Mitt Romney dog incident
|Location||Romneys' station wagon en route from Belmont, Massachusetts to Beach O'Pines, Ontario|
|First reporter||Reported by Neil Swidey in The Boston Globe in June 2007|
|Participants||Mitt Romney, his wife Ann Romney, their children, and their pet dog Seamus|
The Romneys' Irish Setter, Seamus
During a 1983 family vacation, Mitt Romney drove 12 hours with his dog on top of the car in a windshield-equipped carrier. This incident became the subject of negative media attention and political attacks on Romney in both the 2008 and the 2012 presidential elections.
Road trip in 1983
In June 1983, the Romney family left their Belmont, Massachusetts home on their way to Romney's parents' cottage in Beach O'Pines, Ontario for an annual vacation along the shore of Lake Huron. Seamus rode in a carrier on the roof of the family's Chevrolet Caprice station wagon for the 12 hour trip. Romney had built a windshield for the carrier to make the ride more comfortable for the dog. During the 650-mile (1,050 km) trip, Seamus got diarrhea. Romney stopped at a gas station to wash the dog, the carrier and the car. With Seamus back in the carrier, the family continued on their way.
Background about Seamus the dog
Seamus (// SHAY-muss), an Irish Setter, was an active, outgoing dog, and was the Romney family's first pet dog. It is generally reported that, a few years after his ride to Canada, Seamus was given to Mitt Romney's sister, Jane Romney Robinson of California, who said, "He kept ending up at the pound. They were worried about him getting hit crossing the street. We had more space, so he could roam more freely." The dog's date of death is unknown, but Robinson stated that Seamus lived to a "ripe old age" on her farm in California.
Response from the Romney family
When interviewed by Chris Wallace of Fox News, Romney stated that Seamus enjoyed being in the dog carrier, an "air-tight kennel", and that he was not aware of any violations of Massachusetts law, even though the state’s animal cruelty laws specifically prohibit anyone from carrying an animal "in or upon a vehicle, or otherwise, in an unnecessarily cruel or inhuman manner.” Ann Romney, Mitt Romney's wife, has stated that the news media exaggerated the severity of the incident, and compared traveling in the roof-top dog carrier to riding a motorcycle or riding in the bed of a pickup truck. During an April 2012 interview with ABC News, Diane Sawyer asked Mitt Romney about the Seamus story and if he would ever do it again. Romney replied, "Certainly not with the attention it's received", after which Sawyer stated, "You said it was the most wounding thing in the campaign so far", though it is ambiguous as to whether Romney agreed with this statement. During the same interview, Ann Romney stated that Seamus got diarrhea from eating turkey off the table before the trip, and that the dog loved the crate. Romney stated that he loved his dog.
In 2007, it was reported that Ingrid Newkirk, president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), criticized Romney about this incident. Responding to PETA, Romney said, "my dog likes fresh air".
Newkirk has elaborated (speaking for herself rather than for PETA) that the Seamus incident irritates her because "there are far more serious issues to talk about" regarding mistreatment of animals.
The website Dogs Against Romney (www.dogsagainstromney.com), founded by Scott Crider in June 2007, launched an anti-Romney, pro-animal-welfare campaign, moving to Facebook in 2011 and building an audience of 96,000 followers.
During the 2012 U.S. Republican presidential primaries, candidate Newt Gingrich aired an anti-Romney attack ad that featured the story. While appearing on the ABC show This Week, Republican candidate Rick Santorum stated, "As far as Seamus the dog ... the issues of character are important in this election. We need to look at all those issues and make a determination as to whether that's the kind of person [Romney] you want to be president of the United States.” Santorum's view was at odds with that of Bill Wasik, senior editor of Wired Magazine: "Yet looking back on the Seamus Romney story today, what is most striking is its forgettability, how indistinguishable it seems in retrospect from the idiots' parade of meaningless stories that came to define the  campaign."
Overlooked in the clucking over the incident is the fact that the dog was in a crate, probably little different from the dog kennels used to transport animals in the cold-storage compartments of airplanes. Romney had erected a barrier to shield the family pet from the wind. Romney, the family man heading to the lake, didn't seem heartless at the time. But politics is a heartless business.
Journalist Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post defended Mitt Romney's treatment of Seamus, stating, "Doesn’t the fact that Romney chose to bring the dog on the family vacation, rather than dump him in a kennel back home, suggest that he’s a dog lover, not a hater?" Neil Swidey, the Boston Globe journalist who wrote the initial article about Romney's 1983 road trip, stated, "[Seamus] always struck me as a valuable window into how Romney operates. In everything the guy does, he functions on logic, not emotion."
A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that 74% of Democrats, 66% of Independents, and 63% of Republicans consider it inhumane to put a family dog in a kennel on the roof of a car. The poll did not mention the windshield. The poll also found that 35% of voters would be less likely to vote for Romney because of the Seamus incident, whereas 55% of voters said that it would not affect how they vote. As of September 2012, New York Times columnist Gail Collins had mentioned the Romneys' car trip more than 70 times.
Responding to Democrats who emphasized the Seamus story, conservative bloggers such as Jim Treacher drew a comparison between the Seamus incident and Barack Obama sampling dog meat as a child in Indonesia, where it is a local delicacy, as mentioned in Obama's autobiography. While an Obama spokesman called it an attack on a small child, Obama himself has displayed a sense of humor about it.[A]
At the 2012 White House Correspondent's Association, Obama poked fun at Mitt Romney releasing an "advertisement" depicting Mitt Romney and his dog, Seamus. It started out with Mitt Romney stating how Seamus liked to be on top of the roof, instead of in the car. Then the ad talked about how "bad" Obama's leadership was claiming, "American's can't stand another 4 years, or if you're a dog, 28 years". It showed Obama and his dog Bo with Sarah McLachlan singing Angel (a song which had previously been used in ASPCA commercials). Bo appeared sad. The advertisement ended with Seamus in a dog carrier on top of Air Force One. "Paid for by the Woof Pac.
In August 2012, the band Devo released a single called "Don't Roof Rack Me, Bro (Seamus Unleashed)", to keep the incident in the news as the presidential campaign moved to a conclusion. Seamus was the inspiration for Bob Staake's March 12, 2012 New Yorker cover showing Rick Santorum on the roof of a car. It also inspired a book on the subject, and a website selling anti-Romney related wares.
- The White House Correspondents' Dinner saw Obama saying that Sarah Palin's stint guest hosting The Today Show reminded him of an old query: "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? A pit bull is delicious." Delaney, Arthur; Stuart, Hunter (April 30, 2012). "Obama Ate Dog, And He'd Do It Again To Remind You Of Seamus Romney" (Video). Huffington Post. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
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