SUNOL -- As the saying goes, every dog has his day. But in Sunol, a sleepy rural community between Fremont and Pleasanton, one particular dog has a legacy.
In this village of fewer than 1,000 people, Boss "Bosco" Ramos -- known simply as "Bosco" -- is the closest thing Sunol has to a legend. In 1981, the black Labrador mix beat two human candidates for the town's honorary mayorship and served until he died in 1994.
The tale of his tongue-in-cheek "election" made international news and raised a stink in China after a newspaper denounced it as evidence of the failings of democracy. However, the puppy propaganda only cemented Bosco as a phenomenon, and, today, nearly 20 years after his death, tourists still visit the quirky hamlet to hear his story.
"People from here to New York recognized the dog," recalled Tom Stillman, Bosco's second owner. "Fame is kind of cool in a way, but now it's a little more nostalgic. "
Sandwiched between a corner market and the Sunol Event Center downtown stands Bosco's Bones & Brew, an Old West-themed watering hole, where old-timers trade stories and Sunol residents sing karaoke until twilight's last gleaming.
As locals tell it, Bosco's candidacy was a joke that took on a life of its own. Sitting around a local bar one night, two men -- "Honest Paul" Zeiss and "Wolf" -- traded barbs about which should be Sunol's unofficial mayor. Bosco's original owner, Brad Leber, retorted that Bosco could beat them both.
Running as a "Re-pup-lican" with the campaign slogan "A bone in every dish, a cat in every tree, and a fire hydrant on every corner," Bosco's unconventional platform suited Sunol's eccentricities. Longtime resident Dave Rogers, Leber and Bosco's landlord for a time, remembers the election well.
"Everyone knew Bosco, so he just became a write-in candidate and he won all the votes," Rogers said. "It was pretty much a landslide." And, Rogers added, "he was the best mayor we ever had."
When Leber moved away, Bosco became Stillman's dog. Bosco would wander the town, frequenting the Sunol Lounge and Lyon's Brewery Depot.
"He was a fun-loving dog," Stillman said. "He'd come home haggard, like he was out all day. He was pretty much the town's dog."
Though taverns were his favorite haunts, by all accounts, Bosco was a sober politician, making his daily rounds for the free food and companionship.
"He used to hang in all the bars and he used to growl at you if you didn't feed him," said lifetime Sunol resident Sam McCracken, who voted for Bosco. "He more or less had his way."
Hanging near the entrance of Bosco's is the clipping that started it all: a Star tabloid from 1984 describing the election and declaring Sunol "the wackiest town in the world." National and international press followed. At times, Stillman said, the attention drove him to bolt out the back of the bar and high-tail it down the train tracks.
It wasn't long before the spotlight became an international incident. In 1990, China's People's Daily newspaper ran an editorial attacking Bosco's election as proof that in Western democracy "there is no distinction between people and dogs." In response, a group of Chinese students wanted to adopt Bosco and take him to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco -- as a mascot for freedom. Stillman agreed, and Bosco and the students piled into an El Camino and drove to the consulate, holding a pro-democracy rally with dog in tow.
"I don't know what they were saying; I can only imagine," Stillman said. "I don't know if he changed the world or anything, but he became a symbol for democracy."
Whenever Bosco went missing, as he occasionally did, the search resembled a manhunt. But Stillman was never too concerned; Bosco habitually followed folks wherever they went. Then there were his "multiple trysts."
"There used to be a joke that he was related to every dog in town," Stillman said.
After 15 years as unofficial mayor, Bosco's health gave out and Stillman was forced to have him euthanized in 1994. Bosco was buried in an undisclosed location. In 1997, businessman Mike Cerny copyrighted Bosco's name and opened Bosco's Bones & Brew in 1999. Cerny closed the bar in 2003. It reopened a year later under new ownership.
Today, Bosco's is littered with reminders of its namesake. Bosco's Brew tap is a life-size stuffed replica of the midnight-black Labrador, complete with his customary red bandanna. Bartenders need only pull up on Bosco's hind leg to pour a cold one from his strategically placed spigot. Some call it tacky, others call it a Sunol staple.
"I love the dispenser," said Frank Colby, of Dublin. "I brought my supervisor here. We walk in, he's looking at the dog and says, 'You've got to be kidding me.' ... Now it's a ritual."
McCracken said patrons from parts unknown walk into the bar "all the time" asking about Bosco; and sales of Bosco T-shirts, hats and beer glasses remain steady.
"The legend never dies," McCracken said. "He's the talk of the town, even now."
Bosco still stands sentinel over Sunol in spirit -- his bronze statue watches over downtown near the community's bulletin board.
With the 20th anniversary of Bosco's death approaching, Stillman is considering a town party to celebrate Bosco's life and to remember a moment when all eyes were on Sunol.
"It was a big joke basically, and that's what it was intended to be," Stillman said. "Nobody ever thought it was going to turn into what it did."
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.