WASHINGTON -- Journalists keep asking Rick Santorum's campaign if it's really fair to bring up how Mitt Romney treated his Irish Setter 30 years ago, and the Santorum campaign keeps on saying yes.

On Monday, campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart defended the campaign's use of the dog story on MSNBC.

"Well, you know, the family dog is one [that] resonates with some people," Stewart said. "If you can't be nice to your dog, who are you going to be nice to?"

In 1983, the Romney family drove to Canada with the family dog, Seamus, in a crate attached to the roof of the car. During the 12 hour drive, Seamus suffered a bout of diarrhea. Romney hosed him off at a gas station and kept driving.

Soon after the Boston Globe reported the incident in 2007, Alabama resident Scott Crider launched an online group called Dogs Against Romney, which has relentlessly pushed the story with the slogan "Mitt is mean." The Santorum campaign has mentioned the story several times since last week, putting Seamus into the news big time.

Stewart lamented that the Romney campaign is the one being nasty, and suggested the Seamus story fits with some of the awkward things Romney has said lately.

"It is unfortunate that Mitt Romney and the Romney campaign has chosen to be so negative in this campaign," she said. "Here he is outspending all the other candidates, five, six, seven to one. He has tremendous name ID, he started this five, six years ago, and still up against the ropes in many of these states. He cannot energize the base. He is out of touch with the average American, whether it comes to the comments about his wife having a couple of cars. He likes to fire people. He knows the owners of professional sports teams, Nascar teams. He's out of touch with the American people."