TALLAHASSEE -- Shortly after winning the GOP nomination in 2010, Rick Scott announced to the world through Facebook that his family had rescued a Labrador retriever.
And, with help from his Facebook friends, Scott gave it a name: Reagan.
“The Scott family is proud to announce that the name (chosen by you) for their newly adopted pup is Reagan! Thanks to everyone who participated in the fun contest,’’ read Scott’s announcement on his Facebook page.
Commenters were ecstatic, congratulating Scott for getting a rescue dog instead of a pure bred like Bo, the Portuguese water dog President Barack Obama adopted in 2009. And friends saluted the dog’s name, an homage to former President Ronald Reagan.
But where is Reagan today? The last time Reagan made the newspapers was the day before Scott was sworn in as governor in January 2011.Asked last week what had happened to the dog, Scott’s current and former communications directors refused to answer.
Brian Burgess, communications director during the campaign and for more than a year after Scott took office, now holds a similar position for the state GOP. When a Times reporter asked him where the dog is, Burgess said he thought it “weird’’ that two Times reporters would contact him six minutes apart with questions dating back to the 2010 campaign.
But he wouldn’t say where the dog was and accused reporters of “surfing some old Facebook or website pages.’’ The governor’s staff obviously was aware of publicity that dogged Republican Mitt Romney last year over reports that he once tied his dog, Seamus, to the top of a car while going on a family vacation.
On the other end of the spectrum, dogs can be a political plus. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown’s Corgi, Sutter Brown, has a cult-like following of nearly 5,000 Twitter followers. Last year, Sutter became a mascot of sorts for a campaign to raise income taxes on wealthy Californians. (The proposition passed.)
Last week, Burgess testily emailed that he was working on an answer and recognized “the potential for a PR nightmare if the Tampa Bay Times doesn’t receive a photo of Reagan next to today’s copy of the Tampa Bay Times. So take it to the bank I’m getting you every bit of info I can lay my hands on.’’
The next day, Burgess said he was referring all questions about the dog to Melissa Sellers, the governor’s new communications director. Sellers responded over two days that she was far too busy to find an answer to the question.
A spokesman for the governor’s wife also declined to respond to questions about Reagan, saying only that the Scotts have one dog. “Her name is Tallee and she is a 7-year-old rescue Lab,’’ said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Scott.
Where Tallee came from and where Reagan went were still unknown.
This week, the Times asked the governor to clear up the mystery.
“He was a rescue dog,’’ Scott said, “and he couldn’t be around anybody that was carrying anything, and so he wouldn’t get better.”
Scott said Reagan never bit anyone but “scared the living daylights’’ out of people at the mansion. He said one kitchen employee threatened to quit and photographer Eric Tournay was frightened when the dog “barked like crazy’’ every time he saw him with a camera.
So the Scotts gave the dog back to his prior owner, Scott said, about a month after the family moved to Tallahassee. After learning that Times reporters had talked to the governor, a spokeswoman called to say Reagan had been returned about a year ago to All Pets Grooming and Boarding, a business in Naples.
The story didn’t end there.
On Tuesday, the day the dog story ran in the Tampa Bay Times, WTSP-10, a southwest Florida television station reported that Reagan was living on a nearby horse ranch. "Sometimes dogs don’t fit right," Kelly Norman, owner of All Pets Grooming and Boarding, told the television station.
The dog’s new name? Pluto — not Bush, Clinton or Obama.
Tampa Bay Times staff writers Aaron Sharockman, Steve Bousquet and Katie Sanders contributed to this report.