I'm not in the habit of endorsing political candidates, but I'll make an exception this time. I urge you to vote for Ballari the dog for Pet Mayor of Piedmont.

Ballari, who is one of 20 dogs and cats running for the office, is a sweet, 9-year-old Siberian husky whose first six years were a nightmare. He was tied by a rope to a stake in somebody's back yard and neglected 24/7.

But three years ago, he was adopted by Sarah Kidder of Oakland. At first, he wouldn't look you in the eye, didn't know how to play, and got confused whenever anyone tried to pet him.

But under her loving care, he has blossomed into a sweet, gentle bundle of love, especially with little kids. And get this: HE SMILES ALL THE TIME! He positively radiates joy!

So how can you vote for him (or any of the candidates)? By donating to the Montclair Pet and Wildlife Fund. Each dollar earns you a vote. Donate $500, and you'll get 500 votes. The primary election runs through the month of June, after which the top nine finalists will compete in a general election. The winner will be announced July 21.

And you couldn't ask for a worthier cause. The fund cares for the animals who fall through the cracks -- the baby birds who fall out of the nest, the baby squirrel or opossum who has been abandoned by its mother, the deer that has been hit by a car.

"Last year we treated a Peking duck that had escaped from Chinatown and a snake that was found nearly frozen to death in Lake Temescal," says Lee Richter, who -- along with her husband, Gary, the veterinarian at Montclair Veterinary Hospital and its Oakland counterpart, Holistic Veterinary Care -- founded the Pet and Wildlife Fund 10 years ago. "We were able to save them both and find new homes for them -- the duck in a private home and the snake at the Oakland Zoo."

Every year, Lee and Gary spend about $80,000 out of their own pockets to help these animals, and the Piedmont Pet Mayor contest usually raises about a third of that. It used to be the Montclair Pet Mayor contest, but this year, it was switched to Piedmont.

Each candidate is sponsored by a local merchant. Ballari is sponsored by Black Swan Books on Piedmont Avenue. You can cast your ballot(s) for him there, or you can vote for any of the candidates at Petandwildlifefund.org.

And he has some formidable competition, including Nala, a pit bull mix who inspires people every day by demonstrating that having only three legs doesn't get in the way of living a full and happy life; Mini, an English bulldog with a huge underbite (her platform is oral hygiene for pets); and Riley, a Chug Weenie (Chihuahua-pug-weiner dog, aka dachshund) who loves beets, carrots and Point Isabel, not necessarily in that order.

Each candidate has its own Facebook page, and many of them will make special appearances at their sponsoring businesses or doing guest bartender stints at Park Avenue Bar & Grill or Monaghan's On The Hill. (Check the fund's website for dates.) Ballari will appear at Black Swan Books on Father's Day from 2 to 4 p.m.

"I like that the fund helps creatures who don't have a voice," Kidder says. "For so long, Ballari didn't have a voice or anyone to help him."

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.