Bosco Ramos didn’t have any political ambitions when his name was tossed into the election ring in 1981 as honorary mayor of Sunol, a small, rural town 45 miles east of San Francisco, California. The black Lab/Rottweiler mix was entered in the mayor’s race by his owner as a joke. The canine politician ran against two other candidates and beat both of them in a landslide.
A favorite of the locals, Bosco spent his days visiting friends around town and lounging around local bars mooching treats. If a bar patron had a little too much to drink, Bosco took it upon himself to take them on a walk to help them sober up. So when Bosco jumped onto the political stage, this well known canine candidate didn’t have to bark up support from most voters. Ordinarily, a dog’s political rise wouldn’t make headlines outside of his town. But Bosco wasn’t an ordinary pup, and he became a symbol of democracy in a country far away from his home in California.
Running as a Re-pup-lican, Bosco’s platform was “dogs were people too” – and his campaign slogan was “A bone in every dish, a cat in every tree, and a fire hydrant on every corner.” The mayor-elect became known as the first dog mayor in America and served with distinction at annual Halloween parades. He also found time to attend social events around town wearing a doggy style tuxedo. His normal attire, however, was a red bandanna neatly tied around his neck.
In between his official duties, the mayor met daily with his constituents, both human and canine. His favorite hangouts were taverns where he enjoyed free handouts and companionship. The mayor was a fun loving canine, but wasn’t bashful in demanding his favorite treat, beef jerky. If someone didn’t share with him, he growled until he got what he wanted. When a December 1987 fire ravaged through the downtown area, many buildings were completely destroyed, including Bosco’s favorite hangout, the 125 year old Lyon’s Brewery Depot. Bosco sat and watched firefighters battle the blaze to no avail. His sad expression somehow rallied the residents and they found hope through their mayor.
Life was good for Bosco. He made appearances on TV, was interviewed by many reporters including Tom Brokaw, and even stumped a panel on a game show who tried to guess his profession. He won $2,000 when they failed. His time in office wasn’t without controversy, however. It seems many dogs in Sunol are related to Bosco through his many flings, and he could be easily bribed with beef jerky or ice cream.
In November 1987, he failed to show up for an interview with a TV crew. People searched the nearby hills, looked in all of his favorite places, and put up wanted posters, but he was nowhere to be found. It was unknown if there was foul play or one of his romantic flings. This wasn’t the first time he had gone missing, but it was the longest he’d been unaccounted for. He finally showed up a week later wagging his tail and carrying a stick in his mouth. He had lost his collar and was a bit skinnier, but otherwise in good spirits. When pressed on his whereabouts, the mayor was closed mouth refusing to discuss his absence.
Bosco became an international symbol of freedom and democracy in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square protests in China. Papers around the world had reported on his election in 1981. When the standoff in Tiananmen Square made headlines worldwide, a Beijing newspaper, The People’s Daily, used his election as propaganda to show why the American system of democracy and free elections didn’t work.
What happened next emphasized the importance of our system of government. During the protests in China, Chinese students from UC Berkeley and Stanford University invited Bosco to protest with them in front of the Chinese Embassy in San Francisco – and he accepted their invitation. This in turn brought journalists from Japan to meet the now famous mayor and his “staff.” The event in San Francisco was covered by news services in Holland and Germany, and a Tibetan priest arrived to request a meeting with Bosco. American democracy once again triumphed over propaganda.
Bosco served as mayor of Sunol until his death in 1994 at the age of 15. A bronze statue of the famous dog mayor sits in the downtown area. People continue to stop in Sunol asking about Bosco. His time in office as the honorary mayor was meant to be a joke, but as it turned out he became internationally known as the mascot of freedom and democracy. The beloved mayor may be gone, but his spirit lives on in Sunol, California.
Read more articles by Linda Cole