When I met First Dog Sutter Brown, he was joyfully rolling in goose poop at McKinley Park in 2013. He was very inquisitive in his Giants collar, running constantly and checking out everything.
My late friend Rex Babin talked to me about Sutter. He even did a cartoon or two about the corgi that California’s governor had adopted. But it wasn’t until I moved to Sacramento that I saw how popular Sutter was. He was a constant presence in the Capitol, a building full of serious people who lightened up when they saw him.
When I was in Oregon, I did a lot of cartoons about OR-7, the peripatetic wolf looking for love on the Oregon-California border, and I was vaguely looking for another animal wisecracker like him in California.
I wish I could say that my canonization/canineization of Sutter was my own idea; it wasn’t. A wonderful friend of Rex’s and mine suggested that I turn Sutter into a character.
Being new in town, I was happy to try out Sutter as a little Greek chorus figure, a comedian to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Latin-speaking Jesuitical straight man.
Then, Sutter attended my 53rd birthday party, where I hardly knew anyone, and the First Dog’s attendance was something I truly will never forget. How often does a cartoonist’s character come to life?
Sutter was by far the star attraction; everyone wanted their picture taken with him, and he would obligingly loll with his corgi grin.
As an editorial cartoon character, Sutter’s evolution was subtle. I found him difficult to draw at first, and corgis traditionally aren’t known for wearing blue suits. A friend in the Governor’s Office said there was some idle chat about Brown’s next oil portrait, and it was suggested that Sutter be included, in his blue suit.
Sutter was by far the No. 1 thing readers asked me about. He had about 9,000 more Twitter followers than I had, and I was always happy to be Sutter’s press secretary.
Of course, I assigned traits to Sutter that he didn’t have, but I always sensed that in real life he was a bit of comic relief in the Brown household.
When I won the Pulitzer Prize last year, I was proud to tell people that Sutter was indeed part of the entry, making him the only dog to win. And Sutter is on display in the Newseum in Washington, D.C., making new best friends there as well.
Upon hearing that Sutter was very sick, I cried. I had only seen him a few times, but he had crawled into my heart like all pets do, even if you don’t own one. My wonderful cat died a few months ago, unexpectedly and right in my wife’s arms, and I know how profoundly sad the Browns must be.
I have met the governor twice, and I have never met Anne Gust Brown. But I suspect we’d have a lot to talk about.
We loved the same pet.