(Bloomberg) -- What’s the easiest way to get “likes”? Post a puppy photo. And with pets nearly outnumbering humans in Italy, social media-savvy politicians, chief among them Matteo Salvini of the League and Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi, are latching onto animal lovers in a bid to get votes.
Former-Premier Berlusconi, who recently confessed he shares his bedroom with as many as nine dogs, is known as the first Italian politician to play up his support for animal rights and post pictures of himself with his pets.
The media magnate, just out of the hospital following intestinal surgery, is giving it all he has to make the center-right Forza Italia relevant again in the run-up to Sunday’s European Parliament elections, and he may be hoping for help from the owners of Italy’s 60.3 million pets.
“I’ve been fighting for years for our animal pets and their rights,” Berlusconi said in a three-minute Facebook video May 19. “They’re our companions on this planet, in our homes. They have no voice but they can feel and suffer like us and they deserve to be protected.”
Berlusconi, who’s back as a candidate after a ban on running for office due to a tax conviction, boasted that he raised penalties for animal abuse when he was premier. The 82-year-old said puppy love isn’t just a vote-getting gambit, “it’s a recurring and fundamental part” of Forza Italia’s program.
But Salvini, who lays claim to being Italy’s top dog as the country’s most popular politician, has refused to be outdone. The League leader on Wednesday took a break from his normal campaign activities of rabble rousing, illegal migrant-bashing and ripping the Brussels elite to put in an appearance at a kennel in the southern city of Bari, complete with TV interviews and live Facebook videos.
Salvini then took to Twitter to announce that his interior ministry has earmarked 1 million euros ($1.1 million) for quality checks on kennels and for programs to prevent abandonment of animals, a chronic problem among Italian pet owners leaving on summer holidays. He also vowed to double sentences for animal abusers.
“How can you not love animals,” Salvini tweeted, adding dog and cat emoticons. “Pet your cat or dog right now.” Salvini, known for his gruff, confrontational style, just may have convinced a few voters that his bark is worse than his bite.
--With assistance from Dan Liefgreen.
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