In 1983, Mitt Romney put the family dog, Seamus the Irish Setter, into a carrier that he tied to the roof of his car for a twelve-hour drive to Canada. Despite a homemade windshield that Romney attached to the carrier, the dog became predictably traumatized. At some point, Romney's eldest son noticed a brown liquid running down the rear windshield. Romney pulled over at a gas station, hosed down the car and the dog, and then put the dog back on top of the car and kept driving. Nearly thirty years later, the story has come back to haunt the Republican presidential hopeful.
Neil Swidey, the reporter who initially publicized the story after learning about the incident from a Romney family friend and confirming it with Romney's son, notes that the tale has been twisted and exaggerated in the five years since its publication, like a game of telephone among political writers and pundits. But the truth is chilling enough for animal rights advocates. What kind of person straps a dog to the roof of the car, keeps the dog there after he gets sick, and keeps driving?
It's debatable how indicative this incident is of Romney's character in general. It was one mistake. It happened almost thirty years ago, during a time when car safety was viewed very differently from how it is today; carseats for children and mandatory seatbelt laws were years in the future. But the media is having a field day with the story. As Swidey points out:
(Bill) Wasik, an editor at Wired magazine, predicts the Seamus citations will become more political and more plentiful if Romney becomes the GOP nominee, as President Obama partisans use it to paint Romney as a cruel character who, as Wasik puts it, will 'sort of tie us all to the roof of the car."
An article by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in the February, 2012 issue of Vanity Fair equates the episode to Romney's personality as a whole:
It was a preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management. But the story would trail him years later on the national political stage, where the name Seamus would become shorthand for Romney’s coldly clinical approach to problem solving.
But to animal rights activists, the incident is highly relevant, whether or not it can be extrapolated to Romney's approach to other issues and situations. We want to know how Romney will handle current animal protection issues like horse slaughter, whaling, or the erosion of the Endangered Species Act. If a man can hose down his own sick dog and stick that dog back up on the roof of their car and keep driving, what hope can we have for how that person will treat horses, whales and wolves he's never met?
To be fair, the Obama administration has come down on the wrong side of these issues almost every time.
And what has Romney's response been to the public outrage and focus on this one mistake? In 2008, Romney didn't think it was a mistake:
You know, PETA has not been my fan over the years. PETA was after me for having a rodeo at the Olympics, and very, very upset about that. PETA was after me when I went quail hunting in Georgia, and they're not happy that my dog likes fresh air.
It's not surprising that someone who would treat their own dog poorly would also hunt and support rodeos. Perhaps it's unfair to say that Romney's callous treatment of his own dog is indicative of how he would treat human issues if the former Massachusetts governor were to become president. But when it comes to Romney's stances on animal protection issues, poor Seamus is a fitting and accurate poster child.
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