In recent weeks, dogs have made news for surfing and their contributions to the war on school bullying — and now they're entering the political arena. In San Francisco, the city's sizable population of dog owners is working to exert its influence on the upcoming Nov. 8 mayoral election. Here's what you should know:

How much political influence do dogs have in San Francisco?
A fair amount. It's estimated that 150,000 dogs live in the city, compared to just 108,000 children. "So it stands to reason dog owners carry a lot of clout," says USA Today. Dog owners have even formed a political action committee, DogPAC, dedicated to the health and welfare of dogs. Over the weekend, DogPAC held a forum that was attended by seven of the 16 mayoral candidates. "We expect the dog vote to be a game-changer," says DogPAC president Bruce Wolfe.

What are the issues facing San Francisco's dogs?
One key debate: Whether the city should ban dogs from large areas of parkland, including parts of the 75,400-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, to protect plants and wildlife. The Parks Service is considering fencing off some popular areas, and mandating leashes in open areas. "Time after time our bird-counters will tell us that in the areas opened up to dogs — the birds have disappeared," says the Golden Gate Audubon Society's Mark Welther. Other doggy issues include the cost of pet licenses, the shortage of pet-friendly rental properties, and the availability of trash cans in parks so dog owners can easily dispose of waste.

What are candidates doing to appeal to dog owners?
Mayoral candidate and dog owner Joanna Rees held her own "Bark in the Park" forum. "Open lines of communication between City Hall and pet owners — as with merchants, educators, parents, working families and other stakeholder groups — are the foundation of good policy," she says. Other candidates have made note of their puppy politics on their websites. "Making San Francisco a family friendly city means recognizing the multitude of ways in which we define families," says candidate and city attorney Dennis Herrera on his website. "That includes dogs and companion animals."

Are puppy politics biting any candidates?
Incumbent mayor Ed Lee didn't attend the DogPAC forum, and was swatted for it by another mayoral candidate, city supervisor John Avalos. "His Rose Garden strategy of avoiding debates and forums is keeping him from engaging with a group of real, engaged, and powerful San Francisco voters," Avalos said. On Monday, DogPAC announced that it would endorse Avalos, saying he "best represented the issues about which the city's 150,000 dog owners are concerned."

Sources: Associated Press (2) (3), USA Today