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A delightful woman came up to me at a Bach Festival event last month and told me she missed "Fred Basset." She and her husband had owned basset hounds since they were married about 40 years ago. She loved the dogs and the longtime comic strip.

A couple of weeks later I saw her during an intermission at the Victoria Symphony. She smiled and told me how partial she had become to "Mutts," the strip the Advocate has been running in Fred's place. She had even clipped several strips. Could the newspaper run both strips? she wondered.

A good question. Maybe it's time we answered that by conducting a reader poll of all Advocate comic strips. Since we've experimented with "Mutts," we've heard from people who both love and hate the little dog. Quite a few have suggested we replace other strips besides "Fred."

Before we do anything else, though, perhaps it's best if we hear from more readers.  With that in mind, we're working on a way to allow readers to rate all of our comic strips. If the verdict is readers just want "Fred" back and no changes, that's more than fine. After all, we really do want to make as many readers as happy as possible.

Our primary motive with any change of longtime features is to weed out those that have run their course and to make way for new blood. If newspapers never tried new comic strips, we never would have met my all-time favorite, "Calvin and Hobbes." Oh, how I wish we could persuade Bill Watterson to come out of retirement and bring that little boy and his tiger back to our pages.

When that other great newspaper cartoonist, Charles Schulz died in 2000, he specified in his will that no new "Peanuts" cartoons would be drawn. Fortunately, he left 50 years of strips to rerun for a new generation.

Only "Calvin and Hobbes" and "Peanuts" deserve such reverence, however. When "Fred Basset" creator Alex Graham died more than a decade ago, his strip went on without him. The question we posed when we stopped carrying the strip was whether his dog's better days were behind him.

After more than a month of "Mutts," we still don't have a clear answer from readers. You might say we're chasing our tail, but we hope to have a little fun with a comics version of "American Idol."

What do you think? Can we find Victoria's version of Paula, Randy and Simon?

P.S.: For those with a warped sense of humor and a dislike for Fred, check out this YouTube video. Be warned, though. I didn't post it on my blog because of the objectionable language at the end.