This California Town Has a Dog for a Mayor and You Can Request a Meeting With Him

Idyllwild, California's Mayor Max
Photo: Sacramento Bee/Getty Images

On the most recent season of "Veep," there’s a joke played for big laughs that a town in Iowa has a dog for its mayor.

"Novelty mayors are Iowa's number one source of tourism after coming into town to buy Sudafed," one of the characters says.

But in the California mountain town of Idyllwild, the fact that their mayor is a dog is far from a joke.

Every weekend, and some weekdays, you can find the golden retriever Mayor Max II (formally known as Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller, II) in the back of his pickup truck, wearing a tie and sometimes a hat, barking his greetings to his constituents. He’s also sometimes eating ice cream.

Idyllwild, California's Mayor Max
Courtesy of Mayor Max

Phyllis Mueller is Max’s human companion, or owner as some people might say. But she answers her phone with the greeting, “Office of the mayor,” and calls herself his chief of staff.

She said the dog mayor tradition started in Idyllwild seven years ago. The town held a fundraiser where people could run their pets as candidates for mayor. You had to be a local resident to enter your pet, and people could vote with their dollars — $1 per vote.

“We promoted this as an election you can buy, and we encouraged everyone to vote a lot,” Mueller said. All of the proceeds went to Idyllwild Animal Rescue Friends (ARF), an animal rescue nonprofit.

Mueller and her husband campaigned hard, but also wrote a $20,000 check, she said. Their dog Max (Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller) won in a landslide.

In the middle of his second term, Max passed away from old age.

“My heart was broken and so was the town’s,” Mueller said. So she took on a mission to find the descendants of Max in the hopes that one could replace him.

At this point, it seemed Idyllwild’s mayorship became more of a monarchy than a democracy, but no one in the town seemed to mind. (Probably because in reality, Idyllwild is a town in unincorporated Riverside County, and so is officially governed by that county.)

Regardless, Mueller hunted for Max’s bloodline far and wide.

“I called my breeder, but she had lost track of her bloodline because she had switched to breeding goldendoodles, but I wanted a golden retriever to carry on what Idyllwild had,” Mueller said.

She then searched across three countries — the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom — but didn’t find anything until she looked through an old golden retriever magazine and found a dog that looked exactly like Max.

“I called that breeder and sure enough, I had found the bloodline,” Mueller said. She ended up tracking the bloodline and buying three Max descendants from breeders in California and Ohio. She dubbed them Max II, and Mitzi and Mikey, who she made deputy mayors. Max II took office when he was under two months old.

Mueller said it was obvious which of the pups should be the mayor.

“When we met Max in his infancy, he looked right at the camera, crossed his arms and did a pose,” she said. “That’s how he let us know, we said, there it is, that's the sign, that is the mayor.’”

While Mitzi and Mikey are equally as important to Max’s administration, Mueller said it’s clear they are not meant for higher office.

“They’re like puppy wolves, wild and frisky, fun and energetic, while the mayor is very calm, and knows he needs to pose for the picture,” she said.

The town of Idyllwild seemed to agree, because in 2014 they elected Max II mayor for life. Long may he reign.

Mueller said his days are now filled with appearances, including in the town square but also at schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Any visitor to the town can also request a meeting with Max II through his website.

“He wants to help make the world a better place,” she said. “The mayor would like to see peace on earth in his lifetime.”

She said being mayor has gone to Max II’s head a little.

“He’s a spoiled dog, but also very hardworking,” she said. “He works all day, and he know he’s the mayor, knows it’s his job to pose, knows to look at the camera. I’m really proud of him.”

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