A group of legislators wants to enshrine the Labrador retriever as the official dog breed of Minnesota, touching off a debate Tuesday about which kind is best to represent the state.

“These dogs are good looking, they’re sleek, they’re sinewy, they’re fast, they’re strong,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, noting his son has a black Lab named Watson. “They’re the exemplar dog for a symbol for the state of Minnesota.”

Under the proposal, the notably smart, friendly breed would join other Minnesota staples such as hockey, walleye and wild rice on the official list of state “symbols.” As it stands, just 12 states nationwide have designated a state dog.

A poodle breeder is not convinced, however.

“Why does Minnesota need an official state dog? There are no dogs that are indigenous to our state,” said Sandy Vance, owner of Poodle Sense in Harris, Minn. She noted that Minnesota has failed six times to adopt the Eastern timber wolf as the state animal.

Supporters see the proposal as a way to bring some bipartisan levity to a session dominated by more serious debates on issues like the budget and taxes.

“Look at the dogs here, they’re having a great time getting along together,” Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said as several Labs sniffed tails and appealed for belly rubs at a news conference at the State Capitol. “Maybe we should take that as our example.”

Supporters also hope interest in the proposal will raise awareness for service and rescue animals and encourage children to learn about the legislative process. To that aim, they launched a website, www.mnstatedog.org, that students can use to track the measure through the legislative process.

The measure’s rollout attracted support from legislators representing both sides of the aisle, and a range of dog breeds. Ruud said her therapy dog, Jasmine, is a Labradoodle. Sen. Karin Housley, R-Saint Marys Point, and Tomassoni both own Shih Tzus.

Despite differing pet preferences, they agreed Labs have a strong case for earning the state designation. Supporters cited the breed’s love of the outdoors, its reputation as reliable service animals and its rank as the most popular dog in Minnesota by the American Kennel Club.

Whether Labs are beloved enough to win the support to pass Minnesota’s divided Legislature remains in doubt.

Leaders in the DFL-controlled House did not respond to a request for comment on the idea and Gov. Tim Walz, currently on the hunt for a new family dog, has not weighed in.

Supporters are bracing for more backlash from aficionados of competing canine breeds.

“We all know this will open a Pandora’s box because everybody loves their dog,” said Ron Schara, a longtime Lab owner who hosted the outdoor show “Minnesota Bound” alongside his dog, Raven.

Indeed, a reporter’s post in a Facebook group for Twin Cities dog owners quickly attracted dozens of comments, many fervently arguing that other types are more deserving. “No other breed could withstand today. … Huskies all the way!” one commenter quipped of the cold blanketing the state this week. Others favored honoring rescue pets: “Not a specific breed, but [an] act of extra-human kindness that will give us some great PR as a state.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the international animal rights group, is also urging lawmakers to promote the “humble, healthy, and 100 percent lovable All-American mutt,” instead.

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said while the “move is likely well intentioned, it would spell disaster for many dogs and for Minnesota’s already overburdened animal shelters” by increasing demand for purebred Labs.

For a day anyway, the dogs roaming the Capitol united Democrats and Republicans alike.

House Republican leader Kurt Daudt, said the lighthearted nature of the measure is not the kind of thing he’d normally support.

“But everyone at the Capitol knows, I’m the biggest dog lover in the world,” the Crown Republican said as his Lab Lucy sat obediently nearby. “It’s an excuse to bring some dogs to the Capitol and make people happy.”