Many dog lovers hate presidential hopeful Mitt Romney because of how he treated his dog in 1983, but Romney has done more for dogs than just strap them helpless to the roof of his speeding station wagon. In 2006, when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney declared September "Responsible Dog Ownership Month" in the state.
Eleven dogs and 35 humans gathered at the State House for an event celebrating the governor's proclamation on Sept. 21 of that year, according to a contemporaneous newsletter from the Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners (PDF).
"We have a pervasive problem because of people who don't act as responsible dog owners," Jennifer Callahan, then a Democratic member of the state legislature, said at the time, citing the hundreds of thousands of dogs that wind up in shelters every year.
The story about Romney's former pet Irish Setter, Seamus, did not come to public attention until 2007, when the Boston Globe reported that Romney attached the dog's crate to the roof of the family car for a 12-hour drive to Canada. During the trip, Seamus suffered diarrhea, and Romney reacted by hosing off the dog and the car at a service station before resuming the drive.
The Globe intended the anecdote as evidence of Romney's cool management style, but dog lovers see it as bizarre and inhumane. After the story ran, Alabama resident Scott Crider launched an online protest movement called Dogs Against Romney. The group's Facebook page now has 40,000 fans as the story, once a mere sideshow, has become a somewhat larger part of the news cycle.
The Romney campaign has been silent lately on "Crate-Gate," but the candidate has said that he loves his dogs and that Seamus didn't mind his roof rides.
The American Kennel Club has promoted September as Responsible Dog Ownership Month since 2003, and it has encouraged state and local clubs to seek recognition from local governments. Ohio, Idaho, and Florida have also declared September a month for dogs, according to AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson.
As for Romney, Peterson said he was halfway to responsible dog ownership in 1983. "The first step toward responsible dog ownership is putting the dog in a crate when you travel," Peterson said. "The second step is putting the crate inside the car."
State Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) told HuffPost she recalled forwarding info about the 2006 event to constituents. She said she doesn't remember seeing the governor there, but she distinctly remembers an encounter with him.
"I remember that one of my kids was here with a school group, and I was with the group, and we were walking down the corridor, and Gov. Romney came down the staircase and flashed his big white teeth, and my daughter looked up and said, 'Is that the governor?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And she said, 'Oh, he’s handsome.'"
Provost continued, "He does have the look of somebody who would be cast in the role of a leader, but you know I guess I would be concerned that a lot of us would end up like Seamus in a Romney administration."