WASHINGTON — Dogs wagged their tails as religious leaders hugged each other inside the Cannon House Office Building's Caucus Room Wednesday.

In the same room where Code Pink protesters heckled Gen. David Petraeus as he testified on the Iraq war in September, and where decades ago Congress decided to investigate the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, and where Frank Sinatra was a witness on organized crime, religious leaders brought a basic message: Be kind to animals.

The Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, the nation's largest no-kill animal shelter, created the different atmosphere as it brought together 15 religious leaders from various sects to Washington to sign its "Religious Proclamation of Animal Compassion." The proclamation's authors want to get a million signatures by 2009.

"Kindness is one of the best expressions of the Golden Rule: to treat others how you want to be treated," said Michael Mountain, president of the Best Friends Animal Society, standing before a photo backdrop of tiny kittens and smiling dogs.

As the four-legged visitors made their way around the room greeting other participants, House members from the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus talked about their own pets and the need for an overall better attitude in how people treat animals.

"The way a society treats its animals speaks to the core values and priorities of its citizens," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who co-chairs the caucus with Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif.

Lantos, who brought his dog to work Wednesday, sponsored the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. He said he could never leave his dog behind in the event of a similar disaster and is glad to see the law is working as fires in California left people — and animals — without homes.

"Kindness to animals builds a better world for all of us," Lantos said.

While 15 religious leaders signed the document Wednesday, 32 co-authors created the proclamation, including two participants who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members of the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Baptists and other religions.

"In a world of increasing violence towards others, ourselves, and our environment, we believe it is essential to reclaim and recover a commitment of compassion for all life," the proclamation states.

The authors met in Utah in July — during the height of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's legal drama over dog fighting at his home — to discuss the idea of creating the proclamation, Mountain said. He constantly heard from people as he discussed better treatment of animals that they wished it was talked about in their churches, synagogues, mosques or other places of worship.

"Real change is driven far more by the faith community than anybody else," Mountain said.

The proclamation declares that the authors from the various religious backgrounds are "united in our belief that animals have intrinsic value as part of God's creation and are entitled to live lives free of cruelty and exploitation."

The authors want people of "all faiths" to join together to speak on behalf of the animals against cruel acts such as animal fighting for entertainment, aggressive breeding for profit or pet owners refusing to spay or neuter their pets.

Beyond common household dogs and cats, the proclamation goes on to encourage people to make better food choices by reducing meat consumption — not just to save animals but to reduce the effects of factory farms and the food industry on the environment. The authors also want people to end animal testing, boycott companies that destroy wildlife habitats or forests, buy from local farms and support companies and businesses that encourage humane treatment of animals.

"We've been truly inspired by the faith leaders who worked together to create this historic document," said Paul Berry, chief executive officer of Best Friends. "Our interest in facilitating this effort was to encourage religious communities to promote compassion toward all living things, including animals."

The idea now is for the religious leaders to take the proclamation to their home congregations or other groups to encourage them to sign it. The organizers stressed that signing on does not mean the entire religion has endorsed the plan, but they hope to reach that point.

People who want to sign the proclamation or learn more about it can visit www.bestfriends.org/signproc.

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com