How much for that doggie in the dot-com ad?

Pets.com auctions off its mascot, a singing sock puppet-pooch, raising some serious cash for charity.

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What’s a singing dog worth? Well, $20,100 if an auction held last week on Amazon.com is any measure. Pets.com put its mascot, a sock puppet masquerading as a pooch, on the block to raise money for its charity, Pets.commitment. The allure of the furless critter attracted dozens of bidders, including at least one member of the pet supply site’s staff.

“If it was mine, I’d pierce its tongue — my tongue is pierced,” says Debra Chang, who works in Pets.com’s order processing department. “Then I’d create a Web site for it and put up pictures.” Unfortunately, her hopes were dashed when she came in third among 70 bidders — with an offer of $14,500. “I was going to go for 25 [thousand dollars], but then I thought that might be a little more than I wanted to spend.”

The winning bid belonged to Randall Smith, a computer contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco. “It’s not the type of thing I’d normally do, but I thought, let me buy a ticket on this ride and see where it goes,” says Smith. He says he’s no dot-com millionaire, just a “regular working guy” willing to give some spare cash to the charity that supports animal-loving organizations. “I’m single. I have nothing else to spend it on.”

The Pets.com sock puppet was born at TBWA Chiat Day, the same ad agency that dreamed up the Taco Bell chihuahua. The nameless sock puppet made its debut in August, lip-synching to the Blood, Sweat and Tears classic “Spinning Wheel.” Since then, it’s starred in nine commercials and appeared as a 36-foot-tall balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. According to his official bio, “He is a mixed breed, very mixed. Rumors about his formative years include escaping from a washing machine, traveling with the professional arm wrestling circuit, and being dismissed from a doggy manners school.”

Hundreds of fans have sent e-mail to Pets.com about the puppet — many want to buy one. But aside from Smith’s puppet, there are only a couple of TV doubles. Other fans will have to settle for a line of sock puppet-inspired products — like fleece pullovers and pet food bowls. (Five percent of the profits from these sales go to the Pets.commitment charity.)



But the Pets.com mascot isn’t the first sock puppet to gain an online following. The Dilbert site prominently features a Sock Puppet Gallery, with pictures of people and their beloved socks. “My evil sock puppet (note lovely earring in left sock’s ear) shoved me out of the way in order to be the center of attention in this photo,” writes one puppeteer.

But Smith is not so attached to his new sock puppet and is already thinking of passing him along. “I’ve bought season tickets at Pac Bell [ballpark in San Francisco]. So I thought, if there was another charity auction, I could auction off the puppet with the seat, so that the winner would be the guest of the sock puppet at Giants games,” said Smith. “Of course, one of the stipulations would be that the winner would have to wear the puppet during the game.”

Lydia Lee is a San Francisco writer

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