Nearly three decades ago, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney strapped the family dog to the roof of his station wagon as he and his family took a twelve-hour drive from Boston to Ontario, severely traumatizing the animal. On Feb. 14, pet owners and animal welfare advocates protested his act of cruelty.
Concerned and outraged dog owners gathered in New York's Madison Square Garden for the 136th Westminster Dog Show, for a "Dogs Against Romney" demonstration.
As a presidential hopeful who critics already say presents a distinct lack of emotion in his campaign speeches, this incident of animal abuse has come back to bite Romney, and will do nothing for his reputation. During the event in question - coloquially referred to as "Crate-gate" - Romney shoved Seamus the Irish Setter into a cramped crate, put him on the roof, and began a family road trip.
At one point, Romney's eldest son, Tagg, exclaimed, "Gross!" That was because dog excrement was dripping down the rear window. In what is more than likely a direct response to emotional trauma, Seamus had suffered an attack of diarrhea. Romney proceeded to get out of the car, borrow a hosepipe, and blast the animal, car, and crate with water until all was clean. Then they took off again with the terrified pet still on the roof.
Romney claimed the fuss was all over nothing; Seamus loved rides on the car roof, he insisted.
Democrats and pet owners at the dog show did not share Romney's sentiment.
One of the demonstrators - protester and dog owner Batya Miller - noted, "He doesn't really seem to have any empathy, which I think is a crucial characteristic in somebody who is running for President of the United States. I think that both the actual act of putting the dog on top of the car and them not understanding what is wrong with that indicates some lack of feeling."
Ingrid Newkirk, PETA president, said that this was indeed abuse; that Seamus had been placed under extreme stress, causing him to lose control of his bowels. "What is worrying," she said, "is that Mr. Romney seems to hold the very old fashioned idea that he needs to show he is heartless, hence the hunting claims he [makes]." She remarked that he seems to display "pride in killing defenseless animals for sport, for fun, for show."
During a 2007 campaign stop in Pittsburgh, Romney admitted that PETA was hounding him for his poor actions. "You know," he said, "PETA has not been my fan over the years. PETA was after me when I went quail hunting in Georgia. And PETA is not happy that my dog likes fresh air."
"I think this is an illustration of Romney's odd judgment," said demonstrator Tate Hausman. He noted that Romney seemed "not quite in tune with American values."
American Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson also commented on the incident. "The AKC promotes responsible dog ownership," she said. "Putting a dog in a crate for car travel is the first step to responsible dog ownership. The second step would be to put that crate in a car."
The reason for the Feb. 14 protest was made perfectly clear: this past incident brings up an important issue - it begs the question, if a man cannot be trusted to take care of an animal, how can he be trusted to care for a country full of people?
Photo: "Demonstrators Mark and Meghann Abbott show how they feel about Romney's treatment of animals." Dogs Against Romney official Facebook page