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Treatment of family dog comes back to haunt Romney

A man holds a sign during a "Dogs Against Romney" demonstration outside the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at New York's Madison Square Garden, February 14, 2012.

Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

There is something haunting Mitt Romney as he heads into the next primary contest Feb. 28th.

It's not Rick Santorum, who has surpassed him in the polls in his home state of Michigan. Nor is it his flip-flop on abortion, which continues to stoke suspicion among the right wing of his party.

Rather, it's his family's now deceased Irish Setter, Seamus. Or rather, the controversy surrounding Mr. Romney's treatment of the family pet.

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It all stems from a 2007 interview Mr. Romney gave to The Boston Globe where he harkened back to his young family's annual summer pilgrimage to their cottage on the shores of Lake Huron.

Before setting off on the 12-hour drive from Boston, Mr. Romney said he strapped a kennel onto the roof of their white Chevy station wagon and put Seamus inside.

"It was where he was comfortable," said Mr. Romney. "And we had five kids inside the car. My guess is he liked it a lot better in his kennel that he would have liked it inside."

To make Seamus' ride even more cozy, Mr. Romney built a windshield for the carrier.

Inside his kennel, strapped on top of the family car, dubbed "the white whale," Seamus naturally would have the occasional accident.

The newspaper recreates a particularly vivid scene: "'Dad! Gross!' yelled the eldest son, Tagg Romney, catching a glimpse of brown liquid dripping down the back window."

According to article: "Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back on the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management."

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Critics, however, cite the incident as evidence of animal abuse, or at the very least, proof that Mr. Romney lacks empathy.

In the wake of story, Mr. Romney tried to quell the controversy.

"You know, PETA has not been my fan over the years," he said at a campaign stop in Pittsburg, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"PETA has been after me for having a rodeo at the Olympics and were very, very upset about that. PETA was after me when I went quail hunting in Georgia. And PETA is not happy that my dog likes fresh air."

Even though the drive in question happened nearly thirty years ago – the criticism is as fierce as ever.

At the Westminster dog show last week, a handful of protesters showed up, denouncing Mr. Romney for his apparent cruelty.

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A website dubbed " The Dogs Against Romney" sells T-shirts emblazoned with paw prints and the slogan "Mitt is mean." There is yet another website "Seamus 2012" written in Seamus' voice, speaking from doggy heaven.

Seamus may be gone, but in this race, he is hardly forgotten.

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About the Author

Sonia Verma writes about foreign affairs for The Globe and Mail. Based in Toronto, she has recently covered economic change in Latin America, revolution in Egypt, and elections in Haiti. Before joining The Globe in 2009, she was based in the Middle East, reporting from across the region for The Times of London and New York Newsday. More

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