoman.


We can vouch for the cat.


President Boris Yeltsin's press office does not provide information about his pets, but if he does not yet have any, he might want to consider picking some up before June 16. As Makayeva said, "A real man of the people should be able to have a pet and love him."