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Sacramento's first dog is on cloud canine

Sutter, Gov. Brown's 7-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi, is a bona fide celebrity in the Capitol. He's even become a fixture at budget negotiations.

March 27, 2011|By Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento — Hollywood can have Schwarzenegger. Sacramento has Sutter.

In a company town with little pizzazz but lots of lawmakers squabbling over the state's financial mess, Gov. Jerry Brown's 7-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi has become a bona fide celebrity.

For months, California's first dog has starred in feverish blog posts and front-page news stories. Legislators and lobbyists fawn over the stocky little brown-and-white canine. He's become a fixture in budget negotiations — actually sitting at the bargaining table once — and a people magnet on his daily walks.

"Everybody knows him," Brown boasted last week as he trailed his wife and Sutter in the park that surrounds the Capitol. "He's a cut above most of the other mutts he encounters."

From Nixon's Checkers to Obama's Bo, political pets have long fascinated the public. Sutter, with some help from the Brown administration, is a tech-age phenomenon, with a sizable social media following and growing chops as a political animal. Even hardened legislators melt when he's around, if only for the relief he provides from budget talks and the way he softens the sometimes-prickly governor.

The dog belonged to Brown's sister, Kathleen, a Goldman Sachs executive who moved from San Francisco to Chicago last year, and the governor had been reluctant to adopt him. Brown's longtime pet, a black Lab named Dharma, died last year — and by comparison, the governor said, Sutter resembled "half a rat."

"I don't like small dogs as a general rule," Brown said.

But Sutter has grown on him as the dog has enlivened the suite of gubernatorial offices known as the "horseshoe" because of its shape. The dog has the run of the place — literally.

When staffers eating lunch hear jingling, they know Sutter is sniffing out snacks, particularly his favorite: bacon. They've been so happy to oblige him that the Browns had to issue an internal memo: No more feeding Sutter.

Meanwhile, the Capitol press corps, hungry for news on the new administration, had started blogging about Sutter. Steve Glazer, Brown's political advisor, fed the appetite by posting Twitter updates: "No accidents — yet, good at finding old candy behind desks, only barks when people knock on doors." One post included a photo of Brown and Sutter with famed primatologist Jane Goodall.

Last month, Brown's wife, Anne, christened Sutter as California's first dog in an impromptu ceremony on the Capitol steps, attracting a throng of reporters and photographers and creating at least as much buzz as the state hiring freeze her husband declared that day.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a column written, with a wink, from the dog's perspective ("Wags say that Dad can be too cerebral …. But everyone loves me"). The Sacramento Bee ran an editorial giving Sutter advice on navigating the halls of power ("Don't be a yapper.…If he catches you barking out state secrets, it could be straight to the doghouse for you").

Not everyone appreciated the publications' humor.

"Dogs dogs dogs," one reader wrote in a letter to the Bee. "… All the newspapers had dogs on the front page today for various stupid reasons."

A recent picture on Sutter's Facebook page showed him with a completed NCAA basketball bracket (he correctly picked Gonzaga over George Mason). The site, maintained by the governor and first lady, lists his religion as Zen Jesuit, "although I am not burdened with dogma (but I do like dog bones)." His political affiliation is Whig: "practical and not carried away by the barking constituencies."

An anonymous admirer gave him an unofficial voice on Twitter, where he trades notes with Brown staffers and promotes a line of merchandise, ostensibly to help close the state's budget deficit. Among his more than 1,300 followers are the governor and his wife, legislative aides, political consultants and lawmakers — including Republicans who have little in common with Brown.

"I dig the corgi," said one of those followers, state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, a Richvale Republican. "Sutter might be a good ambassador here to keep conversations from breaking down."

The leader of the Senate's minority Republicans, Bob Dutton, is a dog-lover from Rancho Cucamonga. He's so fond of Sutter that he carried the canine to a GOP caucus meeting last month. Earlier, Sutter had parked himself at Dutton's feet while the lawmaker and Brown discussed the budget.

"He's a cute little guy," Dutton said. "These are not real pleasant times for anybody. Sutter kind of makes you feel like it will be all right."

Some lobbyists apparently agree. While Sutter was taking a walk last week, Paula Treat, an energy and tribal lobbyist, squealed at the sight of him and crouched down to pet him.

Like a seasoned politician, Sutter was unmoved until she dangled something he wanted. She broke out a bag of fat-free liver snacks, and Sutter was soon on his back, basking in a belly rub.

With Brown still seeking Republican support for his plan to put billions of dollars in tax extensions on the ballot, he joked about Sutter's early years on an Idaho farm, herding cattle.

"He likes to make sure everybody's together," Brown said. "He's a role model for more collaborative living."

The governor has also suggested other ways for the corgi to pass the time.

When the California Republican Party challenged Brown recently to debate anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist at its convention, the governor declined.

He offered to send Sutter instead.

michael.mishak@latimes.com

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