Sutter Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown’s famous dog, has died

Gov. Jerry Brown gives his dog, Sutter, a snack before a Los Angeles news conference to promote the California Pet Lover's License Plate in 2012.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Sutter Brown, the charismatic corgi who seemed to soften the rough edges of Gov. Jerry Brown and in the process became a social media sensation as California’s first dog, died Friday after an illness that sparked a bipartisan outpouring of support.

The 13-year-old dog, the older of two canines belonging to the governor and First Lady Anne Gust Brown, had emergency surgery in October to remove some cancerous masses. News of the dog’s prognosis traveled quickly through political circles, but his condition improved and he returned home.

Sutter was last seen in public on election day, accompanying the governor to vote at his Sacramento polling place.

In recent days, Sutter’s health took a turn for the worse, the governor’s office said. Sutter died with the governor and his wife at his side, and was buried Friday afternoon at his family’s Colusa County ranch, according to a statement from the governor’s deputy press secretary, Deborah Hoffman.

“It’s a sad day for all who loved Sutter,” Hoffman said.

Sutter Brown, the governor's beloved Corgi, in the state Capitol's main hallway in 2011. (Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times)

The pets of politicians often hold a unique place in public life, and perhaps no California governor has more steadily relied on a four-legged family member for companionship and political peacemaking than Brown did with Sutter.

“It took a dog to humanize the Capitol,” said Jennifer Fearing, a lobbyist for animal rights issues who became one of Sutter’s unofficial caretakers in Sacramento.

Kathleen Brown, the governor’s sister and former state treasurer, was Sutter’s original owner but didn’t think her move in 2010 to Chicago would be a good fit for the dog. She left Sutter with her brother just after the 2010 gubernatorial election.

The following February, the Browns officially announced that Sutter was joining the first family. By then, Sutter had already become Brown’s secret weapon during the tumultuous first months of the new administration.

“He warms up the Republicans,” Gust Brown told reporters in February 2011.

Gov. Jerry Brown, right, shows off Sutter during a 2012 meeting with Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). (Rich Predroncelli/Associated Press)
Gov. Jerry Brown, right, shows off Sutter during a 2012 meeting with Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). (Rich Predroncelli/Associated Press)

Sutter, named in honor of the Swiss pioneer John Sutter who played an instrumental role in the Gold Rush era, was not the governor’s first dog. Dharma, a black Labrador belonging to Brown, died in 2010. At first, the famously finicky politician called the little dog “half a rat.”

But the dog quickly became a fixture in the lives of California’s most famous power couple. From hiking and running in off hours, to accompanying Brown to the Sacramento County elections office in 2012 to submit voter signatures for the tax increase measure Proposition 30.

Sightings were constantly documented by Sacramento visitors on Facebook and Twitter, with photos often snapped when aides to Brown had been dispatched to walk Sutter around the Capitol as needed.

“A dog is an invitation to engage,” Fearing said. “They are social capital.”

Realizing the power of the pet’s persona, Sutter quickly earned his own Twitter account that for years was filled with a feed of cute photos and quips. The dog now has more than 11,000 followers.

In 2014, Sutter became the star of Brown’s annual State of the State address, as the governor handed out playing cards with the canine’s likeness on one side and a chart showing the state budget’s boom and bust cycles on the other. They also came with clever quips attributed to Sutter.

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“This one says, ‘Bark if you don’t like deficits,’” Brown said to laughter and applause from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

The Browns added a second corgi to the brood in 2015: Colusa, named in honor of the couple’s ranch. Both dogs have frequently traveled with the couple to the remote north state destination, where Brown is now building a small home.

But the older Sutter still commanded most of the public attention. After news of the dog’s illness became public, Gust Brown tweeted a photo of the governor comforting Sutter at an animal hospital in Sacramento, his fresh stitches visible in the photo.

In Friday’s statement, Hoffman noted that “Sutter’s sister … will assume his duties as First Dog.”

Fearing, who took Sutter on a 2,500-mile road trip in support of the Proposition 30 tax increase four years ago, said he was always welcomed into communities regardless of his owner’s political agenda.

“If we were all like Sutter,” she said, “I think politics could be a lot better place.”

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From the archives: California’s first dog takes Sacramento by storm

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