Town's pampered pooch eats up the attention : Community opens its hearts--and refrigerators--to stray hound dog. Now, he's found fame as well.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He ain't, to borrow a phrase, nothin' but a hound dog. Still Dodger, the porky pooch who seemed to waddle in from nowhere three years ago, is surely the biggest publicity hound ever to pause at this fire plug-sized town.

"He didn't save anybody from a burning building, he didn't rescue any drowning children from a river," chuckled Brenda Hansen, poring over a scrapbook of the dog's latest press clippings and fan mail down at the Horseshoe Inn.

Indeed, just about all the low-slung, 59-pound brown and black basset hound knows how to do well is eat. Actually, that's not all he does well. But more on that later.

Once upon a time, Deweese was just another little dusty farm hamlet near the Kansas border consisting of nothing more than a bar, a post office, a grain elevator and about 70 friendly neighbors.

Then one day somebody dumped a little puppy near town, but not before trying to shoot it. Judging by the scar it left, the bullet just grazed the dog's nose. Hence, the name Dodger. Some people also call him Ed, the local name for anything that people can't think of the name of.

Dodger started showing up on doorsteps begging for a handout. Soon, just about everybody in town was leaving a bowl of water and some treats out on the porch. Depending on the weather, he'd split his nights between different porches, decks and sheds. Then Dodger started showing up at all the local events.

When there was a dance at the beer garden back of the Horseshoe, there'd be Dodger. When the town board convened over at the elevator, Dodger plunked himself in the middle of the city fathers, and eventually they started recording his presence in the minutes. A community dog house was erected for Dodger on Main Street.

On Sunday mornings, he would grace the faithful at both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Christ. A couple of years ago, he even forced a temporary delay in the annual demolition derby when he sauntered out onto the track.

"Every time you light your barbecue, it's just understood that you put on an extra burger for Dodger," said Jo Ann Bischoff. "Every time you have a birthday party, you set out an extra bowl of ice cream and cake."

His routine is pretty much set. In the mornings, he heads down to the bar about 6 o'clock to catch the early morning coffee crowd. Then it's over to the bus stop to see the kids off to school. About 8 a.m., he joins Norma and Leo Skolka for their morning constitutional into the countryside. Then it's back for a stroll up Main Street to scout the food bowls outside all the houses.

Midday finds him under the Bischoffs' walnut tree for a little squirrel chasing, then it's off to Shirley Lambert's at supper time because she puts out the best spread. Then it's off to the bar till closing time. In the summer, he spends the nights on Lambert's porch because it's cool, or sometimes under Rose Hansen's deck.

Anyway, nobody here thought much about any of this until a few months ago when the daily paper up in Hastings, Neb., got wind of it and did a little story. That led to a piece distributed nationwide on the Associated Press wire. Then television stations started flooding in. And then the trash media picked it up.

"A Current Affair," the sensationalistic Fox network magazine show, came to town in August and, according to residents, cooked up the idea of having the local sheriff deputize Dodger and the mayor present him with the key to the city. Jeff Erdel, a spokesman for the program, denied staging any events. About the same time, someone from a supermarket tabloid showed up and arranged for the town's children to pose with Dodger around a big Styrofoam birthday cake.

Not that anyone here minds the publicity. The community club has hit on Dodger's renown as a fund-raising tool in its drive to build a new home to hold dances and wedding receptions and the like. A month after the tabloid left, the club drew several hundred area residents to another birthday bash for Dodger --the date was picked at random--and raised $2,500. Dodger T-shirts, calendars and beer can holders are on sale at the Horseshoe, as is a community cookbook that includes a recipe for Dodger's favorite dog biscuit.

Meanwhile, letters have been flooding in from admirers far and wide, some of them suggestive. Bubbles, a 6-year-old basset from Omaha, sent her picture. Rusty Paws of San Antonio wrote asking to become pen pals. Began one note postmarked Ravenna, Mo.: "I am a 3-year-old female basset hound by the name of Bette Boomer Basset." The word "female" was underlined.

Sorry Bette. Dodger's doing just fine in that department right here at home. He's got the run of the town and, in between snacks, apparently has squeezed in some liaisons. More than a few local litters have included pups that look something like him. "He's a horny old dog," declared Al Cook, owner of the Horseshoe.

Which raises the question: Has success gone to Dodger's head? The answer, alas, might be yes.

Lamented Leo Skolka, "He used to mind, but after all these festivals and stuff, you call him and he doesn't give a damn."

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