Farewell, ol' friend: Mayor Duke the dog dies; memorial will be set in March or April
Mayor Duke, the Cormorant pooch who made quite a name for himself in politics, went to doggie heaven Thursday.
After serving four terms (in dog years, that's about 28 terms) as Cormorant's honorary mayor, Duke retired last year due to failing health in his old age.
"He's 91 people age .... We don't think he's going to see winter," his adopted mother Karen Nelson told the Tribune last year, adding that he was on meds for arthritis, he's had lyme disease twice, and she and his owner Dave Rick suspected he had been hit by a car a couple years back.
Duke nearly pushed on through the winter, though, likely due to his relaxing retirement regimen. Nelson told the Tribune Duke would spend the rest of his days lying on the lawn and eating his favorite foods: cheeseburgers, jerky treats, and a little bit of sweet stuff.
Rick and Nelson were able to be with Duke when he passed Thursday afternoon. That evening Nelson announced Mayor Duke's passing on Facebook, saying he will be greatly missed.
"They're like your kids," Rick said, choking up. "I never had kids, so he was all I had."
Rick says it was great luck that he and Duke happened upon one another some 13 years ago. Rick was in touch with a couple who was selling dogs up by Devil's Lake, and he was all arranged to take a three-year-old from them, when someone returned little three-month-old Duke to the couple. Rick bought Duke then and there for $100, and the rest was history.
Many people reached out to express their condolences and remember Duke fondly after hearing of his passing.
"The most honest politician out there," Ed Melberg commented.
"No one will ever fill his paws," Donna Lutz wrote.
A memorial for Duke is planned for March or April at the Cormorant Town Hall. Tricia Maloney, who has been very involved in Duke's campaigns over the years, says they aren't sure exactly when the memorial will be yet. They want to plan it, so the whole community can be involved, possibly during their annual community egg hunt.
"We want to make it where it's going to include the kids, so we think that would be a good time," she said, adding that all Duke's memorabilia and scrapbooks are currently at the Cormorant Community Center for people to look at and remember his legacy.
The 13-year-old Great Pyrenees became the first and only mayor of Cormorant back in 2014, when he won by a landslide during a write-in campaign that charged $1 per vote and had no limit on the number of votes that can be cast by a single person.
"I even got a couple of votes, and he beat me out!" laughed Rick, adding that it was tough to compete with a candidate that had such gentle eyes and a big heart.
After his first win, Mayor Duke's popularity skyrocketed. He graced the pages of National Geographic and Scholastic magazines, appeared on television as a guest on Steve Harvey's talk show as well as in the World Dog Awards, and rode in a plethora of parades. He went on to get re-elected for three more terms before announcing his retirement last year.
Mayor Duke travelled far and wide, leaving quite a paw print on the world, but by far, his favorite place to campaign was right around his home town. Rick says he never chained up Mayor Duke. He says he suspects that's how he got so popular in the first place.
"Whenever I'd take off from the farm, he'd come looking for me," recalled Rick. "First place he'd come is Cormorant."
Rick says Duke was friendly and he easily captured people's hearts. He'd saunter up to strangers looking for a pat and maybe a little kibble, and people were happy to oblige the ol' boy.
"They all called him 'the phantom dog'," said Rick, referring to how he would make his rounds and then disappear, likely back to Rick's farm to enjoy his spoils and a nice nap in the sun.
Duke also made frequent visits to area schools to "campaign," often teaching students what it takes to be a good elected official.
"People have learned a lot from him, like to be chill, because he's always chill, be kind cuz he's always kind no matter to who, big or small, and join in and get involved," Nelson told the Tribune in 2018.
Area students recognized his likability factor right away, not just because he was "so fluffy" but also because he was so sweet to everyone he met.
He also knew when to keep his cool, rather than getting wrapped up in the political heat. Mayor Duke attended town meetings, but he wasn't always interested in the topics. Often, he would fall asleep.
"Woof," Duke told the Tribune in 2018 when announcing his retirement and reflecting on all the years of hard work and dedication to his community.
The town of Cormorant will surely be hard pressed to find another Mayor as doggone good as Duke.
"It's a tough time .... It's a big loss. Yet, Duke in the last four years has brought this cormorant community together," said Maloney, reflecting on Duke's legacy. "And he's taken us all over the world."