Contest Gives Pooch Parents Added Incentive to Register Pups

  • Rodolfo Franconi holds his 10-year-old toy poodle Liru at home in West Lebanon. Liru was named the city’s Top Dog in 2012 after winning drawing designed to encourage dog owners to register their pets. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Rodolfo Franconi holds his 10-year-old toy poodle Liru at home in West Lebanon. Liru was named the city’s Top Dog in 2012 after winning drawing designed to encourage dog owners to register their pets. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Liru, a 10-year-old toy poodle owned by Rodolfo and Rosa Franconi, at home in West Lebanon. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Liru, a 10-year-old toy poodle owned by Rodolfo and Rosa Franconi, at home in West Lebanon. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rodolfo Franconi holds his 10-year-old toy poodle Liru at home in West Lebanon. Liru was named the city’s Top Dog in 2012 after winning drawing designed to encourage dog owners to register their pets. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Liru, a 10-year-old toy poodle owned by Rodolfo and Rosa Franconi, at home in West Lebanon. (Valley News - Libby March)

West Lebanon — Weighing in at roughly five pounds, the city’s “Top Dog” didn’t get to where he is by intimidating the competition, or even winning over judges as pint-sized underdog.

Liru won by luck of the paw.

Lebanon’s reigning “Top Dog” is a 10-year-old toy poodle who was selected at random from a pool of nearly 400 contestants entered through the city’s dog licensing process.

His owners, who describe themselves as Liru’s “parents,” insisted that the fame hasn’t gotten to their beloved dog’s head, though perhaps the same couldn’t be said of their own.

“No, he’s not acting differently,” said Rodolfo Franconi, a native of Brazil and a Dartmouth College associate professor of Portuguese and Spanish. “We are acting differently.”

After Franconi and his wife, Rosa, heard about Liru’s selection as Lebanon’s “Top Dog,” they immediately contacted all of their friends at Dartmouth, where Liru is well-known for attending events and programs both on and off campus.

“Oh, he is the celebrity now,” said Rosa Franconi.

Despite his newfound fame, Liru has managed to live a normal life. He doesn’t have a bodyguard or any security detail, but Rodolfo Franconi said he rarely goes outside because of his small size and the voracity of nearby natural predators that might be scouting the couple’s property on the edge of the Connecticut River.

“Even big birds can get him, so it’s really better off he stays inside,” said Rodolfo Franconi, who has called the Upper Valley home for more than 20 years.

The first place prize for Lebanon’s dog drawing includes a year-long supply of food from West Lebanon Feed and Supply, the contest’s prime sponsor. As it turned out, Liru only needed about three five-pound bags because of food allergies. Most days, the Franconis said, the toy poodle enjoys a robust selection of salmon, potatoes, rice and other vegetables.

“You know, he’s so small,” said Rodolfo Franconi. “I think that was an advantage for (West Lebanon Feed and Supply).”

Deputy City Clerk Beverly Dore last week said that 94 dogs had already been registered for the contest, which ends on April 30. It is the second go-around for the competition, which also awards gift certificates to two runners-up.

Dore said that 1,666 dogs were registered with the city by the end of the 2012 filing period, which ran until April. She said 329 have registered so far this year, and explained that the city runs the competition as a way to encourage registration.

“We want to get people to be more aware of registering their dogs, knowing about the law, and making it kind of fun while doing some PR,” she said.

Rodolfo Franconi said that while he already knew about the law, he thought the contest did a good job of giving people added incentive to get involved in the city’s licensing process. And he took pride in Liru’s “Top Dog” certificate, referring to it as the poodle’s “diploma.”

Judging by the way Liru was treated by his “parents” in their West Lebanon home yesterday, it would be safe to assume that Lebanon’s big dog is accustomed to privilege.

As Liru barked and played in the couple’s living room as a way of demanding more attention than he might have been getting, Rosa Franconi conceded that he was a little “spoiled.”

“When there are people around, he never obeys us,” said Rosa Franconi. “He knows he can do whatever he wants to.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213