In Idyllwild, a tiny mountain town in Southern California, the mayor was practically born with a tie around his neck. At just 11 weeks old, he was grandfathered into office; eager to put his paws to work, liaising with local businesses, and helping to promote the town’s message of love well beyond its winding mountain roads. In his official capacity, he’s known as “Maximus mighty-dog mueller, the second," but to this town and to the world, he’s known as "Mayor Max" – the Earth’s only Golden Retriever mayor.

A golden retreiver with a tie around his neck poses for a photo
Mayor Max II is the mayor of Idyllwild, California © Charlotte Rand

How a dog became mayor of Idyllwild

Since the town of Idyllwild is non-incorporated and non-partisan – its residents believe “they can run things better on their own” – local politics have always felt gratuitous. But in 2012, the nonprofit Idyllwild Animal Rescue Friends ran a sponsored election, with an array of pets in the running. Mayor Max I, the present-day Max’s forebear, won with an overwhelming majority. He sadly died in his second term, leading his owner and chief of staff, Phyllis Mueller, to launch an international search – across Canada and the UK – to find his appropriate successor. After a moment of serendipity, Phyllis found two sets of Golden Retriever litters right here in the States, who happened to be a part of Max’s bloodline. From the first, she brought home two pups – Mike and Mitzy – who now serve as the mayor’s deputy. From the second, she found Mayor Max II. “He was born to be mayor,” she says, “he looked into my camera with folded arms.”

Where you can find Mayor Max II

After a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, towards San Jacinto’s peak, you’ll reach the town of Idyllwild – population 2500 – at an elevation of 5400ft. With ears popped, a road of sequoias still scorched from a forest fire two years prior will lead you to the office of Mayor Max. Knock at his door, and he’ll come out to greet you with a wagging tail and a striped tie draped from his ruff. Phyllis follows shortly after. “Journalists usually come here to report on this cute dog,” she says, “but Mayor Max is so much more than that. He’s going to cause world peace.”

A hand points to a local newspaper with a dog featured above the fold
Mayor Max II participates in events all over the town of Idyllwild © Charlotte Rand

In his six years of office, Mayor Max II has been at the town’s beck-and-call. He has attended upwards of 1000 local events, pulled motorists from the snow, brought tourists to the town, paid veterinary bills for those who couldn’t afford to keep their pets alive, comforted the dying in their final moments, shown love to the suicidal. “Thank you for saving my life,” read one of the hundreds of letters that Phyllis has kept in the mayor’s office. Looking into Max’s kind chestnut eyes, one wonders, how did something so cute become so crucial?

Max's influence around town – and beyond – grows

While he could well become a therapy dog to the world, it’s the kindness and generosity of his owners that’s brought his profound warmth to the town, and increasingly to the masses. Phyllis will receive around five to fifteen calls a day from locals asking to have Max brought to them. If it’s possible, she’ll always oblige. She’s also in near-constant communication with others asking after Max, including his 53,300 Instagram followers. The majority of photos on his feed are taken from one of his daily outings to the town, where he’ll stop in front of Idyllwild’s gift shop and stay awhile to greet locals and visitors from around the world who have come specifically to see him. “The furthest we’ve had is a family from Dubai,” says Phyllis.

A family takes a photo with a golden retreiver
Wherever he goes, Max is a local celebrity © Charlotte Rand

His tail wags profusely as he greets his visitors from the mayor’s special pick-up truck. Outfitted with a cowboy hat and tie (there’s over a 100 in his office, each reserved for various seasonal events), he poses with several families; smiling straight into the camera with a grin more photogenic than Marilyn Monroe’s. “Can he officiate our wedding?” one couple asks. “Let’s see what we can do. He’ll certainly be there,” says Phyllis.

Nearby, one of the mayor’s human helpers, Mark, gives out magnetic Max business cards. “It gives me so much joy even just giving these out,” he says, “the look on people’s faces—it makes me happy seeing them so happy.” Almost all of the locals say they already have one at home on their fridge. 

A dog runs free in a fenced in area
Mayor Max takes a break from official duties © ​Charlotte Rand

The office of Mayor Max is funded entirely by his owners, with around half of their income – Phyllis and her husband Glenn also run their own marketing company – going into events, merchandise, local support, whatever else comes up. Last year, they spent $10,000 on Max’s birthday party, which 1000 people attended. This year, they’re wondering how much of this is still sustainable, now that Max’s popularity is growing. Most years, they spend around $30,000 on calendars alone, which they send out for free. Now, they’re having to rethink and ask themselves whether they should begin to monetize Mayor Max, if only to keep his office running.

It’s a lot to think about for one furry boy, so for now, he rolls onto his back after another day of spreading love, and gets some well-earned belly rubs. “I love you Max, I appreciate your work,” Phyllis says solemnly. “I make sure to tell him that everyday,” she explains, “I never forget.”

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