For Mitt Romney, it’s the family road trip that seems to never end.
Almost three decades after Mr. Romney strapped a dog crate, complete with dog, to the roof of the family station wagon for a trip to Canada, the road trip’s repercussions have come rambling to the doorstep of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where a small group of mostly dog-owning Democrats gathered Tuesday in protest.
The story of the trip was first told as an anecdote to illustrate Romney’s emotion-free crisis management style in a 2007 article in The Boston Globe. But the episode – sometimes referred to as “Crate-Gate” – continues to haunt the presidential candidate.
It was 1983 when Romney put Seamus the Irish setter on the roof for the trip from Massachusetts to Canada. When one of his sons noticed that the dog was suffering from intestinal discomfort, Romney broke his rule of making only planned stops, pulled over to a service station, and hosed down the side of the white Chevy station wagon.
Despite the interruption, Seamus, who survived the journey but has long since died, rode on the luggage rack the rest of the way.
The Internet attests to the story’s enduring popularity.
“Mitt Romney + Dog on Roof” is the fourth result when searching for Romney on Google. The Facebook group “Dogs Against Romney” has over 25,000 “likes.” New York Times columnist Gail Collins has cited the incident over 30 times since 2007 – virtually every time she has referenced Romney in her semi-weekly column.
After the Boston Globe article, Scott Crider, a social media strategist in Alabama, founded “Dogs Against Romney.” The group’s website “went viral for about 10 days in ’07, before Romney's campaign flamed-out,” Crider writes in an email. When Romney announced that he was running for president again, Mr. Crider writes, he dusted off the website and started to get some traction once again.
“We are getting literally thousands of user-generated images from our followers on Facebook – pictures of their dogs with our slogan ‘I ride inside,’ ” writes Crider, who says his group is unaffiliated politically.
In this rollercoaster campaign season, the story also seems to have resonated with those who accuse Mitt Romney of being out of touch.
“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,” protester – and dog owner – Batya Miller says outside the Westminster dog show. “I think that both the actual act of putting the dog on top of the car and then not understanding what is wrong with that indicates some lack of feeling.”
Shortly after the story ran in the Globe in 2007, Romney addressed the issue at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh.
“You know, PETA has not been my fan over the years,” Romney said at the time, 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.”
For the crowd outside the dog show Tuesday, that explanation is evidence of Romney’s weakness as a candidate.
“I think this is an illustration of Mitt Romney’s odd judgment. It fits into the storyline of him being not all there and being not quite in tune with American values,” says Tate Hausman, his pug Sake sticking out of his backpack. Mr. Hausman says he learned about the protest from liberal advocacy group MoveOn.Org.
Although the Facebook group is not endorsing a candidate over Romney, most of the protesters say they support President Obama – some citing the way he treats first dog Bo.
The Obama campaign bought a banner ad that pops up when people Google the phrase Westminster Dog Show. The campaign’s new page on its website, Pet Lovers for Obama, which was created for the dog show, is an apparent allusion to Seamus.
The “Dogs against Romney” press release before the protest Tuesday promised dogs, but only a handful of protesters brought their pets, and members of the media outnumbered both dogs and the protesters.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are not the only ones pushing the issue. On Newt Gingrich’s website, he features a page called “Pets with Newt 2012,” and invites his supporters to send in pictures of their animals.